3 minute read

UK honeybees in the firing line

Dhafer Behnam

Dr Dhafer Behnam is a doctor of medicine, until recently practising in Baghdad, Iraq. A few months ago he and his family travelled to a new home and life in the UK. In Iraq, Dhafer was also an enthusiastic beekeeper, and Secretary of the Iraqi Beekeepers' Association. He contributed several interesting articles to this Journal. In the UK, Dhafer has taken up a new job: Head of Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey in south-west England. Many readers will know that Buckfast was made world-famous through the work of Brother Adam, who spent his life at Buckfast breeding bees. Brother Adam died in 1996 aged 99. In this article Dhafer describes his view of the British approach to Varroa control. continues overleaf...

After the spread of the Varroa mite to honeybee colonies across the world, beekeeping management has had to change dramatically. Varroa was found in the UK in 1992. It has had a bad impact on beekeeping in general, on professionals and on amateurs. Now it is more than 10 years since it was identified in the island. Since then, what has been done?

The pyrethroid chemicals namely fluvalinate (Apistan) and flumethrin (Bayvarol) have been. used for over seven years. The persistent use of these materials has allowed the mite to build up resistance to these substances and this has been recorded in some parts of the country. What is being done against this issue? Thymol compounds are to some extent effective in knocking down Varroa, yet they agitate the bees, are expensive to buy, and are not doing the job well enough.

There was talk about physical manoeuvres, like drone comb trapping, queen confinement and the use of meshed hive floors. These tasks, although they are useful, are too time consuming for use on a commercial scale and might affect the build up of colonies during crucial periods.

Many hope that genetic selection will play its role. However, Varroa is an opportunistic parasite: it is not a natural parasite of Apis mellifera. Thus Apis mellifera would need infinite time to show genetic mutation, if at all. The defence mechanism of the Asian hive bee, Apis cerana, is to have short incubation periods for drone brood and absconding of colonies to settle in another site, which is not the case for European honeybees, Apis mellifera. After all, if one scientist beekeeper succeeds in getting an inbred line of bees that shows some resistance against Varroa, the way of mating of bees, and the need for hybrids to gain vigour, would make this character lost after one or two generations. It is not as if finding a colony or group of colonies that have less Varroa mites means this line is resistant to Varroa. Half facts can never be a compromise for the whole truth.

It is not a matter of being pessimistic, but rather emphasising the need for alternatives. Integrated pest management may be the ideal solution. However, beekeepers need more than one material to apply and to have different manoeuvres. Beekeepers and decisionmakers need to plot immediate actions and long-term ones to solve the problem.

Otherwise this problem of resistance will spread to a level that will jeopardise the British beekeeping industry. Nobody likes the use of chemicals in honeybee colonies, but leaving these tiny creatures unaided is another sour solution. The pyrethroid compounds have been used before and they are chemicals. We must make use of other countries' experience in finding and registering the use of alternative chemicals, as an urgent act. Meanwhile we should encourage any scientific approach, and any inspiration, as a prospect for the future.