The National Bee Unit comes to visit

This blog update is a follow-on from my previous entry…..

Colonies infected with a bee disease called European Foulbrood (EFB) had been identified within 3km of both of my apiary sites in Kent and therefore the National Bee Unit (NBU) inspector contacted me in order that he could come and inspect the health of bees and the brood in my colonies. It was a nervous few days waiting to find out if my bees would get a clean bill of health or ‘be burn’t at the stake’ or in a pit of fire anyway.

Food and Environment Research Agency

Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

The NBU is part of The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) set up by the government to assist and educate beekeepers to help to protect the health of national bee stocks and also to  monitor and prevent the spread of serious bee disease, often caused through the bees ‘drifting’ between hives or deliberately entering other hives  as ‘robbers’ where there are weaker colonies defending them.

European foulbrood is caused by Melissococcus plutonius,  a bacterium that infests the mid-gut of an infected bee larva. EFB is considered less deadly to a colony than American foulbrood. Melissococcus plutonius does not form spores, though it can overwinter on comb and symptoms include dead and dying larvae which can appear curled upwards, brown or yellow, melted or deflated with tracheal tubes more apparent, and/or dried out and rubbery.

Opening up the hives for inspection

Opening up the hives for inspection

European foulbrood is often considered a “stress” disease – a disease that is dangerous only if the colony is already under stress for other reasons. An otherwise healthy colony can usually survive European foulbrood.

David, the NBU inspector, arrived at the apiary and got kitted up in a very clean bee suit, freshly sterilised boots and proceeded to clean his hive tools in washing soda so there wasn’t much chance of him bringing infection in and I was hoping that he wouldn’t be finding any to take away.

We gently smoked the hives and David inspected the bees and the brood, paying particular attention to anything considered outside the ordinary.  David has a large number of colonies himself used for training and nuc rearing so not wanting to waste an opportunity of having an expert to hand both my friend Paul and I asked as many questions as possible relating to the health of our bees and we got very comprehensive answers.

Checking the brood frames for disease

David checking the frames for any signs of brood disease

The four colonies inspected on the day did not show any sign of EFB, this was a great relief both to myself (and the bees) as I had considered my bees to be relatively healthy, albeit with a touch of varroa mite that I had been treating over the last four weeks, and I hoped that I hadn’t simply missed spotting the symptoms of a serious disease through failing to recognise it or just plain ignorance. The hives were all active on the day with the foraging bees bringing in plenty of bright yellow pollen.

The brood inspections did identify a small amount of baldbrood, possibly caused by the bees removing cappings due to the larvae of the wax moth moving through the comb, and also a small amount of Chalkbrood. The infected larvae were removed from the comb for closer examination.

Chalkbrood or Ascosphaera apis is a fungal disease that infests the gut of the larva. The fungus will compete with the larva for food, ultimately causing it to starve. The fungus will then go on to consume the rest of the larva’s body, causing it to appear white and ‘chalky’ and it is quite sticky when removed from the comb which in itself is a useful field test for this disease. Hives with Chalkbrood can generally be recovered by increasing the ventilation through the hive but this should not pose a problem to my colonies.

Close examination of the larvae for possible disease

Closer examination of the uncapped larvae for signs and symptoms of disease

The experience of having David come to inspect my bees was a very positive one, he was friendly and approachable and able to answer the many questions that we put to him. I would recommend, in fact urge, any beekeepers not currently registered on BeeBase to do so. This may well help to prevent the spread of serious disease from your colonies to others, or from others to you, in the future at a time when there are enough environmental pressures working against the bees survival on a global scale.

The last week in September has had a warm start and it is set to get hotter into the weekend so it looks like the summer has finally arrived and I am hoping that the bees will take full advantage of the fine weather and late flowering plants to bring in further stores of pollen and nectar for the winter.

Further information regarding the Healthy Bee Plan and for registering your UK apiaries on BeeBase can be found at:


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Dianne Barry on October 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Love your blog. This is our first year beekeeping. So much to learn!


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