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Deadly honey bee disease is accelerating across the UK

Honey bees in the UK are increasingly suffering from a viral disease called chronic bee paralysis. According to a new study from Newcastle University, the number of colonies affected by the deadly disease has grown exponentially since 2007.

Study lead author Giles Budge is a professor in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

“Our analysis clearly confirms that chronic bee paralysis has been emerging across England and Wales since 2007 and that apiaries owned by professional beekeepers are at greater risk of the disease,” said Professor Budge.

The researchers collected data from over 24,000 beekeepers. They found that chronic bee paralysis was confined to Lincolnshire in 2007, but was present in 39 of 47 English and six of eight Welsh counties by 2017. 

The study also revealed that clusters of chronic bee paralysis, or disease cases in close proximity, are appearing more frequently. 

Honey bees suffering from chronic bee paralysis experience abnormal trembling, lose the ability to fly, and develop shiny abdomens with no hair. Infected bees are killed within a week of contracting the disease, which is caused by the chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV).

Beekeepers are finding piles of dead bees just outside honey bee hives and are often losing entire colonies to the disease.

“We do not yet know why colonies of bee farmers are at increased risk from this damaging disease, but many management practices are known to differ significantly between amateur and professional apiarists,” said Professor Budge.

The research team also investigated whether disease risk was associated with imported honey bee queens. Using data from 130,000 honey bee imports from 25 countries, the experts found that the disease was nearly twice as likely in apiaries owned by beekeepers who imported honey bees.

The researchers said that further research is needed to examine different virus genotypes, which will be completed at the University of St. Andrews. Future studies will also focus on the susceptibility of different honey bee races and compare the management practices of professional and amateur beekeepers. 

The researchers collaborated with the Bee Farmers’ Association, a group that represents professional beekeepers in the UK. The chairman of the organization is Rob Nickless.

“We are pleased to be part of this project and welcome these early results. This is the sort of research that brings practical benefits to the industry – helping bee farmers at grassroots level to improve honey bee health and increase UK honey production,” said Nickless.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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