Bees and badgers talking points at County Show - Veterinary Practice
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Bees and badgers talking points at County Show

RICHARD GARD paid his usual visit to the Devon County Show where he picked up information about threats to bees and heard the Minister of Agriculture respond to questions about bovine TB

YOU just have to be impressed. The honey marquee at the Devon County Show is full of jars, cones, a couple of bee colonies, suits, smokers, associations and societies and The Bee Vet. The tag line is “Happy bees, healthy hives”.

Emily Silcock from St David’s Veterinary Practice, Exmouth, was clearly enjoying contact with the many enthusiasts visiting the honey tent. These included the Duchess of Cornwall who, no doubt, has several hives at home.

Within the last month the EU has banned three neonicotinoid insecticides from December because of their potential to harm bee colonies. A risk assessment is being carried out on a fourth product used as a seed treatment for maize.

The European Food Safety Agency has indicated that fipronil “poses a high acute risk to honeybees”. The manufacturer, BASF, is not pleased and stated that “no cases of bee mortality had ever been attributed to approved uses of fipronil”

Serious business.

Bees are serious business and promoting veterinary advice seems most timely. Colonies suffered badly from the wet weather and the practice literature highlights that by “providing veterinary information and advice to bee keepers, The Bee Vet exists to help ensure that the honey bee will continue to play an important role in our environment and society”.

One of the important points is that bee disease is well recognised in other European countries that use bees commercially to fertilise crops. Recently, the tagging of hives for traceability and honey marketing protection was reported in Malta (Veterinary Practice, April 2013).

A well-recognised infestation of hives are Varroa mites and a trial with predatory mites (Stratiolaelaps) is underway. The predatory mites attack the adult stages of the Varroa mite, thereby reducing the population to a level where there are no significant health problems to the bee colony.

Commencing in late March, paper sachets of predatory mites are added to each hive and at two-monthly intervals throughout the season. As with many situations, the treatment works best when commenced before infestation is at a high level.

There is an invitation on the website to register for the Bee Vet Predatory Mite Programme. The website also contains information sheets.

Varroa mites live their entire life cycle within the hive. They have a “phoretic phase” as a parasite on adult bees and a “reproductive phase” where they are reproducing and feeding on bee larvae. Pregnant female mites enter the bee brood cell before it is capped and sit waiting below the bee larvae.

Limiting factor

Once the cell is capped, she begins feeding on the bee larvae and once her eggs have been laid and hatched the juvenile mites feed through the same site on the bee larvae.

It takes 5-7 days for a juvenile mite to reach adulthood, after which it may produce the next generation, time permitting. The limiting factor for Varroa reproduction is the length of time that the brood cell is capped for, hence the higher percentage of Varroa reproducing in drone brood cells as they are capped for longer. The adult mites emerge when the cell is uncapped and continue their life cycle.

This close relationship with the honey bee reproductive cycle indicates why Varroa levels fluctuate through the year, depending on hive temperature and the amount of bee brood present.

Varroa destructor is a species of mite that is an external parasite of the honey bee. It was formerly known as Varroa jacobsoni and was specific to the Asian honey bee but has since spread worldwide, except for Australia.

The Western honey bees have been seriously harmed by Varroa since its introduction, as the mite feeds on both the adult bees and brood. This weakens the bees and spreads harmful pathogens such as viruses. It is no longer a notifiable disease in the UK and it has been accepted that eradication is no longer a feasible option.

It is interesting that veterinary support for the management of bees is promoted in a similar way to herd health programmes, with biosecurity, routine inspections and disease prevention and treatment. Emphasis is very much on observation and sharing information with other bee keepers. Bee to bee transfer of infection appears to be an issue and the advice is “never assume that a small amount of disease is normal”.

The practice has a “Bee Hive” with products available online, a Bee Forum and a ’phone number with the tagline: “Give us a buzz”.

Some product information has the following: Important: please note that this product is not licensed for general resale in the UK and is only available on prescription from a vet with a Special Import Certificate (SIC). For further information about bee vetting please view the website

Something rather different

Something rather different attracted a large audience in the Young Farmers tent. The Minister of Agriculture, David Heath, took part in a question and answer session with other panellists to field some direct questions from young farmers.

As this session took place just before free shooting of badgers was due to commence in Somerset and Gloucester, there were inevitable questions about TB. There was no original information in the exchanges and the Minister probably left with the feeling that he was on song.

Various private comments indicated that many Devon farmers were pleased that the cull was not going ahead in their area. The value of disease surveillance was emphasised by Mr Heath and reassurance that prevention of situations like the horse meat scandal were a Government priority.

Several questions concerned the role of Government with fair pricing for farmers and the way that British produce is promoted to consumers.

TB is always a talking point at the Devon Show and the local National Trust estate had much publicity last year for introducing a badger vaccination programme.

The talk in the cattle lines was that it has spent some £100,000 with FERA (Food & Environment Research Agency) which has caught and vaccinated one badger.

Effective publicity

Since the show the comment has been made that it definitely caught more than one badger. As a marketing effort for the Trust the publicity has probably been very effective but as a control for the disease there will need to be a critical assessment.

Unless other vaccinating groups are much more efficient, the enquiry into the negative effects and stress of catching badgers will have low numbers to work with.

County shows may not achieve great strides forward in scientific or political terms but they do allow people to meet and talk with businesses and organisations that they would not normally seek out.

The press room had information and leaflets available as well as the results of the various show categories and competitions.

If veterinary organisations have messages that they wish to be seen by the public, they could do worse than make the effort to prepare information for journalists and others to pick up and possibly include in their writing over the following year.

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