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Bee Health

Bee Health Convener

The Convener plays a vital role in coordinating and advising on an appropriate response and treatment in the event of disease outbreaks, and has a particularly important part to play as Varroa is now established in Scotland. If disease is suspected or discovered in members' colonies, the convener can help advise on the appropriate course of action and put beekeepers in touch with the relevant officers from SGRPID (the Scottish Government Inspectorate).

Beekeepers will also find detailed information and downloads about bee diseases in the beekeeping section of the Central Science Laboratory (CSL). Please use the link on the right - note that this link will take you OUT of the SBA Web Site.

The Quick Links at the top right of this page will guide you to a selection of download documents and other web sites that you may find helpful in relation to bee health.

Please direct all enquiries regarding bee health and disease to the Bee Health Convener. You will find contact details for the Bee Health Convener on the Executive page in the 'About' section of the main menu.

Small Hive Beetle in Mainland Europe

Small hive beetle has been intercepted at a sentinel apiary in southern Italy.  It is not yet known for sure whether the beetle has spread beyond the port area in Calabria in which it was found, but a contact tells me that eradication is still being considered as an option.  There is currently a mission of Italian and EU experts (from the EU Reference laboratory for bee health in France) on the spot assisting the local authorities.  They are already inspecting migratory hives which had been in an area of 20km around the site of detection and, I understand, the response also includes a cordon of 100km around the site where trade in bees is not permitted.  However there is a real possibility that we now have this pest on the loose in Europe.

There are many possible routes into the UK for this pest.  Packages of bees, queens, bumble bee boxes, pot plants, fruit boxes, hive products are all a risk, and if this pest becomes abundant in southern Europe it will be very difficult to keep it out of these islands forever.  There are already sentinel apiaries established in the UK, and the Horticultural inspectors have been alert to this pest for some time, so there is no indication that it has yet spread to the UK.  It seems likely though that bees, both packages and queens, represent the great risk of spread at the moment.

The bad news is that many (800) packages were imported from Italy into the UK in 2013.  In 2014 there were almost 3000 queens imported from Italy, and perhaps more not making it into the official record.  The Italian producers are spread around the country, and migratory beekeeping is practiced in Italy, so there is even a small risk that the recent bee imports have already brought this pest into the UK.

Would they survive a Scottish winter?  Possibly, adults can overwinter in the bee cluster in any climate.  They can survive very cold winters in northern parts of the US and into Canada so they could perhaps survive in Scotland although they may not thrive as well as in, for example, parts of southern England.

There is further information on the background here:


and Bee Base has a useful leaflet on small hive beetle here:


One last observation is that I understand that some beekeepers in Germany overwinter colonies in Italy.  There are clearly several routes to possible rapid spread thoughout Europe.  The wholesale movement of bees into the UK from continental Europe has become very risky indeed.

Gavin Ramsay
SBA Bee Health Convener 

16 August 2014

The following web site shows the spread, and limit, of the infested area as noted at October 11th:



There has been much published, both in the national press, on radio and TV, and in scientific journals, about the effect of pesticides on bees. Perhaps the most worrying to beekeepers has been the use of the systemic insecticides known as the neonicotinoids, so called as they are new synthesised compounds similar to the natural but exceedingly potent chemical, nicotine.

Reaction to these, as to all pesticides, has ranged from the emotional, where people throw up their hands in horror and say they must be bad and should be banned immediately, to the logical, that looks carefully at the evidence and the relevance of the published research to colonies of bees in nature, as most of the research is done under laboratory conditions on small samples of bees. It is also important to ask what would be the result of banning neonicotinoids, as other pesticides, possibly more harmful, would replace them.

DEFRA  is to be congratulated on preparing a review of the published papers that provides an unbiased opinion on their relevance to beekeepers. This can be accessed at http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2012/09/18/pb13818-pesticides-bees/.

This is a very important document, and is recommended reading for all beekeepers.

Phil Moss, Bee Health Convener, 5 October 2012

Apimondia 2012 Bee Health Symposium - Dublin

Apimondia Bee Health Symposium in Dublin had as its theme “From Challenges to Solutions”, and concentrated on Nosema, Varroa, and American Foulbrood (AFB). The Bee Health Convener attended this meeting on behalf of the SBA.  His report can be downloaded from the quick links section at the top of the page.

Vita funds ground-breaking varroa control research

Links to the external sites describing this research are on the home page. The background to this research is quite complex, and the SBA Bee Health Convener has provided the following additional information that those interested in this research may find useful:

What is RNAi?

Genes are made up of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and a gene consists of a strand of DNA with a sequence of nucleotides, the 'genetic code'.

The gene is a short part of the long DNA molecule (corresponding to the chromosome), and is copied to a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule, usually the length of the gene.

These RNA strands then move to the ribosomes, which are the power houses that make the proteins that the gene codes for. As they carry the information from the gene to the ribosomes, this RNA is called messenger RNA (mRNA).

RNAi, or RNA interference, is a technique whereby short strands of RNA are identified that will bind to the mRNA. The effect can be either the degradation of the RNA or, in some cases, to prevent it being formed.

The aim is to control a pest by sequencing a gene, that is essential to the survival of the pest, and identify suitable short RNA strands that will bind to the mRNA and prevent the gene functioning normally, leading to death of the cells and thus of the organism.

Phil Moss, Bee Health Convener