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Published: Tuesday 24th March, 2009
Updated: Tuesday 24th March, 2009
It has become apparent from comments made that the idea of a register of beekeepers is not universally popular. It also appears that a major reason for this is that it has not been made clear as to what is meant by a register. As far as the BFA is concerned we mean a register of beekeepers names and addresses, and a private record of sites. Nothing lower, at hive level. How members record these details is and will remain their own affair.
I would like to explain in detail exactly why we (the committee) are in favour of a register of all beekeepers in the country. I am sorry if I am repeating a lot of what you will already have seen in The Beekeeper’s Quarterly.
Perhaps I should first point out that any member of the BFA that thinks he (or she) is not already on the NBU’s register is almost certainly wrong.
Why is it necessary? Currently the NBU has Bee-Base, which is a data-base (or register) of beekeepers and their apiary sites. This includes those who have registered themselves, and anyone that has ever been inspected. Unfortunately, there are an estimated 20,000 small-scale beekeepers that are not on it or in any association. They carry on beekeeping in some sort of fashion, many never opening their hives and relying on the fact that bees can be seen going in and out to tell them if they are alive or not. Never mind if they are their own bees, or ours robbing out their weak or dead disease-ridden colony. As well as old beekeepers who have had bees in a box for years and have no intention of being told what to do, they are now being joined by “alternative life-style” zealots who believe that all the ills of the bee are the fault of modern beekeeping practices and that these must be avoided at all costs. If you do not believe me take a look at the forums on the “green” lifestyle websites. On one site alone I have seen assertions that the bees will be kept in skeps; inspection stresses the bees, so they will never be inspected; collecting honey wears them out so they will only be given a small space in which to live; there are not enough feral colonies so the bees will be encouraged to swarm out. Top-bar hives (Warre and the like) are in vogue, which will also tend to limit inspections and manipulations. Then there is the intention that no chemicals will enter the hives, which is all very well for an experienced beekeeper, but not for anyone who refuses to learn the basics. All of these ideas, no matter how noble in intention, will give the brood diseases a chance to spread.
As you all know, in the event of an outbreak of disease the inspector will check all known hives in the area, plus any others he can track down. Currently, this will leave about 60% of the hives in the area unexamined. So as soon as you have gone to the trouble and expense of cleaning up the colonies, as soon as there is no nectar flow your now strong healthy bees will go out and rob any weak colonies that they can find. Is this the reason for the EFB hot-spots in some areas of the country?
Until all beekeepers are known this state of affairs will continue.If the NBU needs to contact all beekeepers, perhaps to tell them of a revolutionary new treatment that will cure all bee diseases at a stroke, or more likely to tell them that something like small hive beetle has been found in their area, then Bee-Base can give them the names and addresses of the people they need.
But not until all beekeepers are recorded.
All beekeepers need to be educated in modern beekeeping skills. Otherwise they will be keeping bees with little or no knowledge, possibly gained from an unreliable web site. If they are known, then the educationalists can get to work.
But not before.
Until all beekeepers are known none of this can happen. The National Audit Office report recognised this fact.
How will it be done? There is no hidden agenda, at least as far as we can see. The Government, DEFRA and the NBU have been working closely with the BFA and the other bee keeping associations over the last eighteen months to get the bee health strategy sorted out. They have incorporated many of our ideas and scrapped plenty of their own that would not work. There is no money or desire to go for a major registration of beekeepers. They are not considering having us brand every bee, or keep a hive movement record for them, or even to mention hives at all. They are intending to use Bee-Base, a tool which already exists, and they will not need to make many changes to its existing structure. We think that it will have to be amended to allow third parties to enter the data for any beekeeper without a computer, but already the inspectors can do that.
The Bee-Base public pages are a mine of information for any beekeeper that cares to look, but the site records are restricted to the beekeeper owning the site and the inspectorate. The inspectors are under a duty to keep this information to themselves. (Until recently they had to sign The Official Secrets Act, but apparently no more). As David Bancalari said in the BKQ, only once has an inspector ever abused the privilege, and that was quickly sorted out.
This is not Registration of beekeepers, but rather keeping a Register of beekeepers and their sites.
When will it be done? The NBU is already spending some of the money recently granted to them in tidying up their records. Those who no longer keep bees are being removed, (although the records of their sites in addition to unused sites of existing beekeepers are retained for historical statistical purposes) and other errors corrected. You can check your Bee-Base entry or add yourself or new sites to it right now.Why are we in favour? It is apparent to us that no member of the BFA has anything to fear from being on Bee-Base. We are all professional beekeepers; we have all agreed to maintain certain standards by belonging to the BFA; and I imagine we all pay our taxes. But we suffer from the unknown people with bees who allow their bees to fester whilst we are trying to keep healthy stock. This needs to be sorted out, and whilst finding new treatments is vital, they will fail whilst those unregistered “beekeepers” are out there.
Conscientious hobbyist beekeepers are in the same boat as BFA members.
Over the course of the last two years the BFA committee has developed much closer ties with the governmental departments than ever before. Everyone recognises that the only way to get out of our current problems is to work together, not against one another. The latest success by the VMD in gaining the co-operation of the RCVS and vets to make it easier for us legally to obtain treatments unlicensed in this country is one example of how this approach is working. It was only three years ago that the VMD representative at the annual Bee Health Meeting threatened anyone caught using unlicensed treatments with prosecution. Find Bee-Base at https://secure.csl.gov.uk/beebase/index.cfm
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