Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 13:13 UK

'Serious threat' from bee disease

Beekeepers in Perthshire may have to burn their infected hives

Beekeepers in Scotland have warned of a serious threat to the industry after a deadly disease was discovered.

At least four hives and three apiaries in Perthshire have been found to be infected with American Foulbrood (AFB).

The honeybee disease was discovered while investigating cases of European Foulbrood (EFB) in the area.

Colonies infected with EFB can be saved if the case is not serious. However, those with AFB cannot be treated with antibiotics and have to be destroyed.

Foulbrood is caused by a bacterium which gets inside bee larvae and uses up their food supply, starving them to death.

EFB was discovered in Perthshire and Angus last month.

Gavin Ramsay from the Scottish Beekeepers Association said: "It's the worst problem in beekeeping in Scotland for very many years.

"It's going to be very disruptive to beekeeping probably for a few years.

Everyone has to be cleaner, better beekeepers than before
Murray McGregor

"It's a notifiable disease, so that means if you have a suspicion that you have it in your bees you have to tell the authorities and the bee inspectors will come and have a look and test it.

"It's a new problem, it's something that we're not used to dealing with here, so it means people are going to have to learn how to identify it in the early stages so it can be treated, and also how to change our beekeeping to minimise the likelihood it's going to appear."

So far, just over 1,000 hives have been inspected for EFB and 61 of those have tested positive. Forty hives have been destroyed.

Murray McGregor, 54, has had to burn hundreds of his hives because of the EFB infection, which can be detected by its bad fish smell.

He said: "Everyone has to be cleaner, better bee-keepers than before, more observant and indulge in regular renewal of their equipment."

He said recent summers had been bad for the beekeeping industry - bees were stressed and the varroa mite had also caused problems.

"The threat to the industry in Scotland is very serious," Mr McGregor said.

"There are a considerable number of the main commercial beekeepers in Scotland concentrated within this area.

Colonies will have to be burned if infected with AFB

"If they're taken out of the equation and the honey doesn't exist for these people then heather honey, which is an iconic Scottish product, may cease to exist as a mass market item."

A surveillance zone has been set up around the site of the AFB outbreak and further inspections are being carried out.

Andrew Scarlett from beekeepers and honey packers Scarletts Scotland told BBC Scotland that the industry had suffered so much.

"Already this year we've employed fewer beekeepers, we're obviously going to produce less honey, but most of our overheads remain the same."

He urged other beekeepers to inform the government as soon as they suspected they had a foulbrood infection.

He said: "Ourselves and some of the other commercial beekeepers all have to spend a lot of money to start replacing combs, replacing colonies.

"If other beekeepers don't come forward then all the hard work we're going to be doing over the winter and the spring and the money we're going to be spending will just be wasted next year because there'll still be a lot of infected colonies out there, which will re-infect our own."

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