Monday, 31 July 2017

An Inspector Calls*

I have just had my first visit from an inspector from the National Bee Unit as part of the Statuary Inspection Programme.  Although I registered with BeeBase (the NBU's website) as soon as I got my first bees in 21012 this is the first visit I have had and it was the first time another beekeeper has looked at my bees.  It was a coolish and fairly blustery day.  I told the inspector the story of the hives - they had all had MAQS treatment two weeks before so, apart from removing the strips a week ago, the hives hadn't really had a full inspection for three weeks.  After lighting the smoker and suiting up we were off, with me holding the smoker and the inspector doing the inspecting.  The first thing was to take a GPS reading to localise my apiary precisely in the BeeBase records. Some of my bees are fairly stroppy (as we found out) so we started with the gentlest bees.

The main purpose of the inspection is to look for exotic and serious diseases and pests, especially Tropilaelaps mites, small hive beetle and asian hornet, as well as European foul brood (EFB) and American foul brood (AFB), none of which we did find.  Apparently my apiary is relatively high priority for checking for exotics, being close to Newcastle Airport, although none of these problems is close by.  Tropilaelaps mites and small hive beetle are not (yet) found in the UK and although asian hornets were found in Gloucestershire last year they are not (yet) established here.  This map, from the BeeBase website, shows where inspections in 2017 have found AFB (red squares), EFB (yellow squares) or have been clear (green circles) so nothing has been found within 50 miles of here.

We did find signs of parasitic mite syndrome from varroa infestation in my largest colony, something I had known about and was the reason for recent MAQS treatment of all the hives.  Worryingly when the inspector pulled out two larvae for examination they both had live varroa mites on them, rather surprising as they had just been treated.  He reckons that hive needs follow up treatment with Apiguard.  It was very interesting to watch as both mites were pounced on by worker bees and carried off.  One other colony had signs of chalk brood and sac brood.  To show me how it is done the inspector kindly did an AFB test on a sac-brood-affected larva with a lateral flow device.  First he took a sample from the larva with a spatula.

After shaking with a reagent in the extraction bottle for 20 seconds two drops of fluid were pipetted into the device.

A pale blue dye spreads across the viewing window from left to right

and a deeper blue line appears at the control (C) point showing the device is working.  The absence of another blue line at test (T) shows the disease is not present.

So it was a very reassuring and worthwhile experience, one which I think is now to be repeated each year.  One other thing the inspector brought with him was an asian hornet!  Fortunately this Vespa velutina worker was pickled.  It came from the Gloucestershire nest last year and was bigger than I had expected.  I do hope it is the last one I ever see.

*An Inspector Calls is a play written by JB Priestly in 1945.


  1. Glad your bees passed muster! My hives are registered with the Province of Ontartio but so far have not been inspected by an official. I treated my hives with Oxalic acid in the Spring but I now see a building mite load in my strongest hive. A very interesting and informative post, Christopher.

    1. He wasn't really interested in varroa Florence as it is ubiquitous here but it was interesting to talk to him about it. Registration of hives and apiaries with the NBU isn't mandatory here but is strongly encouraged (and free).