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An Inspector Calls

Not that you would think it but keeping bees is classed as keeping livestock, just in the same way as keeping sheep or cattle. As part of this one of our key roles as local beekeepers is that of observing the hives and checking for any possible pests and diseases. To support us with this we host visits from our Regional Bee Inspector throughout the year. Ours is Mark McLoughlin, he is based on the Wirral but covers pretty much the North of England. During the Spring and Summer months, when the size and number of colonies increase, he is also supported by a team of Seasonal Bee Inspectors. At the beginning of April Mark contacted me to advise that it was time to visit our Speke apiary. In preparation, I attended the apiary a week ahead of the visit and insert boards underneath the hives.

Photography by Paul Conlan

These Inspection Boards are temporary; they collect the detritus as it falls from the frames as the bees work the honeycomb. Usually, the detritus would fall through the open mesh floor of the hive to the ground. For Mark, this is an opportunity to identify pests and diseases that could be present in the hive, even before he examines the frames inside. On arrival at the apiary, we suit up with our protective clothing and start our progression through the twenty or so colonies we have at this site. Due to our proximity to the Liverpool John Lennon Airport as well as the Seaport, Mark is particularly keen to ensure we have no sightings of foreign pests entering the country via the passenger and freight lines. One such pest is named the Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida) this is an indigenous species of Africa, however, it has managed over recent years to spread to many countries in the Americas, Canada and as far as Australia. More concerning for the UK Beekeeping Community is that in 2014 it was identified as having entered Italy on the Southern tip of the country. Given that there are bee imports to the UK from around Europe including Italy, not to mention all the freight containers with produce in them arriving daily, we must monitor for such pests.

Photography by Paul Conlan

If left unidentified the beetle can destroy a colony or full apiary. This then has the knock-on effect on agriculture via the pollination industry. No bee colonies mean upwards of seventy-five per cent less pollination. If identified in the colony then DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) would need to be informed. DEFRA treatment would involve the burning of all colonies in the apiary, plus any within a certain radius of the site. Also, the soil at the apiary would need to be treated with pesticides... Samples obtained during the inspection are sent off to The National Bee Unit for diagnostics, with any findings being reported back to the beekeeper, these tests are looking for multiple diseases. Thankfully our reports have been received back from Mark and we have a clean bill of health. As the beekeeper responsible for the site I can now concentrate on managing the natural expansion of the hive and the propagation of bees during the Spring - Swarming!!!

Speke apiary last week after a clean bill of health... Video by Paul Conlan

Written by Paul Conlan

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