Honey bees and biocides
Protecting honey bees
Whether wild (feral) or colonised, honey bees are important pollinators for all sorts of plants including wildflowers, crops, and homegrown fruit and veg. Feral honey bees live in nests in the wild whilst beekeepers' colonies live in specially built hives. Some people may be anxious around bees because of their ability to sting but it is important to note that they will only do so if strongly provoked.
Because of their valuable role as pollinators, in the vast majority of circumstances honey bees are not considered to be pests and it is important that insecticide treatments are only used against them as a last resort. It is also important that care is taken when using other biocides around honey bees eg:
- wood preservatives that are labelled as harmful to bees must not be used on beehives
- label instructions should be carefully followed when using insecticides against other insects in areas that may be accessible by honey bees eg potential foraging or nesting sites
The Animal and Plant Health Agency's (APHA) National Bee Unit is responsible for running the Bee Health Programmes in England and Wales on behalf of the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Welsh Government. This includes the management and control of bee pests and diseases, along with providing training and resources to beekeepers. More information about bee health can be found on the BeeBase website. Similar schemes are in operation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For help and advice with bees, information is available from the national beekeeping associations:
- British Beekeepers Association
- Welsh Beekeepers Association
- Scottish Beekeepers Association
- Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers
Treating honey bee nests
Before treating a feral honey bee nest, you should assess the situation carefully:
- Have people been stung by honey bees from the nest'
- Are people at risk because of its location'
- Do you need to treat the nest with a biocide'
- What are the alternatives' - members of the various beekeeping associations (see list above) can provide advice and can sometimes remove accessible feral honey bee nests, avoiding the need to use biocides
- If you treat with a biocide, will you also be able to remove the combs or block the nest entrances' - this is important to protect non-target (foraging) honey bees - see below for more information
If you are a member of the public, you should consider consulting a professional pest controller or beekeeper rather than attempting to deal with a nest yourself.
Before you conduct any biocidal treatments, it is important that local beekeepers are made aware that you will be applying a biocide to a feral honey bee nest so that they can take any necessary precautions to protect their colonies. Many local beekeeping associations support a 'spray liaison scheme' that enables local beekeepers to be warned by their own spray liaison officer. You can find the local beekeeping association relevant to the area in which you are treating a nest via the various national beekeeping associations listed above.
HSE cannot recommend any specific products, but it is important to make sure that you are using a biocidal product that has been authorised or approved for use on feral bees. This information should be easily found on the product label along with its authorisation or approval number. Make sure you read and understand the label and follow the instructions carefully so that the biocidal product can be used safely and effectively.
Once the treatment is complete, you should take every reasonable action to prevent foraging honey bees from gaining access to the treated nest. You can do this by removing the combs or blocking the nest entrances. If you decide to remove the treated combs they must be handled as controlled waste and disposed of by a licensed waste contractor as non-hazardous waste. Treated combs should not be disposed of into landfill as contaminated combs may still be accessible by foraging bees.
If foraging honey bees can gain access to a nest which has been treated they could carry away contaminated honey and cause serious damage to their colony as well as potentially contaminating honey intended for human consumption.