The objective of Defra’s bee health programme is to reduce the risk of introduction and spread in the UK of serious bee pests and diseases. The programme is important in commercial and environmental terms: it protects the managed bee population, which is needed for the pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops, as well as wild plants, and for the production of honey and wax. However, the beekeeping sector is fragmented: there are an estimated 33,000 beekeepers in England (managing around 230,000 colonies of bees) but only around 300 commercial beekeepers. This fragmentation contributes to the sector`s difficulties in addressing bee health issues and makes government intervention on disease control necessary to maintain uniform standards of enforcement.
Defra will be spending about £1.235m on bee health measures in 2006/07 (a small part of which is claimed from the EU under the England element of the UK National Apiculture Programme). These measures are delivered by the National Bee Unit (NBU), part of the Central Science Laboratory, an executive research agency of Defra. The NBU provides scientific advice and laboratory services and manages the bee health inspectorate. Disease controls are governed to a large extent by national bee health legislation and EU veterinary checks Directives. The bee health programme includes hive inspections and sample analysis, and where necessary, treatment or destruction of hives infected with notifiable diseases or pests. Training and education is also provided to make beekeepers more self-reliant through improved bee husbandry.