“National Honey Show 2020

Due to concerns about holding such a large show under the cloud of Covid 19, the Committee have reluctantly decided that this year’s National Honey Show will now be a virtual event to which everyone is invited both in the UK and worldwide.

Whilst we will greatly miss seeing you all in person, as part of the National Honey Show community we hope you will enjoy our series of virtual workshops and lectures, with the opportunity to ask questions afterwards in real time.

If you’ve never physically attended the show before, this will offer a taster for what will be on offer in the future in addition to our usual display of honey, hive products and craft entries, next year and at subsequent shows.

The show runs across three days. For this year, Thursday 22nd, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th October 2020. We are planning pre-recorded demonstration workshops and lectures with live questions and answers during the day and on-line social events in the evenings.

More timetable and programme details will be available shortly. Please visit our website over the next few weeks for the latest information.”

Drones and Other Matters

I am writing this on Friday 26th June, the fourth very hot day in the current heat wave. It is undoubtedly too hot for beekeeping, all we have been doing is putting in clearer boards, extracting honey and returning the “wet” boxes for the bees to fill again. Obviously my earlier pessimism regarding lack of a “main flow” has been proven to be totally incorrect, the bees have just been refilling the boxes as soon as they are returned.

However, the Limes are now finishing so we only have the Sweet Chestnut, Heather and Himalayan Balsam to come, providing the environmentalists have not destroyed the latter.

A quick update on the two swarms we have taken this year. The “Rowtown” swarm is now located in one of our apiaries, occupying three deep boxes, good brood pattern and very docile, we look forward to extracting
a small surplus from them during August. The large swarm, still in our garden, has already produced over 100lbs of extracted honey and are busy refilling the returned “wet” boxes.

Unfortunately, however, our queen rearing programme has been and is a complete disaster this year. We rely on the swarming instinct to produce the best queen cells for placing in the mating nucs, and this year swarming in our colonies just has not happened. Some colonies have tried to supersede, only a couple of queen cells, we have tried artificial swarming on these, destroying them and replacing the frame with eggs and young larvae from the colony we wanted to reproduce from. All they did was to produce another couple of queen cells and frequently one of these failed. Very frustrating! It looks like most of our colonies will be going into winter with either a 2019 or a 2020 supersedure queen.

Although, we and many other beekeepers have noticed a huge proliferation of drones in the colonies this year there has not been a similar significant increase in virgin queens. Many of us have noticed that the current queens do not last for more than one season, in the past a queen bee could remain viable for at least three years. In my opinion, probably as a result of varroa, drone virility is lacking. My theory is that we are possibly witnessing an evolutionary trend whereby the bees are trying to correct this phenomenon by producing more drones thus increasing drone numbers to facilitate better mating for the virgin queens.
Rob Chisholm (June 2020)

Update on 2020 Swarming Season

Good News – Everyone on my list of members wanting swarms has now received one. If there is any member who thinks they asked for one but has not received one please let me know. Meanwhile several members have asked for a second swarm and I have now started to supply them.
The ‘Hoover’ has been put to good use and has been requested and used by three members now. Unfortunately by the time we arrived for the second, the swarm was just flying off but I was able to demonstrate the Hoover’s use. However, we did receive a donation to the Club house fund for our troubles, which brings the donations from swarms to just over £600 this year.

The photo on the left shows me collecting a swarm about 30 feet off the ground. It does help to have a second person to use the second pole to push obstructing branches aside (see picture on right).
There are one or two modifications that I want to make to the Hoover to make it easier to use.

I had an interesting incident after collecting a swarm from a pine tree in Burwood Park. The next swarm was spread over a gravel drive but I could not get the bees up so gave up on the Hoover and reverted to the traditional skep (see right). On the next occasion a member wanted the Hoover for a high swarm. After using it the swarm was removed from the tree but no bees were in the box. Shaking the tubes revealed them all within. At that point we suspected a blockage so used a second smaller tube to push through to find what was causing it. Out popped a small pine cone, perfectly shaped to wedge in the tube, and suddenly all was working again.

Hive weights from David Brassington

Here is my latest hive weights chart. As usual I include last year for comparison. Only two active colonies at the moment but one is rocketing up (both in honey weight and height). It is about a month ahead of our monster hive from last year. We might need a cherry picker this time! The only problem is that the bees are very aggressive so I don’t want to disturb them except to add supers (and they even get angry about that). Our other hive swarmed and since then is just marking time. With luck it will start to gain weight soon. It is quite active. The swarm was very high in a tree but we thought we had got all the kit to collect it from the ground (cardboard box attached to telescopic lopper and rope round the branch – has worked well in the past). Unfortunately the swarm took off just as we were ready – only an hour after it settled.

Hive weights from Geoff Cooper in Hersham

You will see that, apart from one week, the flow last month was virtually down to zero.
The cumulative change is ongoing from last month’s figures.
Date Weight Change (lb) Cumulative Change (lb)
May 1st -1.4 38.1
May 7th +14.6 52.7
May 17th -4.8 47.9
May 24th -2.9 45.0
May 31st +4.1 49.1

New Hoover Swarm Collector In Action

Adjacent is a photo of Michael Main using the Division’s new ‘Bee Hoover’ on May 1st to remove a swarm.  The swarm was in a position where, without a very large ‘A’ frame ladder, it could not have been caught.  The hoover, designed by Arran Taylor and purchased by the Division, proved its worth on the first outing.  It will be kept by Michael and is available to members to get to either awkward swarms or those at locations, e.g. schools, where complete removal on one visit is necessary.

I am also pleased to say the resident was happy and a swarm letter was handed over that resulted in the Facebook post ( also on p. 11).   Please do carry and hand out the swarm letters when you pick up swarms.

Congratulations to Arran, David Parker and Michael for their excellent work. in designing and constructing this useful piece of apparatus – an accident-prevention device that doesn’t need a ladder.

A Personal Story of Winter Loses

Further details on the colony losses mentioned in the March newsletter
Michael Main writes:

I have heard of at least two members who have experienced the same problem as me this year (see March newsletter).

I went into Winter with 4 strong colonies (brood on 6-8 frames) and 4 weaker ones (brood on 3-4 frames) last inspection 21st September.  The strong colonies had stores of 35 – 40 lbs and the weaker ones 25 – 30 lbs.  Bees were flying well and bringing in pollen and nectar from the last of local Himalayan Balsam and Ivy right up to early November.  I have kept an eye on stores through Jan and Feb and checked the hives for Woodpecker damage and hive condition regularly. Although seeing no sign of activity I did not worry as it was cold and wet the bees should be in a cluster keeping warm. 

On 6th March, as it was warm and the bees were flying from one hive, I lifted the roof from one of the other strong hives.  There seemed to be no activity and the crown board was cold so I lifted the corner and peeked under.  Still no sign of life so removed the crown board and looked down between the frames.  To my horror there seemed to be no bees in the hive as there was a clear view of the mesh floor between each frame.  I repeated this on all 7 hives with no activity and the situation was the same. 

I then re-opened the strong hive and inspected the frames. It had started the winter on double brood and the top box was still almost full.  It also had plenty of honey and pollen in the bottom box around the brood area but all the brood area frames had empty cells where the brood had hatched.  There was one small group of dead bees covering about one square inch but no other bees except a few dead ones, as I would expect, on the mesh floor – less than a cupful in total.  The same appeared on all these hives.

All boxes were shut and sealed to avoid robbing. They have now, on advice from the Bee Inspector, been dismantled, combs rendered down and frames and hives cleaned and sterilised.

My only explanation is that the queens had failed during the autumn or succumbed to a viral infection. They were all 2019 queens but some were quite late in mating. Although the bees had been working the late flowers the colony was rapidly being depleted of bees, dying on the wing. During winter, those remaining continued cleaning the hive on warm days leaving very few in the hive at the end. All colonies have had the remaining bees tested for Nosema* but all proved negative. However, if my explanation above is correct, the remaining bees were the younger bees, they were not mature flying bees that should be used for a Nosema check so that conclusion may not be correct.

I have now closed up and sealed all entrances to avoid robbing.  Before I dismantle and clean the hives what steps should I take to find out what has happened to the bees?  Take samples and photographs of the frames?  I know the seasonal bee inspectors are not operating yet.  Can I get an inspection as soon as they start again and if so should I defer the cleaning process until then? Photos of one of Michael’s negative Nosema slides this year and, for comparison, one of his positive samples from last year, are at the end of the Newsletter, p12.

Michael Main

I am sure that Michael would welcome any suggestions as to what may have caused the remarkable loss of his colonies. Please copy such suggestions to the Editor for the benefit of the readers.

Thank you Michael for sharing this detailed account with the rest of the members. Unlike this one, reports of this kind of experience sometimes do not contain sufficient detail for the recipient to draw many conclusions.
I am sure that we are all very saddened to hear of this event in your apiary, and hope that the explanation will be found, and that you find some good replacement bees.

If you have, or another beekeeper you know has had an experience of high losses similar to Michael’s, please let me know and I will put these reports into the next Newsletter, with or without your name, as you wish. This information could be very helpful as an indicator of the scale of the problem, which seems to be unusually bad this year.

Asian Hornet BBKA Conference Summary: 08/02/20

Professor Stephen Martin – Life History and Current Research

Dr. Martin took us through the biology and the life cycle of the Asian hornet pointing out the differences between social wasps and hornets. He explained the timings when new sexuals (males and new queens) are produced and how young queens hibernate with the wings tucked under the body which is characteristic of the hibernation state. When the hibernating queens emerge, they are particularly vulnerable as they need to find food quickly to replenish the fat bodies used up through the hibernation period. The queen AH will not go back to hibernation once she has ‘woken up’. This is also a vulnerable time for them because if the weather goes cold again, many will perish.

Once a nest is established and there are workers that can take over feeding and nest building tasks, the queen is more secure and the nest will rapidly expand, usually from July through to August & September. Asian hornets often, but not always, build a larger secondary nest in mid summer. The latter is often built high up in trees but may be at a low level. For a while both nests are occupied but eventually all the adult hornets will transfer to the secondary nest, which by late summer will be very large and contain several thousand hornets.

Dr Martin pointed out that AH has few natural enemies. There is a specialised parasitic wasp that flicks its eggs into the nest, a conopid fly that lays eggs in the cell, and a mermithid nematode that parasitizes the hornet’s gut. This has recently been found in France.

He pointed out that the queen, worker and male look very similar in size and colour so they are difficult to tell apart, although the queen has a larger fat body that fills the abdomen. Young queens leave the nest when they are ready – about two weeks after they emerge, when they have sufficient fat bodies. This is a sharp reminder that we need to find nests as soon as possible so that they can be destroyed before young queens mate and disperse, usually in October. Males are produced before young queens are raised.

Xesus Feas – 8 Year’s Experience Researching the Asian Hornet: Impacts and Future Needs.

Xesus gave a presentation based on his experience of studying the AH in Galicia, Spain. It increased from 4 nests in 2012 to 10,642 in four years, despite control measures being taken. It causes enormous damage to forestry, beekeeping and fruit growers, including vineyards. Asian hornets cause damage to apples, pears, plums and grapes by eating the ripe fruit. It is estimated that AH causes the loss of 4.5m euros per year to fruit growers alone and so far about 65% of beehives have been lost in Galicia. Today, the main job of the Galicia’s firefighters is to destroy AH nests.

An important point that he mentioned is that in his experience in Galicia, AH nests can be found anywhere and everywhere, not just the expected places for primary or secondary nests. He gave many examples including nests underground and finding nests in close proximity with each other, with an example of 5 nests on the same building.

An interesting point that Xesus mentioned was that an old nest in winter still has larvae and pupae and even hibernating young queens have been found tucked up under the outer cover of the old nest.
Xesus spoke about the development of a lure of female pheromone which is designed to attract males, thereby disrupting and confusing the mating process. This has a degree of success. He also mentioned the development of a bee counter that can count the normal activity of bees leaving and returning to the hive that can then alert the beekeeper’s phone if the bees stop flying normally. This is an indicator that AHs are around the hive because bees tend not to go out as much.

Alistair Christie. The Jersey Experience in 2019

Alistair is the Coordinator for AH in Jersey and he spoke about how AH rapidly spread throughout the island. The primary nests are reported in spring mostly in or on buildings. He mentioned that often it is estate agents that call in and seem to be regular spotters.

In 2019 the first queen was seen on 31 March with more being recorded in April and May. The first primary nest was found on 12 April; the first secondary nest on 16 July. When the primary nest contains about 50 workers in mid summer, they will often start work on building the secondary nest, often not far away from the primary nest but usually at a higher elevation. Primary nests have a diameter of up to about 20cm – only worker hornets are produced in the primary nest. Secondary nests, where young queens and males are produced in September-October, grow much larger and are either spherical or have an elongate spindle shape. When the nest is made in a tree, AH appears to favour the east side of the tree.

Sometimes in winter and early spring hibernating queens are found. The first queen of 2020 has already been found, it was reported in January.
Alistair spoke about tracking hornets to their nests in Jersey which started in July in 2019. The groups of volunteers work together with the AHATS and beekeepers. They arrange themselves into teams;

  •   Verifiers- that confirm if a sighting is AH.
  •   Tracking Directors – who are experienced trackers and take on the case and organise everyone.
  •   Trappers – who look for nests, set and monitor traps to verify if a nest is close.
  •   Bait station managers, – who set up bait stations, mark hornets, note flight direction and return times which give an indication of proximity or distance of a nest from the bait station.
  •   Communicators – who keep everyone up to date. Alistair mentioned that they use Google ‘my maps’ app during the tracking operation and showed us some unusual locations where nests had been found. He mentioned safety awareness while tracking.

    Alistair finished by saying that if beekeepers would like to volunteer and be involved in tracking AH in Jersey in 2020 (and have a holiday at the same time,) then contact him direct at asianhornet@gov.je and he will help arrange it.

Peter Kennedy. Research in 2020.

Peter spoke about Atlantic POSitive, an EU-funded initiative from the period of 2014 -2020 between a number of partners including University of Exeter in the UK, University College Cork in Ireland and eight other partners on the Atlantic side of Spain, Portugal, France and the British Isles. The partners aim to find collaborative ways for the ‘Conservation of Atlantic pollination services and control of the invasive species Vespa velutina’.

This will cover; Environmentally responsible control measures; Apiary management techniques; The study of pollinator communities and Radio telemetry techniques and includes –

  •   Nest locations are being mapped to build up information on the nesting preferences of AH.
  •   Investigation of traps and baits
  •   Looking for differences in bee defensive behaviour when confronted by AH
  •   Studying which flowers are visited by AH
  •   Looking for possible biocontrol agents
  •   Use of radio telemetry to track hornets back to their nests
  •   Education of beekeepers and the general public
  •   The cost/benefit of control measures
  •   Acoustic warnings of AH activity at hives
  •   The impact of AH on honeybees and bumblebees
  •   Analysis of faeces produced by worker AH and larvae gut contents to see what insects they have been feeding on
  •   The impact of AH on pollinating insects when they are visiting flowers NBU update on Asian hornet Belinda Philipson from Defra policy was there together with Sandra Gray, from the National Bee Unit, who was standing in for Nigel Semmence.

    Sandra gave us an update on AH with 17 UK confirmed sightings since 2016. She explained the overall situation from 2019 with three nests found and destroyed, two in Christchurch, Dorset. Both these nests were related, a primary and small secondary. The other nest was in Tamworth, in Staffordshire. Two single Asian hornets were also confirmed in 2019, a queen in New Milton, Hampshire in July and a worker near Ashford in Kent in the beginning of September. These were just single hornets found; monitoring traps set up in the areas where they were found recorded no others. Sandra mentioned that regarding the NBU working with AHATs, each Regional Inspector has the autonomy to work with the local AHATs as he/she sees fit if there is a confirmed sighting, to help in confirming a sighting, or with the follow-up surveillance after nest destruction.

Sandra went through the Outbreak Timeline which is as follows:

 Confirmed sighting, by photo or sample.
o This triggers updates in the rolling communications and BeeBase news page.
o Emails are sent to beekeepers in a 10 km area asking them to be vigilant at their apiaries.

 Local Regional Bee Inspector and Seasonal Bee Inspector respond.
o Visit site and investigate the back story – will decide on next steps.
o Local associations and AHATs are informed. Help asked for if needed. o Town council contacted and informed

  •   NBU set up bait stations as and where needed to identify direction and distance to the nest(s). If a marked hornet returns to a bait station within a minute, the nest(s) is likely to be 100m or less away.
  •   Forward Operation Base set up if needed.

o To co-ordinate trackers and tracking.

 If/when nest is found, it is destroyed in the evening. (using an insecticide Facial D) o Nest removed the following morning

Surveillance of the area set up/continued by traps in case there are other undetected nests in the area o AHATs asked to assist in this.

NBU presence stands down only if clear of AH sightings one week after sighting/ nest destruction in the area.

Anne Rowberry (BBKA)

Anne spoke about the Short Certification On-line Qualification which will provide public liability insurance for AHATs (up to 15 named persons per Surrey division). This will give a similar level of cover to that which applies to beekeepers visiting other peoples’ gardens etc to collect bee swarms. It does not cover controlling AH nests, which must be left to professionals. The on-line qualification will be put on the BBKA website shortly. The way in which the multiple choice test questionnaire has been set up means that you cannot go on to the next question until you have given the correct answer to the current question. Note that some questions have more than one correct answer. When you have reached the end of the test, your details will be recorded by BBKA and you will be eligible for AH public liability insurance.

Surrey initiative

I would like to mention here that this was an initiative that Surrey BKA (through the Weybridge division) proposed to BBKA at the last ADM. So, good progress and well done Weybridge.

I hope the actual questionnaire that will emerge from BBKA will be of appropriate quality for the NBU to take seriously. It should be of a high enough level to allow the NBU to have the confidence to work more closely with the AHAT members that have the certificate. My concern is that it will be too simple and of little training value to anyone.

An online AH questionnaire is already up and running on the new www.ahat.org.uk website which, although still evolving, is already pretty good and worth a visit to test your preparedness. It is being developed by Victor Willmington and the Devon team and is designed on distance learning principles which encourages some research to find the correct answers.

According to the literature and the experience in France, Asian Hornets will begin to emerge from winter hibernation when the temperature is consistently above 13°.

In the UK, this should be late in March to the beginning of April.
On the Island of Jersey, a single hornet has already been found in the beginning of January. It is thought to have been disturbed from hibernation. Last year, 2019 the first queen was found on the 6th February.

It goes without saying that we need to be vigilant and really learn as much as we can about this dangerous insect. I am not listing here how to be vigilant, where to look or what to do for this month, we are all capable of finding this out for ourselves. A good place to start is

https://www.ahat.org.uk/and also https://www.gov.uk/government/news/asian- hornet-uk-sightings-in-2018

We need more volunteers to join the action teams. Please consider putting yourself forward if you are able, capable and have some time to be available if and when needed. Of course, we all have other commitments and other obligations but the more people that are on the team list, the easier it is to find someone available when needed.

Jonathan Brookhouse (Guildford Division)14th Feb. 2020 With some additions by Andrew Halstead

Varroa Tolerance Winter Meeting

The meeting was introduced by Andrew Halstead, Weybridge Chairperson, who reminded us that Varroa arrived in the UK in 1992.

There were two talks, one by Jonathan Brookhouse of Guildford division and the other by Marion Cooper of Weybridge.

“Searching for resilience in our honeybees” by Jonathan Brookhouse
Jonathan started by stating that he was aiming for resilience and not resistance to Varroa. Bees already have to cope with diseases, pests, climate change, environment change and modern beekeeping practices. Jonathan stated, ‘our bees need to be allowed to evolve together with the parasite.’

Why not treat bees for Varroa? There were various reasons posed, such as: residues in wax and honey, miticide damage to bees including queen longevity, drone development and disturbance to gut biome. His main concern is that the bees will become reliant on beekeeper intervention and that treatments will become ineffective when the mites become resistant to the treatments as has already occurred in many parts of the world.

Jonathan then looked at how bees are coping with Varroa. One study of 150 colonies on an isolated island that were untreated for Varroa between 1999-2005 resulted in only 13 surviving colonies. He looked at various studies on hygienic behaviour, which is measured by the efficiency with which bees remove dead brood from comb. More recent studies have placed Varroa mites under living capped brood to see if the bees will uncap and remove the larvae (and therefore the mites as well, interrupting the reproductive mite cycle). Ron Hoskins of Swindon Conservation Group has not used miticides since 1995. His bees apparently attack and remove Varroa mites.

They have also been shown to have Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) type B, which is not virulent and confers protection against virulent types A and C. Could this DWV variant be the answer to the problem of vector viruses?
Jonathan is also against importing bees as the European descendancy of bees from Africa takes a different route from that of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern bees. Debbie’s notes: (1) although speciation has not occurred so crossing should result in hybrid vigour. (2) All of this was very interesting, but I can see no way forward other than to stop treating your bees and cross your fingers!

‘Are there Varroa tolerant bees?’ by Marion Cooper

Marion gave an excellent recap of how Varroa was found across the UK in 1992, pointing out that Varroa became resistant to pyrethroid insecticides by 2006. Many Weybridge members suffered colony losses, although it was noted that there was not always a correlation between mite numbers and the state of the colony. There were various theories at the time about how some bees were surviving without treatment. Mostly this was championed by Ron Hoskins and his ‘bee to save all bees.’ However, if one of his queens was introduced to a distant colony there appeared to be no protective effect. It may be that isolation on Salisbury Plain was his saviour (as well as DWV type B).

In the late 1980s and 1990s Varroa was found to be a vector of viruses, the most pathogenic being DWV. Research on this is ongoing, much of it being continued by Prof Stephen Martin at Salford University and some others, and Marion suggested that we look out for the papers that he will no doubt continue to publish. Marion pointed out that without controlling Varroa we cannot control viruses. Colonies will survive for two to three years but will eventually collapse.


Most people attending treated their bees for Varroa. Marion advised to do mite counts, treat colonies if necessary and rotate treatments used to limit resistance developing.

Jonathan suggested that if the whole of Weybridge stopped treating their bees, then eventually we might get Varroa tolerant bees! Most people would find their losses high, however.

There appears to be no true ‘Varroa resilient bee’ as yet. However, organisms evolve and this is eventually possible but on a much longer time frame for the bees due to their slow generational turnover. How long? Who knows?
In the meantime I shall continue to treat my bees as necessary and keep abreast of current research and methods.

Winter Meeting 14/01/20: Solitary Bees and other talks

Robert Crosley – Bees with no baggage.

After moving his bees to an out apiary with limited access Rob decided to cut down his beekeeping kit to the minimum. He described how he runs his hives on brood boxes with no use of supers, queen excluders, smokers or chemicals. This leaves him to carry just a few frames and his bee suit for every visit. Robert does not have long honey extracting sessions; he removes frames as they become full, extracts them straight away in his permanently set-up extractor, then replaces them in the hive.

Andrew Halstead – Solitary bees.

Andrew described some of the 250 solitary bees found in this country; they have no social organization so a single female builds a nest, lays eggs, feeds the larvae and dies before the next generation hatch. They have great names such as the hairy footed flower bee, green eyed flower bee and the hairy legged pantaloon bee. Not to mention the cuckoo bee, which is a brood parasite laying its eggs in others’ nests.

Kat Abate and Mark Wood – 1 and ½ years beekeeping.

Kat and Mark, who took the beginners course in 2018, told of the steep learning curve of their first 18months with the excitement of new colonies quickly turning to multiple queen cell culling, swarm control, success at queen harvesting, replacing poor laying queens only to have the new queen disappear and bees that went from calm, to jumpy, to grumpy to downright evil. Needless to say Kat and Mark haven’t been put off! They recognised the importance of notes taken at the time of inspection and of planning ahead.

David Parker – Honey bees of Laos

David gave an illustrated talk about his trip to a remote part of northern Laos where he visited a beekeeper who was keeping local Apis cerana in homemade small wooden boxes with pieces of bamboo to support the comb. Very few people keep bees, there is no kit available to the locals and they were proud of their veils made from mosquito netting. Harvests are small and they cut off pieces of comb, crush it, and put it in recycled beer bottles for sale. David provided 2 samples of honey for us to taste. They received a mixed reception.