Talks at HBKA Annual Meeting

Andy Wattam (local bee inspector) and Norman Carreck (Entomologist and until recently working at Rothamsted) gave two very interesting talks at the annual meeting. Below are the very brief notes of each presentation.

Andy Wattam
Complimented web site. Peter Heath already on road doing inspections. Trying to extend inspection season. New Foulbrood leaflet. Eileen only beekeeper in Northern Hemisphere to spot the error. The two coloured lines on the graph on page 22 have been printed backwards. Same front cover as previous edition so it is confusing. Copies of the new leaflet are already in Hertfordshire. Colony Collapse Disorder – are we seeing same here? No. Winter losses this year down significantly. Inspectors in US are perplexed. Something linked to treatment of varroa and small hive beetle? Over use antibiotics may be a cause. You can only bombard nature with chemicals for so long without something beginning to happen. If Herts beekeepers are losing lots of colonies unexplainably then we will come out and inspect. Foulbrood – apiaries now only need standstill for 6 weeks (previously 8 weeks).

Norman Carreck
Changes in beekeeping research recently. Want to look back at history, and look at recent research. Many people think beekeeping is like following recipe book. Unfortunately bees don't read the recipes! Bees are part of biological system and we need to understand the biology if we are to manage our bees properly.

First bee researchers – Rev Charles Butler wrote a book in 1609 about bees and identified that the queen is female. Rev John Thorley made some new observations such as bees don't collect wax but produce it in glands, queens lay eggs and can identify flower colours. The Western Apiary Society in Exeter was interested in whether bees return to their own site, identifying queenlessness, use of smoker, production of queens from worker eggs. Charles Darwin studied the relationship between bees and flowers, performed investigation on comb building (hexagon is most efficient shape for packing) and understanding bee visible spectrum. Norman has recently been invited to Down House to recreate Darwin's experiments. Cheshire (book Bees and Beekeeping) interested in Foulbrood – bacteria involved. Thomas Cowan wrote a book Natural History, Anatomy and Physiology – early work on understanding bee biology. Anne Betts apiculturist and expert on bee diseases – founder member of the Apiarists Club and forerunner of the International Bee Research Association. (Norman is now the editor of the successor journal). John Reddy (University of Aberdeen) described the acarine mite – thought was cause of Isle of White disease his but paper didn't actually say this. Rothamsted – one of largest agricultural research stations in world. In 1920 a group from Cambridge moved to Rothamsted. Harry Carr employed to work on Foulbrood – research funded by BBKA. Don't send bee samples to Rothamsted Lodge – it is now a children's nursery! The 1950's were the golden years for beekeeping research – long term research without much interference. Colin Butler credited with discovery of queen substance – took many years – followed James Simpson research into swarming. Long period of bee research in the UK.

Varroa – how does it kill colonies? Found in UK is early 1990s. Mite lives on pupae & adults. Damage not related to number of mites. Surveys showed that where there were a large numbers mites, many colonies survived and where there were a small number of mites, many colonies died out. Lesley Bailey looked at viruses in bees. Towards end of his career he looked at interaction between pests and pathogens, e.g. certain viruses only occur with nosema. These viruses add to the effect of the pest. Three colonies with low, medium and high levels of varroa. Analysed for viruses. Chronic Paralysis Virus – variable in incidence – fairly low level across UK. But there was a high correlation between levels of virus found in dead bees in relation to the level of varroa. Rothamsted found that varroa mites pass this virus from bee to bee. Subsequent work found bees in heavily infested colonies have distorted abdomen and shrivelled wings – new virus – Deformed Wing Virus. Apiaries in Devon found to die out from Slow Paralysis Virus – only found when high varroa infestation. Low levels of virus found in adult bees. In brood no or little virus until late summer when suddenly a large proportion get infected. If large number of mites then in late summer when area of brood goes down, the virus can spread quickly leading to spectacular death in short period of time – all bees crawl out of hives. This happened in 1990s. Slow Paralysis Virus killed colonies so the virus died out.

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) started appearing in the mid 90s. Research into what does DWV do to bees? Infected bees have a significantly shortened life span – 48 hrs. One of three things happen – if infected as pupae then emerge as deformed and die in 48hrs. If infected later then they have a shortened life. If infected as adult then they live a normal length but full of virus when they die. Spring is a crucial period with a small number of old bees and new bees coming through. Anything that tips this balance can cause the colony to die out. If it doesn't die out then the colony is still infected. Virus not virulent but can be enough to tip balance.

Therefore, the varroa mite itself totally altered natural balance of viruses in bees. In experiments in 94-95, DWV none found. 96-97, DWV appearing. 97-98 100% DWV found. In 2000, samples from across country, 90% of had DWV. DWV is present and if mite builds up beyond a certain level then colonies will die. Threshold is now 1000-2000 mites. Resistant mites are already in this area so Norman does not recommend using Apistan. Lots of problems around world because varroa control has gone wrong.

Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV) is most virulent – kills bees in a few days. Spread by mites. Was found in two places in Northern England. In New Zealand the virus was only discovered few years ago. Don't have DWV but do have KBV and it is killing colonies. They have had KBV in US for some time. A preliminary report from Penn State University showed lots of mites present and bees are full of viruses. Norman wouldn't be surprised if KBV is present.

If we're not careful we could have same problems in this country. Norman was involved at Rothamsted for biological control for varroa – a fungus. Various fungi will control varroa mites. But the difficulty is that mites and insects are closely related. A lot of the work was in finding strains of fungus that are not harmful to insects. At beginning of last year Rothamsted had a couple of possible strains and needed more funding to take to market. But at same time Defra cut funding so work stopped. Colleagues are desperately trying to raise funding.

How should the UK fund research in future? Very few are now doing work. One group in Sheffield, CSL in York, and then Rothamsted. Number of researchers working on honeybees is dangerously low. Many changes happening in agriculture, funding, etc. Need more work on bees as pollinators – we don't understand it all. Other diseases need further work, e.g. EFB, Small Hive Beetle, bee virology, and others. Honey bee biology – genome has been sequenced. Lots we should be doing in this country. The Government has said that it is committed to science. In 2003 Long Ashton Research Station closed. Also in 2003 Horticulture Research International with a loss of 180 staff. 2004 saw a loss of 70 staff at Institute of Animal Health. In 2006 – Silsoe Research Institute lost 160, Hannah Research Institute in Scotland lost 70, Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research lost 40, Rothamsted lost 50 (including Norman), and, most shocking of all, four sites of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have closed including the world famous Monks Wood with a loss of 160 staff. In total 660 staff have gone since 2000. Perhaps the critical mass for UK science has gone.

We were told that government funding for bee research would not be cut. Some funding continues at CSL but on small projects. Some private research funding exists but research is expensive. Core research may have fallen below a minimal sustainable level…

Finally Norman thanked Defra for previous funding.

Hitchin Bee Centre by Robin Dartington

Consultations on the project to establish an educational Bee Centre at the edge of Old Hale Way Allotments in Hitchin have gone well. About 10 allotmenteers attended the public meeting on site on 31 March – no objections and a strong welcome from some key figures. Expectations may be hard to meet however – some gardeners seem to think you bring a hive one day and open the honey tap the next!

There were no comments from beekeepers after announcement of the project in Herts News, except from the committee of North Herts.

The Council as landowner has now given formal consent to erection of buildings and to placing 8 hives of bees. Consent may be given to increasing the number of hives in future if all goes well. The beekeeping consent followed submission of a comprehensive Environmental Health Assessment to answer the Council’s long list of possible disasters – we have promised to observe a large number of risk control measures, all of which in fact amount to no more than common sense. An article (‘Buzzing with enthusiasm’) in Kitchen Garden, April 2007 was timely – featuring the bee project set up in 2005 by the Molland’s Lane Allotment Society, South Ockendon, Essex. Hives are sited on the roof of an allotment shed and also in a wired enclosure overlooked by a window from where visitors watch the hives being managed. Last year, honey sales from three hives contributed £150 to community funds – and plot holders have also noticed an increase in their crops.

Commemorative tree planting in BBKA’s new Demonstration Apiary during the Spring Convention gave opportunity to introduce the project to Clive Joyce, BBKA’s Apiary Manager. He was very happy with the suggestion that Hitchin Bee Centre could act as a satellite, sharing experience and published information. The new top bee man at Defra’s bee unit was also very happy with the suggestion that HBC could act as a contact point and distribute Defra’s pamphlets to local beekeepers who may not necessarily be members of associations (Defra estimate there are 30,000 people keeping bees, only 11,000 of whom are members of associations).

Defra will write a quotable letter welcoming the project, to support raising the funds (total around £12,000). An application has already been made to The Conservation Foundation for £1,000 for earth moving and fencing the future Bee Garden and Picnic Area. The next important step is to ask the executive committee of Herts BKA for their response to the proposal and (hopefully) a quotable expression of support. As already reported, North Herts has welcomed the project but decided not to be involved in financing – that is understandable but a total absence of a local contribution will weaken applications to other bodies as it looks like damning with faint praise.

It has seemed appropriate to suggest local beekeepers will fund the hives and bees. Eight complete hives with bees would cost £4,000. The supplier of Dartington hives has offered eight sets of woodwork at £150 each (£1,200). Fixings/paint/plasticware will add £200. Assuming all labour will be voluntary, we need to raise only £1,400 (35%) in hard cash plus eight nucs and additional frames/foundation as gifts in kind. HBKA holds a reserve of £4,636 - £17 per member. This is less than the £100 per member held by North Herts, but hopefully may allow some contribution to back up an expression of goodwill.

I expect that, as the project initiator, I will eventually have to put up any financial shortfall in the core funding myself. There is a further way however that HBA could help, through deploying its charitable status. If I make that a donation to HBKA, recovery of tax would add 28% to the purchasing value. It would mean that goods bought by HBA with the donation would need to remain the property of HBKA and be made available for use by HBC only on loan – but as the intention is to transform HBC into an enduring not-for-profit organisation, that may be acceptable. The mechanism may be that I make a loan to HBKA now to fund such purchases, on the understanding that the loan is later commuted to a donation to cover any shortfall after other donations have been sought. But this leaps ahead – Adrian Waring has suggested the large painted surfaces of the Dartington hives could carry advertising or sponsor’s logo’s - all avenues will be investigated.

Would HBKA like its logo on one hive? WATCH THIS SPACE!

South East Herts news (2) by John Mumford

April showers bring forth May flowers! In a normal year I find that I have to put on supers just to hold the bees and then wait hopefully till June when the Blackberries bloom. This year as soon as I put supers on they get filled up. What they are being filled with I dread to think, since I am having to remove full frames of unused winter stores from brood chambers in order to make room for Queens to raise brood. How much Spring Honey is actually harvested from unused winter stores ?

We are now well into a third week without any appreciable rain and should it continue then I don't think the main honey flow will happen this year.

The next Apiary Meeting on Swarm Control is at the Association Apiary Bayford. Meet at the Church at 2.45pm and move out at 3.00pm. Anyone arriving after 3.00pm will NOT be welcome.

Peter Dalby has volunteered to host the 15th July Apiary Meeting at one of his out-apiary's in Enfield. Peter has various hives etc. to show us. Many thanks Peter for your offer. Look out for details in the July Newsletter.

South East Herts news (1) by Derek Driver

Sunday 15th April was our first apiary meeting of the year, and what a fantastic day it was. Blue skies and 16 plus members, with many adopting the old system and bringing several cakes and boxes of biscuits. While I opened the hives, Roy Cropley demonstrated his dexterity in clipping and marking the Queens.

The hives created a lot of interest with the new members as they contained the whole range of frame types from BS Brood with metal spacers, and some without, plus some short and long lug self spacing together with castellation runners all in one brood box.

More supers were added to take advantage of the field of Rape nearby, and not a sting was received by anyone. So thank you Daphne for allowing us to visit your lovely apiary. Everyone remarked on how much they had enjoyed the afternoon.

Roll on our next meeting.

Barnet news by Kaye Hoggett

There has been much activity at Barnet over the last few months. We have been making Dartington hives in great numbers for our apiaries and many individuals are having a go too. Our order for nucs this year is bigger than ever before with our beginners keen to get started and many of our members losing colonies in early Spring.

West Herts news by Brian Norman

The exceptional warm weather made it possible to inspect the colonies after their winter interlude. The meeting was well attended with the inspection of the colonies proving very instructive especially to our newer members.

The Autumn treatment against Varroa proved beneficial especially when the floor debris was inspected to show clear evidence of the dead Varroa mites.

One of the member's colonies has already shown the need for extra space – it was decided to allow the brood to expand by applying an extra half brood under the crown board. The other two colonies were briefly inspected to see if they were expanding but due to the afternoon temperature cooling down the hives were duly closed to reduce risk of damage to the brood.
On the third Saturday in May, for those interested in second hand hive equipment, a sale of equipment that the Association has accumulated will take place. All reasonable offers will be accepted.

The next meeting will be Saturday May 5th at 3.00pm.

Welwyn news by Peter Mathews

Am still awaiting a date for the ApiTour…I may need to organise this by e-mail. Do I have yours? Probably not!

Please let me know too if you need a swarm, or if you have collected one surplus to needs. Look forward to seeing you at Raffin Green on the first Saturday, 5th May, at 10.30 am. for Peter Folge's apiary inspection.

Bishops Stortford news by Paul Cooper

Nothing to report this month. The next apiary meeting is at Susie's house in Widford on 12th May at 3pm. Please call me if you need directions.

North Herts news by John Hill

It had to happen, of course, something else to blame for bees colony problems. After Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD), we now have the possibility of MPDIS, (Mobile Phone Direction Interference Syndrome), that might be the cause of some beekeeping problems. What about TMDTVT? (Too much Digital TV transmission), or CEAGW? (Carbon Emission and Global Warming), after all is said and done no-one can say with any conviction that these things are not contributing to the lack of bees in our apiaries. And sadly we shall never find out, because there just ain’t any more decent research being done in this country for the beekeeping fraternity. Norman Carrick said so at the AGM, and he should know! Also, there’s a reduction of Bee Inspectors etc. on the orders of Defra, and Politicians know all about these things don’t they?…like GM crops and setting the boundaries,…try telling a bee about boundaries!

All the above tantalising subjects were discussed at our lively meeting last month, when our New Chairman, G.B., got those present to comment on their Winter Losses. Those of you who are ‘bloggers’ will have seen the results of the ‘Straw poll” we carried out. Those who are ‘non-tech’, like me, will no doubt be interested to learn that the average figure was 30%, some members having lost 80%, and some nil. Not many in the second category though. We spent the rest of the evening trying to place the blame, hence my initial comments. Nineteen members also enjoyed Rosemary’s refreshments, and there was a small but profitable ‘bring and buy stall’.

And now for our Apiary Meetings:
  • As previously reported, our first event will be the clear-up at Nortonbury on 13th May. If you need directions please ring me. Start 2.30 p.m. NOTE: this date is a SUNDAY!.
  • 19th May 2007. Boxwood Apiary. 2.30 p.m. again. (Some struggling colonies, but all with queens.)
  • 2nd June 2007. Robin Dartington, Letchworth. (I’ve put this in because the Newsletter won’t be out by then).
I will review all the remaining meetings in the June issue. Basically, they are the same as reported last month.

Last month’s Teaser: It was the opening lines of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.

Here’s another:

It was said that Lucrezia Borgia once split an apple and shared it with a companion. Within 10 minutes her companion was dead and Lucrezia survived. How come?

And now a little love poem from the mid 1800’s by Coventry Patmore. (Male or female, I know not).
The Kiss.
“I saw you take his kiss!” ‘‘Tis true”
“O, Modesty!” ‘’twas strictly kept:
He thought me asleep; at least I knew
He thought I thought he thought I slept.”
(work that out!).

Mobile phone threat to honeybees?

Radiation link to Colony Collapse Disorder?

An article on The Register suggests that radiation from mobile phone masts may have something to do with Colony Collapse Disorder. Read the article to find out more...

Winter hive losses in North Herts

At our monthly meeting this week, 10th April, at which 19 members were present, we carried out a 'Straw poll' concerning hive losses experienced this season. On average we reckoned that there had been 30% losses over the winter period. Some beekeepers had lost as much as 80%, and some, not many, had lost no colonies at all. Some bees had totally absconded, but other hives had just had dead bees, but ample food. We did not have any general explanation, as most keepers had used a variety of treatments, and there was no direct link to losses experienced.