An outbreak of American Foulbrood (AFB) disease has been detected in a honeybee colony in Scotland.

AFB is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Paenibacillus larvae, which kills bee larva by consuming their body tissues. The spores are highly resistant to extremes of temperature, chemical attack and other adverse conditions that kill most bacteria.

The bacterial disease had been found during a nationwide surveillance programme in an apiary in the Tarland area of Aberdeenshire, Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) announced on today (22 July). The agency -  a division of the Scottish government’s agriculture, food and rural communities directorate - is to destroy the hive as there is no permitted treatment for the disease in the UK.

As soon as an outbreak of AFB is suspected, a beekeeper becomes subject to The Bee Diseases and Pests Control (Scotland) Order 2007, which prohibits the removal of hives, bees, combs, appliances and other equipment from affected premises, except for the purpose of submitting a sample for laboratory tests.

Affected colonies are identifiable by beekeepers from a strong smell, liquefied larva and a drop in numbers due to a lack of young bees developing. The disease can be spread by other bees entering a hive and taking contaminated honey, or by beekeepers as they move equipment from one hive to another.

“There are no risks to public health from AFB and no implications for the quality and safety of honey,” said the SASA, but it warned that the “movement of bees and related equipment into or out of the affected apiary are under specific controls”.

With the spores difficult to eradicate, bee farmers were urged by SASA to look out for signs of the disease, to maintain good husbandry practices, and register on the national bee database.

The outbreak comes less than a week after Defra launched a nationwide action plan designed to halt the decline in the numbers of bees and other pollinators, which had been hit by the cumulative blows of disease, pesticide over-use and a reduction in bee-friendly habitats.

The campaign, entitled Bee’s Needs, called for people to leave patches of land to grow wild, to cut grass less often, avoid disturbing nesting or hibernating insects, and to “think carefully about whether to use pesticides”.