Asian Hornet BBKA Conference Summary

Warwick, Saturday 8th Feb 2020

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

March 2020 Newsletter

Editorial

We have heard of a number of unusually early losses of colonies this winter. There appeared to be no conclusive reasons for several of these. Over the years I have become aware of the attitude of many beekeepers who accept colony losses in winter as just ‘one of those things’. I remember seeing on television several years ago a beekeeper of apparent standing who was asked how many colonies he had lost during the recent winter. He replied rather casually “only four of my twenty”. The question came to my mind, as it always does, “But why did these colonies die out?” I know it can sometimes be very difficult to discover why we lose a colony, but I also think that it is important to try to find a reason rather than accept it as just ‘one of those things’. If our colonies are properly prepared for winter and as far as we can tell are in good shape in autumn, then why should they not appear in good condition in the spring?

May I remind you, especially new beekeepers, of those wise words of my beekeeping tutor: “The most likely time for a colony to die out is in the Spring when they are hopefully raising a lot of new brood causing rapid depletion of their stores.” So do keep a careful watch on you colonies’ stores from now onwards until there is some forage for them to bring in, especially if a warm spell is suddenly replaced by a very cold one.

REPORTS

Weybridge / Guildford joint meeting 21st February 2020:
Varroa Tolerance
Cobham Village Hall. 45 people in attendance.

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.

Summary

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.

Special thanks to Chris Chisholm for her delicious cakes and to Anne and Jane for organising the refreshments.

Deborah Macey, Weybridge

Thank you, Debbie for this comprehrensive report, the first that you have provided for us. We look forward to many more.

Asian Hornet BBKA Conference Warwick, Saturday 8th February 2020

Click here and you will find a full report of the above important conference, which was attended by Jonathan Brookhouse, the Surrey BKA Coordinator, and Andrew Halstead, our Weybridge rep.

There is a huge amount of information in this, and some may not feel that they have the time to read it. However I think that as practical beekeepers we should take the trouble to read the section which is copied below for your convenience:

‘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 this year. It is thought to have been disturbed from hibernation. Last year, 2019, the first queen was found on the 6th February.

What beekeepers should do while they await the inevitable arrival of the Asian Hornet (my heading –Ed.)

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.’

Please contact Andrew Halstead (ahalstead44@btinternet.com) if you are able to help.

Winter Meeting 14th January 2020

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.


Weybridge Christmas Market, 30/11/2019

The WBK stall at this event was a great success. Verbal contacts were made with a good number of people including an interview with Richard for the Brooklands Local Radio Station. We sold over 80lbs of honey, plus cut comb and wax wraps. Many thanks are due to all those members who helped, but especially to Jane Hunter and Paul Bunclark who organised, set up, and dismantled the stand, and spent the whole day in attendance. A great time all round.

2019 Summer Meetings

A great series of summer meetings was held in 2019 with attendance generally up on 2018.

HostsDateMain SubjectAttendance
Michael Main28th April, 2.30 pmStart of the Season: Bailey Comb Change, Shook Swarm40+
David and Jenny Nield26th May, 2.30 pmAn Inspector Calls, Bee Disease inspection25+
Aslam and Kishwer Aziz8th June, 2.30 pmPreparing for the Flow25+
Geoff and Marion Cooper13th July, 2.30pmHarvesting the Honey and What can go Wrong, an education in  things that go wrong but should not20+
David Parker15th September 2.30pmSurviving Winter20+

Teaching apiary on the move

The Weybridge division’s teaching apiary has been in the grounds of St Georges Junior School in Weybridge since 2015.  In August 2017 the hives were damaged by vandals on three occasions, so the decision was made to move the hives into the garden of a member for the winter period.  The original plan was to move the hives back to St Georges in the spring but an alternative site in Ottershaw has since become available.  Hopefully this will be less vulnerable to vandalism and will provide a temporary home until a more permanent site can be secured.

On Sunday 12 April a working party of Weybridge members went to St Georges to load paving slabs and the contents of the shed on to a trailer.  The shed was then dismantled ready for the journey to Ottershaw.  In the evening of the same day, the hives were transported from their winter quarters and placed in the new apiary site.


The 24 students on the 2018 beginner beekeepers’ course began the practical part of the course in the new apiary on 21 April.

Nosema Clinic 2018

Our Nosema clinic was well attended where members were shown how to prepare samples and examine them under a microscope to detect the presence of Nosema.  High concentrations of Nosema will cause problems for our bees and appropriate action, such as a shook swarm, may be necessary.