BIBBA Opposes the Importation of Honey Bees and Queens

Opposes the Importation of Honey Bees and Queens

Here are 15 reasons why:

Bee Health

  1. BIBBA supports the prosperity and wellbeing of all our current populations of bees, including honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees as well as other pollinators,
  2. Imported honey bees pose a considerable risk each year to our present populations in many different ways. This ever-growing practice is not sustainable.
  3. It is most likely that the seriously damaging invasive pests and pathogens we currently have in our bee populations were introduced into the British Islands and Ireland through the practice of importing bees, including:
      • Varroa destructor, (introduced in 1992. information here)
      • Nosema Ceranae, (first detected in samples taken in 2004. Information here)
      • Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV), (Evidence- based study linked the increase of CBPV to imports of honey bees. There were no reported cases in 2006, however, cases increased exponentially around 2007. Study can be found here)
  4. The introduction of new invasive pests, diseases and pathogens is inevitable and brought closer with each new consignment.
  5. Two examples of potentially destructive new threats are Tropilaelaps and Small Hive Beetle (SHB). Both these invasive species can quickly destroy colonies.
  6. These pests have long been recognised as a very serious threat to our bees (made notifiable in 2006). They are notifiable in both the UK and the EU.  Notifiable means that, by law, they must be reported if discovered.
  7. SHB was discovered in Italy in 2014. Despite all the Italian government’s efforts to eradicate the incursion into the country, it is still there in 2020. (information can be found here)
  8. As an EU country, Italy has the same stringent import/export regulations as the UK, which include clean health certificates from country of origin and consignment inspections, which are assessed according to risk. Imports from Italy to the UK continued as free trade until the Brexit transition period ended on 31st December 2020 and the new regulations came into force on 1st January 2021. Details can be found here. SHB was introduced into Italy despite these EU regulations.
  9. The largest number of imports of package bees and/or nucs brought into the UK since 2014 until leaving the EU in 2020 each year were from Italy. (National Bee Unit stats here).
  10. Continual importation is likely to harm the efforts of beekeepers who are seeking to select bees for natural resilience to varroa.

Locally Adapted Honey Bees

  1. Locally adapted honey bees have long been known by experienced beekeepers to consistently perform better than exotic imports. This was confirmed in 2014 with the publishing of a substantial Europe-wide study aimed to identify how to optimise sustainable productivity. The Study can be found (here)
  2. Imported queens are usually either pure sub-species, hybrids or man-made types. They are mainly from different evolutionary lineages that have evolved in very different ecogeographic conditions. It is well known that random mating with different types of bees creates arbitrary crosses that often result in aggressive behaviour in subsequent generations. This is known as “F2 Aggression”.
  3. As imported drones mate with local queens, another result is the disruption and dilution of locally adapted genetic traits that have evolved in the local population. The consequence of this dilution is weaker colonies less likely to survive the winter without substantial beekeeper intervention and support.
  4. We do not need to import bees! There are circa 250,000 colonies in England and Wales. These can be rapidly increased if they were needed. In favourable areas, it has long been shown that one strong colony can produce up to ten colonies, strong enough to go into the next winter. How to do this link is (here).
  5. Importing bees is largely, if not solely, a commercial activity. It is not for the benefit of the bees, for pollination, the ecology of our countryside or biodiversity as it is oftentimes portrayed. Imports have increased greatly over the last few years (here). Unfortunately, if imported bees fail to over-winter it merely sets up a vicious circle, prompting more demand for bees, and further imports.

As responsible beekeepers, we should all be concerned about the welfare, health and survivability of our populations of honey bees. Established free living colonies usually show little resemblance visually or behaviourally to those of imports, suggesting that imported bees do not survive our conditions well. This is simply natural selection at work.

Despite well over a century of importation, the background population has been shown scientifically to be predominantly Apis mellifera mellifera, our native bee, confirming that exotics do not survive long.

BIBBA aims to educate beekeepers about the benefits of keeping locally adapted bees and encourages the propagation of queens from good colonies with a history of surviving locally.

BIBBA Committee V001. 18 February 2021.

Statement by the Native Irish Honey Bee Society