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Varroa in the UK: 25 years on

Dr Max Watkins - Technical Director

Dr Max Watkins

In April 1992, the varroa mite was discovered in the UK for the first time. By May 1992, the talk of varroa was on every beekeeper’s lips.

Dr Max Watkins, now Technical Director of Vita (Europe) Ltd, but then working as technical and commercial manager with Sandoz, recalls:

‘The news travelled rapidly that varroa had been seen in Devon. It had been spreading across Europe where Sandoz was supplying the acaracide, Apistan, but I hadn’t been expecting varroa quite so soon in the UK. However, I knew that the first identification of the mite was bound to lag its actual arrival by quite some time.’

Dr Watkin’s suspicions were soon confirmed when, a little later that fateful spring, a semi-professional beekeeper in the Home Counties contacted him about suspicious mites in his colonies.

‘I visited the beekeeper and sure enough it was varroa – lots of them, even though the bees didn’t look to be visibly suffering. In desperation, he had unsuccessfully tried a home-made miticide, but when he used Apistan the mite population very quickly came under control. He was very impressed!’

‘At that time, Apistan was not yet officially approved for use in the UK and we did our best to accelerate the registration. The pan-European approval procedures were not then in place and registration did not happen until 1997, partly because part-way through the legislation changed!

‘However, we managed to have approval just in time for the autumn 1997 National Honey Show. There was a lot of interest! Vita (Europe) Ltd had just started up in earnest after the management buy-out from Sandoz and we were already working on Apiguard.

‘Unfortunately, in the mid-1990s, a lot of old-school beekeepers didn’t want to admit that varroa was a real problem. Sadly, they were wrong and many of those older beekeepers lost their bees and ceased beekeeping. Since then, beekeepers have become far more vigilant about the general health of their honey bees.’

 

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