Whole apiary shook swarm and bee viruses talk by Kirsty Stainton

Bee Disease Insurance Limited sent the following information for circulation to Meridian members.

Whole Apiary Shook Swarm Trial

Bee Disease Insurance Limited (BDI) has announced the start of their whole apiary shook swarm trial in partnership with the National Bee Unit (NBU).

Bee inspectors will now offer to beekeepers who find European Foul Brood (EFB) in a colony the opportunity to have their entire apiary shook swarmed and the combs destroyed with BDI providing compensation for all the combs not just those on the infected hives.

BDI and the NBU are hopeful that this two year trial will show a reduction in the re-occurrence of EFB and therefore point to a better way of dealing with this destructive disease. Further details of the trail can be found on the BDI website. BDI

BDI Annual General Meeting with a talk on bee viruses – Why beekeepers needs to know about them by Kirsty Stainton

Virtual AGM via Zoom on Friday 4 June at 14.00.

Kirsty Stainton on Bee Viruses – Why beekeepers needs to know about them

Kirsty Stainton is a post-doctoral research scientist working at the Pirbright Institute. She worked at Fera from 2016 to 2020 where she performed research for the National Bee Unit that included molecular detection of the invasive pests Vespa velutina nigrithorax (Asian hornet) and Aethina tumida (Small hive beetle), molecular analysis of the Asian hornet diet and research into the use of antivirals to treat honey bees. Before working at Fera, Kirsty worked for 8 years on a bacterial endosymbiont called Wolbachia, and researched its ability to inhibit arboviruses in mosquitoes. These experiences have led to Kirsty’s current research project at Pirbright, investigating the potential ability for Wolbachia to inhibit honey bee viruses, such as DWV and CBPV.

Kirsty’s current project is being part funded by BDI.

BDI has invited all Meridian members to their AGM and talk. The link to the meeting and talk is below:

Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88329044894?pwd=WURVbDFMS0RtZjdjS05QSExSek1xdz09

BDI Financial Statements for the year ending 31st December 2020

BDI remains financially strong, with an increase in the value of investments of £58,000 despite the market turmoil in the Spring of 2021 as the pandemic emerged. These investments are held for the long term and enable BDI to fund research, as well as to build up a buffer in case of a major outbreak of disease, particularly any new ‘exotic’ pest that might arrive on our shores. They are in addition to the reserves we hold in cash equivalents to cover our insurance requirements.

The company continues to use some of the investment surplus to fund research into bee diseases, with £48,000 invested in this area in 2020. Details of all the projects being funded by BDI can be found on the research pages of our website


Asian hornet

Coming to a garden near you?

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in the British Isles

The Asian hornet is a dangerous, non-native species which has the potential to wreak havoc in the UK. It hails from Southeast Asia and could never have arrived here naturally. Natural History Museum

It is already well-established in France (and across continental Europe) and has caused immense damage to local ecosystems. It is also a significant risk the human population. Evidence indicates it would it cause similar destruction in the UK if it became established here.

The main concern for UK authorities is the Asian hornet is a significant predator of bees. In France, it has consumed large numbers of the European honey bee and many lesser-known solitary and social bees. RSPB, Asian hornet

There has also been a number of reports indicating aggressive behaviour from Asian hornets, particularly where their nests have been disturbed and this is where the direct risk to humans lies.

The UK Government (the Department of the environment, food and rural affairs) and nature conservation organisations, including the British Beekeepers Association are concerned about the impacts of Asian hornets on bees as these pollinating species are essential to a well-functioning ecosystem.

The first sighting of an Asian Hornet in the UK was in 2016. Since then, there has been seventeen confirmed sightings and nine nests have been destroyed. The last confirmed sighting was in 2020 in Gosport, Hampshire where the nest was located and destroyed. UK Government

Learning from the dreadful experiences of our European neighbours, the UK response has been decisive and well organised. Whenever a sighting is confirmed, the National Bee Unit supported by local volunteer beekeepers locates and destroys the nest preventing the onward spread of this harmful pest.

What can I do?

There are three simple things all of us can do to help prevent the spread of the Asian hornet.

  • Learn how to identify it
  • Be aware
  • Know how to report it

1. How to identify the Asian Hornet

It’s important not to confuse the Asian Hornet with the beneficial native European hornet (Vespa crabro) which is the largest eusocial wasp native to Europe. It has a yellow head with a reddish brown thorax (the middle bit) and it’s abdomen has yellow and black stripes like it’s smaller cousin, the common wasp. It also has reddish-brown legs. Know your hornets

Although it may look a bit scary at 3.3cm long, the European hornet is the gardeners’ friend. It pollinates plants and preys on pests like black fly and aphids. What’s more, its much less likely to sting you than the common wasp. Don’t be put off by it’s deep droning buzz which some people find intimidating!

The Asian Hornet is smaller than our native hornet, typically (2.5cm long). It is almost entirely dark especially when viewed from above and has one noticeably orange segment near the bottom of its back. It’s most characteristic feature is it’s bright yellow legs which are very different to the dark legs of the European hornet.

Compare and contrast

The European hornet has a yellow and black stripy abdomen (a bit like a wasp) and reddish brown legs. The Asian hornet has a darker body and a characteristic orange fourth segment near the stinger. Notice the yellow legs! Perhaps the easiest way to identify it.

2. Be aware

You don’t have to hide out with a pair of binoculars and a compendium of entomology to stake out the Asian hornet but, next time you’re in the garden with a cup of tea or a gin and tonic, why not really study the bees, wasps and other buzzy things you see there?

I’m certain when you do, you’ll be amazed by the spectacular beauty of the little creatures working around you. You’ll start noticing their fascinating behaviours too.

When we take the time to watch them, it’s easier to appreciate what they do for us and caring for them becomes second nature.

And should you happen to see a hornet, remember, she’s more scared of you than you are of her. Take time to watch her. Check out her black and yellow stripes and reddish-brown legs and hopefully, confirm in your own mind, that she’s a Vespa crabro. (European hornet)

3. Reporting an Asian hornet

The most important thing is to be prepared. With any luck, you’ll never need to report a sighting but it’s best be ready just in case.

If you are unlucky enough to see one, here’s what to do:

There’s an app called Asian hornet watch which can be downloaded free of charge to any iPhone or android handset. You’ll probably never need it and it’ll sit on your phone gathering dust but, it’s there just in case.

Or, there’s a web form you can use to report a sighting. It can be accessed by clicking here. Form or email (with a photograph) mailto:alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk

Or, you can ring your local volunteer Asian hornet co-ordinator. To find one near you, click here Asian hornet coordinator

If you think you’ve identified an Asian hornet, it’s important you take a photograph to confirm your sighting. A confirmed sighting will invariably lead to an extensive response involving multiple human and other resources. The National Bee Unit and volunteers can only respond if the sighting is confirmed by a photograph.

You may be worried about getting close enough to take a photo but please be assured, a single Asian hornet is unlikely to hurt you. A whole colony near where you live however, is a different matter. That’s likely to be, well, a bit of a hornet’s nest!

If you see an Asian hornet, please report it! It’s in your interests and in the interests of everyone else.


My best and worse colonies in 2020

I run between thirteen and twenty colonies, including Nucs, in five locations including my garden. Six locations if you count the New Forest where I take my largest and smallest colonies for heather honey (my favourite) or to fill the brood box with quality winter stores.

In most years this is more cost effective than making sugar syrup, though some years I have to both buy a Forest licence and sugar feed. One can’t win them all!

Taking bees to heather

The best

COVID 19 was a running theme this year, affecting my beekeeping in unexpected ways. Two of my biggest colonies are in a new location; a field next to a usually, reasonably quiet lane. With the exception of weekends, I can open the colonies with little likelihood of disturbing anyone. This year, from 07.30 to 21.00 there has been a constant flow of families walking, cycling, riding. All wanting the person in the bee suit to explain what’s going on!

January was the sixth warmest on record since 1884 – but like February and March, very wet making it difficult for me and the bees to get out for days at a time. The bees were flying well on 16 March with plenty of pollen going in. I got them on clean floors, brood boxes, queen excluders and crown boards on 1st April.

Early April was the hottest on record, and all my big colonies wanted to do was swarm! The constant flow of people in the Lane, albeit 50 yards away on the other side of a hedge, I found stressful when I was trying to manipulate such big colonies. They were on 10 frames of brood in mid April – with charged queen cells!

I divided the colony three ways. making two full colonies and one nuc but I still lost a swarm from one of the full colonies! I obviously missed a queen cell.

The original colony had four supers on by mid May and the queen was still laying well. The Nuc didn’t achieve a good laying queen, so I amalgamated with the split.

After May being the warmest and sunniest since 1929 the first two weeks of June were cold, with storm Christian coming in on 19 June. The lime yields in warm weather years the first two weeks of June for me- this is about 50% of my honey crop. By the end of June we had temperatures of 33 degrees. When I was spinning I found that the colony had managed a super of lime honey.

I added a super frame into the brood box on 20 June to do a drone cull, also adding a varroa board which I removed for counting 7 days later. The Beebase website advised that no action was required for nine months. On 13 July, I removed the drone frame – most of it capped- and did a full inspection.

On 2nd July, the colony went to the forest in unexpectedly cold and windy weather but still produced a full super of surplus heather honey for me. By early January, there was still so much heather honey in the brood box and in the super left on for the bees, that I could barely heft the hive.

By mid-January, they were bringing in a good amount of pollen, so fingers crossed. Large colonies will always produce more surplus honey than two small colonies. They achieved 80lbs of honey- very good for a colony which had been divided! And the split produced 35lbs.

The worst

I had a phone call from a member asking for a Nuc in late May. I took three frames and plenty of nurse bees from a colony that had produced well in 2018 and 2019 with a reliable calm queen.

The site is on the other side of Botley with afternoon sun and opposite an avenue of lime trees. By 11 July, they had produced a queen and drawn five frames of comb and there was eggs and larvae. ‘Good!’ I thought. ‘I’ll arrange to deliver them.’ I’ll just leave them another two weeks to ensure there is capped brood and a good amount of stores.

End of July arrives; there was a supercedure cell and the queen was laying poorly. I checked for varroa and carried on feeding.

By mid September, they were still only on 5 frames. Varroa didn’t seem to be a particular problem and the bees looked healthy. The new queen didn’t seem much better than the one they superceded. Certainly not good enough to pass on. In November, they hadn’t attempted to use the fondant. They were still flying on 16 January but I couldn’t see pollen going in. Still too early to open them up but I am itching to check!

Processing wax

Bees fly between 90,000 and 100,000 miles to make a pound of honey and they consume between 8lbs and 10lbs of honey to make a single pound of wax. Wax is therefore very precious and must not be wasted.

Throughout the beekeeping year, its possible to accumulate quite a lot of wax from different sources. There’s the brace comb we remove during hive inspections, comb we’re replacing from brood boxes, cappings from honey processing and the wax we scrape from equipment when we’re cleaning it. Louise’s video shows a brilliant tip for collecting all these little bits which I confess, I’ve been wasting over the years.

It’s a good idea to store wax in sealed containers until you’re ready to process it. If left in the open, wax will attract the attention of bees and wasps and you run the risk of spreading disease between colonies. A large plastic box with a lid is ideal and if you have space enough, separate containers allow you to grade the wax according to purity. It just makes processing it easier for yourself.

Brood comb

It’s recommended beekeepers undertake shook swarms, Bailey comb changes (for weaker colonies) or replace a third of brood frames each year to prevent the spread of diseases which can be harboured in older comb. Brood wax tends to be darker and harder to process.


Wax from cappings is a by-product of the honey extraction process. It is usually light in colour, has little debris and is of the finest quality. It can be used for cosmetics and candles.

Once honey is harvested, the cappings can be returned to the hive from whence they came. The bees will remove honey residue leaving a very pure wax for harvesting. Spread the cappings out over the crown board.

Brace comb and scrapings from equipment

These tend to be fairly clean but scrapings are sometimes mixed with propolis.

Wax is a very valuable commodity. It is important that rendering does not waste it or damage the quality. Wax must always be heated over water as it is highly flammable.

Processing wax

The first video shows how to reclaim wax from equipment during cleaning and how to wash it in rain water.

Washing in rain water

Before you start rendering, soak your wax in cold rain water to get rid of as much honey and debris as possible. Louise’s video demonstrates wax being soaked multiple times to remove debris and to break it down.

Solar Wax Extractor

A solar extractor is the easiest and most environmentally-friendly way to start the rendering process. It uses the Sun’s heat to gently and slowly melt the wax producing the cleanest results.

The wax is placed under glass in a stainless steel box. As the wax melts, it runs into a reservoir via a filter. If the box gets hot enough, it will also sterilize frames for reuse. Take care; if the Sun is too hot you run the risk of overheating the wax, even setting it alight.

Rendering wax

Louise’s second video shows how to boil wax over rain water, then at minute six, how to filter your wax through medical grade lint.

Always use rainwater. Tap water leaves a residue on the wax and can make it spongy.

Hot Water Extraction (rendering)

This is the most common method used by beekeepers. It’s cheap, easy to monitor and requires no specialist equipment. Use Stainless Steel utensils if possible as other materials may taint your wax.

Put the wax into the pot and bring to the boil. Leave on a rolling boil for ten minutes then allow the pot to cool slowly. The wax will float to the top of the pan and when fully cool, forms a cake which can be easily removed. Any debris still on the underside of the cake can be scraped off as shown in Louise’s video.

Further Rendering and Purifying

You may need to repeatedly render the wax to remove residual debris before finally filtering. Continue to boil wash until you achieve the desired quality. You can reduce the debris trapped in wax by cooling slowly.

Swapping wax for foundation

You can swap your washed wax for foundation at your beekeeping suppliers. They weigh it, take a proportion for processing and exchange your wax for new foundation. Meridian purchases wax from Kemble (their wax seems especially clean) although other suppliers like Thorne’s also operate similar services.

Have you got a swarm?

If you think you have a swarm of honey bees, here’s what to do:

1.Don’t panic!

You may have seen the bees arrive, swirling through the air accompanied by a deafening buzz, but they’re at their least defensive during a swarm and pose little or no threat to us.

Don’t try this at home! Bees are so gentle during a swarm, that many beekeepers don’t wear protective clothing when collecting them. This one’s swapped his bee suit for his birthday suit. Personally, I wouldn’t take that chance!

2. Don’t disturb them

If you leave the bees alone they are unlikely to sting. They will soon settle down and can be collected by a beekeeper. Don’t try to dislodge them (by spraying them with water or bashing them with a broom etc.), it won’t work and risks really buzzing them off!

The queen bee is somewhere in the middle of that mass of bees acting like a magnet to the swarm. The bees have left their food and young behind so have little cause to sting you.

3. Call a beekeeper!

Please click the link for the contact details of local swarm collectors. There are a few questions we will ask and these are shown here for your consideration. Swarm collectors

4. Enjoy your swarm!

Although the bees are unlikely to sting, watch from a safe distance. It’s a good idea to alert your neighbours (if applicable) and to close your windows to prevent stray bees getting into your house.

5. Have a cup of tea!

.. and wait for the beekeeper to arrive! If you’re interested, here’s some more information about swarms. Swarming

Beekeepers cannot deal with wasps, hornets or bumble bee nests. Only a honey bee swarm looks like the pictures you can see on this page.

Swarm collectors

Tony Ashworth
07766 52596801489 579863
Peter Clark
West End
07867 55796401489 692881
Louise Evans
07434 95290001489 781155
Howard Towl
07832 18591301329 835814
All collectors cover the whole of our South Hampshire area including Bishops Waltham, Botley, Hedge End, Swanmore, Titchfield and West End

The beekeeper will ask you a few questions:

Have the bees settled into a cohesive ball?

After a while, the swarm will settle down into a relatively still ball of bees; maybe about the size of a rugby ball or watermelon but it could be bigger than that.

Does the swarm look like these pictures?

We’re sorry but we can only deal with honey bee swarms. We cannot remove wasps’ nests, hornets or bumble bees.

Is the swarm accessible?

Sometimes the bees settle on a low branch or fence and are easy to collect. They may settle in a tree or guttering and the beekeeper will need to discuss access with you.

How long has the swarm been there?

Do you mind us trimming your hedge or tree?

Strange question you may think! It’s not that we’re popping round to do the gardening but sometimes bees settle in foliage and the only way to remove them is to cut leaves and branches from shrubs or trees.

Have you got the kettle on?

Depending on what stage the swarm is at, the beekeeper may be at your house for sometime. We must allow all the bees that are due to join the swarm to do so, or you’ll be left with a group of demoralised, homeless bees.


Swarming is the honey bees’ natural method of reproduction. It generally takes place over a few weeks in Spring but we do see early swarms and some take place later in Summer.

Each honey bee colony has a queen. She lives for several years and is mother to all the bees in her colony.

The queen lays up to 1,500 eggs a day, most of which develop into female worker bees. During the first half of a worker’s short life, she labours in the hive (or nest, if it’s wild honey bees) doing things like cleaning and feeding the young.

The second half of her life is dedicated to collecting pollen and nectar from flowers and trees, pollinating our crops and plants as she goes.

Sometime in Spring, the honey bee family gets too big for its home. At that point, the queen leaves the hive with many of the worker bees and they gather temporarily in a swarm.

The swarm may remain in its temporary location for a short while or for several days. Typically though, it’ll be there for three to four hours. During that time, several hundred ‘scout’ bees will be searching round your neighbourhood for a suitable new permanent home.

Using a democratic process which puts us humans to shame, the bees whittle down the possible choices until they all agree on the best one. At that point, the whole swarm takes off, bound for its new home.

So, should I just leave the bees to fly away then?

Well, you could do that! It’s certainly true, the gently buzzing ball of bees dangling in your Penstemons won’t be there for long, but they may be eying-up your shed or chimney as their next DesRes!


Meridian member Catherine Pardoe wrote to Flick Drummond, MP for Meon Valley to express her concern about the recent authorisation of a Neonicotinoid treatment for sugar beet. Here is the response. It only serves to emphasis the need to keep up the pressure. Here is a link to the petition on the Government website Petition

From: Flick Drummond MP<flick.drummond.mp@parliament.uk>
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2021, 09:43
Subject: Neonicotinoids (Case Ref: FD3515)

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for contacting me about the temporary and limited use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops in the UK.

The UK has granted temporary permission for this year for the use of thiamethoxam, alongside 10 other countries in Europe, to provide emergency protection against the viruses which attack sugar beet. These viruses significantly damaged the 2020 sugar beet crop, destroying around 25% of it. This temporary permission has been granted on the understanding that the beet industry will use the time to develop alternative and more holistic solutions.

However, the use of thiamethoxam will only be needed on a very small area of the UK’s farmland. Sugar beet is grown on 0.57% of the farmland in the UK, and not all of it will necessarily be treated. About half the UK’s demand for sugar is met by domestic production, and producing it domestically in controlled conditions is preferable to importing it cane sugar from overseas, potentially from countries which have much weaker environmental laws than we do. The UK’s sugar industry supports 9500 jobs in our economy. It is an important sector of agriculture and one which deserves support in transitioning to alternatives to neonicotinoids.

I will encourage Ministers to engage with the industry to ensure it is able to accomplish this. This is an exceptional case, and the general ban on the use of neonicotinoids remains in place. There is no risk of their use becoming regular, and our departure from the EU does not weaken our position on neonicotinoids or any other pesticide – indeed during our membership of the EU, it was usually the UK which led the way in driving up EU standards.

Protecting pollinators remains a priority for the Government, through the National Pollinator Strategy, published in 2014. This is a ten-year plan which sets out how the Government, conservation groups, farmers, beekeepers and researchers can work together to improve the status of the approximately 1,500 pollinating insect species in England. There is more information on the strategy on this link:

The use of any neonicotinoid would only be considered in an emergency and where there is substantial risk of harm to a crop. Through the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Act, the Government is ensuring that the high standards we have always pushed for are strengthened. I maintain close contact with our farmers in Meon Valley, who are responsible in their approach to the environment, and also with a range of wildlife and ecological organisations, including the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, whom I have regular discussions with.

I hope this information is useful to you, and hope that you are keeping safe and well.

Thank you again for getting in touch.

Kind regards,

Flick Drummond
Member of Parliament for Meon Valley

Honey and hive products for sale

This page displays locally-produced honey and hive products. These are offered for sale by local beekeepers and their contact details can be found here. Most Meridian members have eaten or sold their 2020 crop (independent grocers have an insatiable appetite for local honey!) but keep an eye on this page, more will be offered in the coming months.

Honey from our teaching apiary at Swanmore

This honey is produced by the members of Meridian Beekeepers at our teaching apiary in Swanmore. Our bees forage on a wide range of local plants and trees including crops, garden and wildflowers. Although we have a few hives in the same place, the honey from each can be completely different as their bees collect nectar from different places. These 454g (1lb) jars are offered for sale at £8. They may be obtained from Louise, 01489 781155 louisewithbees@gmail.com The proceeds go to Meridian Beekeepers.

Louise’s honey is for sale in Botley

Louise is one of Meridian’s longest standing members and has been keeping bees for many years. Most of her hives are in the Botley area and her bees work on the diverse forage that characterises our area; a mixture of garden flowers, trees and wildflowers from the fields and woodlands nearby. Contact Louise: 01489 781155 louisewithbees@gmail.com

Beeswax candles are favoured by churches because of their purity. They are also rare. It is estimated that bees must fly 150,000 miles to collect sufficient nectar to produce 6lbs of honey. From that, they will only produce about 1lb of wax. For every 100lbs of honey harvested, the beekeeper will only obtain about 1lb of wax.

Louise also has a range of candles made from beeswax. Unlike any other type of candle, beeswax is non-toxic when it burns. They give off a naturally beautiful smell and burn brightly. They are the only candles to omit negative ions which purify the air and are hypo-allergenic, so beneficial to those who suffer from environmental allergies.