Look at the National Bee Unit (NBU) website for details and photos of the effects of the disease and check the larvae (unsealed brood) in your hives carefully. Report anything suspicious to our local Seasonal Bee Inspector, Steward Westsmith.
Over the last few years there has been a considerable amount of debate on the use of polystyrene hives. As usual with beekeepers and many beekeeping matters, there is a very wide division of opinion on this. Some have advocated their use in preference to wooden hives, while others, equally knowledgeable and skilled in beekeeping, have been totally opposed to them. The former have pointed out that they have heat insulating advantages in winter and claim that the colony grows more rapidly and to a greater size in spring. They also say that they are lighter to handle and that their cost is less than that of of wooden hives, but it should be remembered that the life of a poly hive is far less than that of a wooden hive, some of which are still perfectly usable after 50 years or more. It would be interesting to do a proper long-term comparison of the cost of the two types. A very rough estimate indicates that a conservative figure for the real cost of poly hives is at least twice that of wooden ones as they don’t last as long. Those who do not like them point out that polystyrene hives cannot be sterilized as effectively as wooden ones as a blowlamp obviously cannot be used for this purpose. However, a more sinister problem has come to my attention in recent weeks, now that EFB has been identified in our area. Apparently the NBU does not take responsibility for the sterilising of polystyrene hives (as they do by the flaming of wooden hives) when foulbrood (EFB or AFB) has been found in them and so this very important task is left to individual beekeepers to manage. Full details can be found under: Hive Cleaning and Sterilisation on their website (https://nationalbeeunit.com). Treatment of poly hives is on the 9th (unnumbered) page. Cleaning has to be done by careful scraping, then sterilisation by immersing and scrubbing the hives in a large container of water to which various chemicals (some dangerous to handle) have been added by the beekeeper and it is implied that this important process does not necessarily have to be carried out or observed by the NBU inspector. It does not take much imagination to realise that infected or inadequately cleaned polystyrene hives may well be put back into use, or taken to the local authority’s dump from where polystyrene currently goes to landfill, complete with AFB or EFB, which bees in the area could easily pick up. As poly hives cannot be expected to last for as long as wooden ones, we could expect a greater rate of replacement of them with the possibility of more infected hives being dumped (with or without sterilising). This all seems to be a great way of spreading these highly infectious diseases after the wonderful work done by the Bee Inspectors and others over many years to reduce them to tolerable levels, their work could well be undermined by the practices described above. Then, of course, there is the serious matter of AFB with its long-lived (40 or more years) highly infectious spores that could be spread around as a result of careless polyhive disposal. Also, there is the further damage to the environment by the scrapping of more plastic materials. There are currently moves afoot to influence the NBU in view of the likely effect of their proposals and no doubt we shall hear more of this in time.
Of course the simple way to stop this serious source of spreading of AFB and EFB is to make the manufacture, sale, importation and use of polystyrene beehives illegal. It would also reduce the mounting problem of plastic in the environment which is another major cause of concern. This would raise another set of problems, but I would suggest that these would be more easily solvable and of significantly less importance than disease spread.
I realise that there is a lot of disagreement among beekeepers on the use of polyhives, and I fear that the opinions of many beekeepers are deeply entrenched on this, one way or the other, as with many other beekeeping opinions! However, I would suggest that new beekeepers do make a very serious attempt to look into and weigh up the pros and cons of polystyrene before taking one view or the other.
I welcome any comments on this article. Do please point out any errors or false assumptions. I assure you that I will not be offended by anything you write. I hope there will be plenty to put into the next Newsletter, either with or without your name as you wish. This is too important a subject to take comments personally. I think that we need to deal in facts. The important point is to establish what the actual facts are, among the vast number of opinions.