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.

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