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Bee importation

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A honeybee pollinates a large daisy in the foreground, with several other large daisies in the background of the image.

There has been a significant amount of press interest in, with some eye-catching headlines suggesting that 15m bees could be burnt under new Brexit import rules, with the story picked up in the Telegraph, Guardian, Times, Independent and Mail.

So what’s happened?

Since the end of the Transition Period, it has no longer been possible to import colonies or packages of bees directly into Great Britain from the EU. It’s still possible to import queen bees, and in 2020 we imported over 21,000 to GB.

Anyone looking to import bees to the UK should check the guidance available before doing so to avoid importing prohibited material. Any packages and colonies of bees that are imported into GB from the EU would have to be returned to their original location.

Why can’t colonies or packages continue to be imported from the EU into Great Britain?

As we are now outside the EU the legislation has changed and it is no longer possible to import bees (other than queens) from the continent.

We continue to work with the beekeeping sector to support them, as well as working with the devolved administrations given that bee health is a devolved matter.

Can packages and colonies be imported into Northern Ireland?

EU member states may export bees to Northern Ireland in line with intra-Union trade rules.  This means that packages and colonies may be exported to Northern Ireland provided they have been notified in advance and are accompanied by a valid health certificate.

Can bees be moved from Northern Ireland to Great Britain after they have been imported from the EU?

Under current rules, colonies or packages of bees, as well as queen bees can be imported from the EU into Northern Ireland.

From 1 January 2021, all goods in free circulation in Northern Ireland qualify for unfettered access, meaning no declarations, tariffs, new regulatory checks or customs checks, or additional approvals for Northern Ireland businesses to place goods on the GB market. Direct trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain can continue as it did before the end of the Transition Period.

HMRC have anti-avoidance measures in place to ensure that only genuine trade between NI and GB benefits from unfettered market access. These measures will be kept under review as we plan for the next phase of the unfettered access regime which will focus the benefits on Northern Ireland businesses, to be introduced during the course of 2021. Further details will be set out in due course.

There are reports you are going to have to kill 15 million bees as you can’t import them?

This is not true – only queen bees can be imported into Great Britain from third countries, including the EU.

Anyone looking to import bees to the UK should check the guidance available before doing so to avoid importing prohibited material. Any packages and colonies of bees that are imported into GB from the EU would have to be returned to their original location.

Are you concerned that there may be a shortage of bees?

There is no suggestion there will be. Whilst there is no compulsory registration system for bees and beekeeping in the UK, activity in the beekeeping sector means honey bee numbers are increasing – colonies recorded on the voluntary register which forms part of the NBU’s BeeBase website increased from around 108,000 in 2009 to 224,000 in 2020.

It is important to note that while the import of packages is now prohibited, the import of queens is still permitted. In 2020 GB imported 21,405 queens and 1,882 packages.

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  1. Comment by Jeremy Huckle posted on

    I am a beekeeper and together with many others are fully behind any move to stop the importation of foreign bees.

  2. Comment by Barry HULATT posted on

    We must move to make registration of beekeepers compulsory as it is in other countries and, indeed, for other livestock in this country. We must avoid the importation of bees from potentially infected sources or areas with exotic pests. The misinformation on the import of bees is alarmist and ultimately seems to originate from commercial bee importers who wish to profit from an American business model of beekeeping. Import of bees into this country is totally unnecessary.
    Barry Hulatt (Chairman, Quantock Beekeepers Association)

  3. Comment by Rachel Stockton posted on

    What idiot decided this rule. This is one rule that could have been over come in the trade deal. No need for this at all.

  4. Comment by Julian Cox posted on

    Please ban imports of bees into the UK. 1) It is not necessary as there is already breeding of local bees that can be sufficient to meet needs and 2) imported bees are potentially dangerous - that is likely how Varroa arrived in the UK. We now have to do all we can to prevent accidental introduction of Small Hive Beetle which would be devastating.

  5. Comment by Jo Widdicombe posted on

    I hope DEFRA will not bough to pressure from importers and start to allow these damaging and risky imports to take place.

  6. Comment by Caroline Corsie posted on

    Why do you not make any connection with The National Pollinator Strategy, TWT Action for Insects the NAP etc and .....also impact on health of home colonies and wild pollinators ..are people never going to learn !?

  7. Comment by RS posted on

    I do not support the importation of bees and queens because I believe that there is a credible threat to our native bees from imported stocks.

    The devastating Small Hive Beetle and Tropilaelaps mite have been notifiable pests in the UK since 2006 and the Government should be applauded for its hard work in stopping the introduction of these pests to UK shores. I believe that locally produced bees and queens, which are suited to UK climates, are superior to imported stock which, in my opinion, often fail to thrive. Bees imported from a distant location might also be genetically incompatible with your local stocks and this could result in unwanted behaviour in future generations often noticed as aggressive colonies of bees. A sustainable operation where the beekeeper propagates queens from their best stock, constantly improving their bees, means that they can be self-sufficient, save money and lessen the risk of finding disease and exotic pests in their operation.

  8. Comment by Joe posted on

    This is ridiculous! Blame Brexit and offer up a back door solution to what is actually a really positive step? Jesus wept. Im really struggling to see what you do to actually protect Honeybees in this country and improve the current situation.

    Part of your pollinator strategy for the protection of honeybees and pollinators in general should be to hugely limit or cease the importation of queens. The current strategy update doesn’t seem to include anything progressive or significant enough to make any difference let alone reverse mistakes (Varroa debacle).

    In the last decade reams of scientific evidence have shown adaptation to locality and the preservation of genetic diversity being tantamount to sustainability. The increasing risk in translocating pathogens and parasites from any country should warrant a ban or extreme reductions on importations and should be the forefront of your strategies.

    This country could be a forerunner in tackling problems the current paradigm has caused Honeybees and pollinators in general. It strikes me that now is the time for reinvention and investment in the British beekeeping industry rather than propping foreign businesses at the detriment of U.K. pollinators

  9. Comment by Pamela Hunter posted on

    This is totally contradictory - it says near the top, you cannot import packages but then lower down you can import from N. Ireland.
    You say direct trade from NI to Gt Britain can continue and that imports from EU to NI are permitted. Who issues the valid health certificate? Why not just stop imports totally other than Queens??