Sussex Beekeepers Association 2017 Annual Convention Report

by Norman Dickinson


9:00am Registration and Coffee
9:30am Dr John Feltwell Dealing with the Asian Hornet
10:50am Roger Patterson My Simple Approach to Bee Improvement
11:50am Mike Williams The Bee Sting and its effect on Humans
2:00pm Nikki Gammans Gardening for Bees and other Insect Pollinators
3:20pm Bob Smith Managing the Workers

The annual SBKA Convention was held on Saturday, 25th November 2017 at the Uckfield Civic Centre and was well attended by members across the Association. The first speaker was Dr. John Feltwell who gave a most informative, and sometimes frightening talk on the Asian Hornet. B&L Members would recognise the subject matter as that given by John at the B&L October winter meeting, although there was a lot of information that updated the talk given in October. John’s conclusion however was the same and that is that the Asian Hornet will establish itself in the UK Mainland, and it’s all just a matter of time as to when this will happen.

As an update to the above, the NBU sent out an email to all registered beekeepers just before Christmas as an update on the Asian Hornet outbreak in Woolacombe in September 2017. For those Members who are not registered I include this update as below.

Please click the following red link to view an image of an Asian hornet sighting in Woolacombe hawking in front of beehives .

Following suspect sightings, on Sunday 24th September the NBU received two photographs from a beekeeper in Woolacombe, North Devon, of an Asian hornet. The following day, the 25th September, preliminary surveillance began in the apiary and the NBU’s Contingency Plan was activated. The local Bee Inspector monitored the apiary and initially found surveillance difficult due to the position of the colonies in the apiary. However, that morning, the Inspector managed to capture a hornet and sent the sample to the NBU in Sand Hutton for formal identification. Later that afternoon, the Inspector returned to the apiary site and a further 7 hornets were seen hawking in front of hives, but no line of sight could be ascertained, to establish a flight path back to the nest.

On the 26th September, South West Region inspectors were deployed to intensify searches for Asian hornets hawking in the area. Wet, misty and murky morning weather conditions were not ideal, but the Inspectors continued to survey the original outbreak apiary and two lines of sight were established. Inspectors were able to identify a second apiary site about 1km from the original outbreak, where one hornet was seen hawking for returning foraging bees. A hornet sample was taken, in order to establish if the hornets visiting the second apiary site were from the same nest and thus determine if there were multiple nests in the area.

Hornets were also observed in an apiary at a further site and were seen flying in a similar line of sight. The lines of sight from both the outbreak apiary and the second apiary combined were enough for an initial triangulation to be taken and investigated. The Inspectors began investigating public footpaths and the area around where the lines of sight met at the triangulation. A great deal of Asian hornet activity was observed at a nearby building site and on 27th September an Asian hornet nest was discovered.

The nest was destroyed the following evening, removed and taken to the Fera lab (Sand Hutton, York) on Friday 29th Sept. Further surveillance was carried out within a 10 km zone of the nest site and no further Asian hornet activity was detected. Following analysis of the nest has shown that none of the adult hornets were male and this indicates that the nest was detected and removed before the production of queens which will have gone into winter and then produced nests in 2018.

Additionally, if you are interested in finding out more details of the Tetbury outbreak in 2016, including genetic analysis of the hornets origin, this can be found in the PLoS One publication: Budge GE, Hodgetts J, Jones EP, Ostoja Starzewski JC, Hall J, Tomkies V, et al. (2017) The invasion, provenance and diversity of Vespa velutina Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) in Great Britain. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0185172.

Nikki Gammans was the next speaker who gave a captivating talk on the plight of the bumblebee and gardening for pollinators. She explained that there are three main species of bee, the Honey Bee, Solitary Bee and Bumblebee and briefly described the lifecycle for the Solitary and Bumblebee, noting that the solitary bee will only live for 4-8 weeks but is a far more efficient pollinator than the Honey Bee. In the UK we did have 27 species of bumblebee but 3 of these have now gone extinct and Nikki’s project is to re-introduce one of the extinct species using Scandinavian bees. There are 250 species of bumble worldwide, most of which are in and around the Himalayas and China, which is where the bumblebee originated from and is why they very efficient at low temperatures and have even been known to forage in the snow. The greatest threat to the bumblebee is loss of forage, and one of the aims of the of the Bumblebee Conservation is to educate the populace, especially farmers, with the need to provide suitable forage in the form of wild flower meadows or field boundaries. Nikki post talk had selections of books, leaflets and wildflower seeds available for those interested in helping the bumblebee.

Our final speaker before lunch was Dr. Mike Williams, an East Sussex Hospital Group Consultant specialising in maxillofacial surgery and a Royal College of Surgeons Examiner, who gave a fascinating and captivating talk on the bee sting and the various effects that it has on the human body. He first described how the bee stings, what the anatomy of the sting was and the general chemical make-up of the venom injected into the body. This was followed by a discussion of the bodily reaction to the venom and the process by which the immune system attempts to fight the infection. Finally he described the effect that the venom can have on the body, ranging from swelling and pain at the affected part through to anaphylactic shock which has the potential to kill and what can be done to ease the effect. This was followed by a robust Q&A session and lunch.

After lunch Roger Patterson entertained us with his take on a simple approach to Bee Improvement and directed the audience to the Dave Cushman website which Roger manages following Dave’s death and which contains a wealth of beekeeping information. Roger emphasised throughout his talk that the best teachers are the bees themselves and that as beekeepers we must interpret what they are telling us. Bee Improvement should really require the beekeeper raising Queens based on the traits that each individual requires, whether this be honey production, less likely to swarm, temperament etc. and Roger places good behaviour as the No.1 trait that as beekeepers we should be aiming for.

Roger practices simple management techniques, does not advocate complicating things (Keep it Simple Stupid – KISS. Ed) and with most of what he does being based on experience. In Rogers opinion, there is a lot of complicated and irrelevant information both on the Internet and elsewhere, most of which should be taken with a generous pinch of salt. At the start of the season, beekeepers must have a plan of what they are striving for, whether this be maximising honey production, increasing the number of colonies etc. however the beekeeper must be prepared to adjust the plan as the season progresses. Don’t be afraid to re-queen if the traits you are aiming for is not being achieved. Don’t forget that for most of us, beekeeping is a hobby and above all beekeeping should be fun.

The final speaker of the day was Bob Smith NDB whose subject was Managing the Workers, subtitled ‘Maintaining Industrial Relations and Avoiding Disputes’. Bob first statement was that the beekeeper is in charge, has a huge responsibility to the bees in his/her care as well as to other beekeepers and must work together with his/her bees. One should recognise that whatever each beekeeper does or does not do can have an impact on beekeepers local to ones apiary, i.e. transmission of disease etc., a good example being the introduction of the Varroa Mite in the 1990’s.

A defining feature of our beekeeping which we must recognise is the provision of suitable stores and conditions such as to enable the colonies to get through winter, unlike bees in warmer climes which would have forage available throughout the year. As spring approaches and the Queen commences laying, there is a rapid expansion of the colony, which if the beekeeper does not / cannot recognise will lead to the colony swarming. Once the swarming period is over, the bees naturally build food stores for the forthcoming winter, which we beekeepers then take as a honey crop, so we must ensure that conditions are right for the colony to survive winter, and so the cycle continues. All the above is called ‘reading the bees’ together with an understand where in the cycle they are. There are five reasons for opening and inspecting a hive, these are 1) Is it Queen right? 2) Has it got enough space? 3) Is it healthy? 4) Are the stores OK? and 5) Is it thinking about swarming? We need to look for these, identify where in the cycle the bees are then decide how we will react to this information bearing in mind that as managers of the bees, are they doing what we require of them. As part of this process it is important to maintain good record keeping, as the past records will be a good indication of what was done in order to guide the bees down the path we wish for them to take and are we achieving it. If we are then fine, otherwise further steps need to be taken to meet our goal.

Everything discussed so far indicates that we have a plan for our bees, i.e. how many colonies do we intend to have next year, are we going into queen rearing this year, do we want improved honey production so these would be our objectives. To manage our bees effectively we must have this plan otherwise we are just following what the bees want to do and not what we want them to do.

Managing the health of our bees is paramount to what we do, ensure we have clean suits, gloves and equipment. When inspecting the hives, have an understanding of what you are looking for, i.e. condition of larvae, sealed brood etc., and act immediately, especially if one of the foul broods is suspected. If in doubt, contact your local Bee Inspector.

In summary, beekeepers are managers of their bees so should be steering the bees in the direction they want to go, not as the bees want. This will be in accordance with The Plan. Good beekeepers observe so take time to look into the colonies and try to understand what the bees are doing. Keep clothing and equipment clean to prevent spread of disease and finally, enjoy your beekeeping.

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

Nikki Gammans

Nikki Gammans 1

Roger Patterson

Roger Patterson 1