Advice on Bee Health

Honey bees, pests and diseases

Honey bees contribute directly to sustainable local food production and more broadly, through pollination, to crop production. They are susceptible to pests and diseases, which have increased significantly in the UK over the last 5 to 10 years. Current widespread risks include American Foulbrood and European Foulbrood, varroa mites and associated viruses. Colony losses due to varroa infestation have increased since 2001. This is a result of the mites’ developing resistance to available pyrethroid varroacides and the limited alternative treatments. Potential exotic risks include the small hive beetle, parasitic brood mites (Tropilaelaps species) and undesirable species such as the Asian hornet. The management of pests and diseases in hives to the lowest levels achievable, in particular through integrated pest management, is needed in order to reduce the risk of further spread to nearby apiaries. It is also necessary to sustain the role of honey bees in pollinating crops and to minimise lost honey production.

Bees with varroa mites
Bees with Varroa mites. Source: Bee Culture

The health of bees is concerned with anything that potentially harms honey bees, including bacteria, viruses, arachnids (e.g. mites), insects, fungi and other pathogens, which cause disease or feed on bees, as well as adverse effects caused by other threats, such as undesirable species that prey on colonies, the misuse of pesticides and the impact of climate change.

Source: Defra ‘Healthy Bees Protecting and improving the health of honey bees in England and Wales March 2009’

The aim of these pages is to signpost where beekeepers (or those interested in becoming beekeepers who want to know a bit more on what is involved in keeping bees) can find information about bee pests and diseases.

Healthy Bees and Brood

Before considering bee diseases and pests it is important for all beekeepers to be able to recognise healthy adult bees, eggs, lavae and sealed brood. The gallery on Beebase provides a series of images showing healthy and unhealthy bees, brood and eggs:

Beebase Gallery

Key Resource – BeeBase

BeeBase is the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) National Bee Unit website. It is designed for beekeepers and supports Defra, Welsh Government and Scotland’s Bee Health Programmes and the Healthy Bees Plan, which set out to protect and sustain our valuable national bee stocks.

By registering your bees on BeeBase, Defra is able to give you guidance on bee diseases in your area. In addition, their inspectors undertake statutory inspections for notifiable diseases (currently American and European Foulbrood, Small Hive Beetle and Tropilaelaps mites). Registering your hives and apiaries in BeeBase is strongly recommended for all members of OBKA.

Beebase leaflets

BeeBase Advice for New Beekeepers

Beebase How do I manage Varroa

BeeBase Foulbrood Disease of Honey Bees

BeeBase How to spot American Foul Brood (AFB)?

BeeBase How to spot European Foul Brood (EFB)?

National bee Unit – Leaflet on Common Pests, Diseases and Disorders of the Adult Honey Bee (.PDF; 1.9Mb)

 Government advice on bee health

The following UK Government leaflet gives advice of specific aspects of bee health that is covered by statute, including the notifiable diseases and import and export of bees.

Honey bees: protecting them from pests and diseases

 Information on identifying bee brood diseases and adult bee pests, diseases and disorders

There are many web-based resources dealing with bee disease. Some are very helpful; others less so. In general, advice provided by government agencies and universities is reliable. The following examples are from the UK, the State of Victoria, Australia, and New Zealand government agencies:

A guide to the field diagnosis of honey bee brood diseases

The National Bee Unit: Common Pests, Diseases and Disorders of the Adult Honey Bee (PDF download, as above)

The following links are to The Management Agency, National American Foulbrood Pest Management Plan New Zealand:

Leaflet: Diagnosis of Common Honey Bee Brood Diseases and Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PDF download; 1.6Mb)


Notifiable Diseases and Pests

The notifiable diseases and pests of Honey Bees which you are required to report by law, are:

American and European Foulbrood – see links above

Tropilaelaps mites

Small Hive Beetle

Asian Hornet: Management of the Asian Hornet threat is covered by Invasive Species legalisation while the four bee diseases are managed under specific bee disease legalisation. As a result, the reporting and management of the Asian Hornet threat differs from that of the four notifiable bee diseases and is covered on our page on Asian Hornet.

Varroa (since April 2021)

Regional Bee Inspector

If you believe that you have a notifiable disease you should immediately contact your Seasonal Bee Inspector. The one that covers you area can be found on BeeBase here.