Bee health

Area of Expertise:

AFBI provides scientific and laboratory support to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) bee health inspectorate.

AFBI support

European honey bee
Support includes identification and diagnosis of a number of pests and diseases:

  • American and European foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae and Melissococcus eplutonius) (notifiable diseases)
  • Varroa mite (Varroa destructor). This parasitic mite was first detected in the UK in 1992 and Northern Ireland in 2002. Varroa is no longer a statutory pest and therefore, no inspections are carried out specifically for it. Nevertheless due to its impact on the industry, this parasite’s prevalence and management remain an integral aspect of bee health strategies.
  • Acarine disease (Acarapsis woodi)
  • Nosema (Nosema apis)

Less common diseases include: viruses (sac brood, Acute Paralysis Virus, Chronic Paralysis Virus) and fungal diseases such as chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis) and stonebrood (Aspergillus flavus).

Among the potential threats facing beekeeping in Northern Ireland are:

  • Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida), which is native to Africa but has spread to USA and Australia.
  • Tropilaelaps mites (T. clareae and T. mercedesae).

Both of the above are notifiable pests. In the case of imported queen bees, AFBI provides laboratory examinations of attendant bees and packaging to ensure imports are pest and disease free.
The statutory aspects of this work are carried out under The Bee Diseases and Pests Control Order (Northern Ireland) 2007.

Asian Hornet, a potential threat to honey bees in NI

Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina (Photo: Charles J Sharp)
Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina (Photo attributed to Charles J Sharp)
The Asian hornet is primarily a predator of medium to large-sized insects such as flies, social wasps and in particular, honey bees. It is a widespread established species in Asia and was accidentally introduced to Europe where it was first recorded, in southern France, in 2004. Since then it has been found in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, the Balearic Islands and the Channel Islands. From 2016-2020, there have been 18 confirmed sightings of Asian hornet in England; however these have been contained and destroyed and it has not yet become established as an invasive species.

In Northern Ireland, natural barriers – such as the Irish Sea – and more temperate climatic conditions would affect its arrival. However, introduction via shipping of commodities such as wood, soil, fruit and ceramics – as was thought to be the case in France - is a possibility and, if undetected, would present a major threat to NI beekeepers.

You can download Information about the Asian Hornet and an Asian Hornet Identification Sheet

Any potential sightings of the Asian hornet can be reported to AFBI using the Contact link at the bottom of the page.

Bee research

Within AFBI, our work on honeybees has mainly been statutory although we keep up-to-date with research developments through liaison with the National Bee Unit at the Central Science Laboratory York, Dr Rob Paxton’s bee research group at Queen’s University, Belfast, the Bee Research Unit at Teagasc and discussions with local beekeeping organisations.

National Insect Week

National Insect Week encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects. Every two years, the Royal Entomological Society organises the week, supported by a large number of partner organisations with interests in the science, natural history and conservation of insects.

National Insect Week Returns in 2022 and for more details you can visit the National Insect Week Website

Honeybee husbandry survey Report 2023-24

Take the 2023-24 Honeybee Husbandry Survey

Honeybee husbandry survey Privacy Notice

Previous honeybee husbandry surveys

Since 2009, AFBI has conducted an annual survey for all Bee Keepers in Northern Ireland to obtain information on current honeybee husbandry practices in Northern Ireland and to provide baseline data on bee health. 

The survey was based on and was in conjunction with a national survey conducted by the National Bee Unit at the Central Science Laboratory, York. The reports for these surveys are available at the link below.

All-island pollinator plan

AFBI was involved in the creation of an all-island pollinator plan, which can be viewed or downloaded: All-island pollinator plan


For more information contact  AFBI Bee health