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. keonigerum).

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.

  • Resistance of varroa to synthetic pyrethroids
  • Colony collapse disorder (CCD)

The statutory aspects of this work are carried out under The Bee Diseases and Pests Control Order (Northern Ireland) 2007.

Colony collapse disorder

Bee hives at AFBI Loughgall
One area of particular concern is the phenomena of colony collapse disorder (CCD). This was first reported in the United States in 2006 and is evident by the sudden loss of adult honeybees from otherwise apparently healthy colonies. The cause of CCD is still unknown and consequently, there has been much speculation. A whole range of suspects have been mooted (e.g. stress, pesticides, GM crops) with little real evidence. However, as there is some evidence that CCD can be transmitted on contaminated equipment, suspicions have fallen on an infectious agent. Although there is no proven causal relationship, there is a correlation between the presence of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and CCD.

Honeybee colonies do from time-to-time fail, particularly with the changeable weather during this year (periods of mild weather can stimulate the bees to emerge, only to subsequently suffer if there is a cold snap). If a colony does fail, it is only natural that beekeepers will fear the cause is CCD. However, at this stage, CCD has not been confirmed in Ireland or Great Britain.

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 22-28 June 2020. You can see the website here:

Honeybee husbandry survey 2020

Survey report can be downloaded HERE

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 here

All-island pollinator plan


For more information contact:

Bee health