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15m bees ‘could be destroyed’ due to ‘monumentally stupid’ post-Brexit import ban

Written by on 02/02/2021

Millions of bees could be seized and burned because of changes to UK import rules following Brexit.

Beekeeper Patrick Murfet wants to bring 15 million young Italian bees into the country for his Kent business, which helps farmers pollinate crops.

But brining colonies and packages of bees into Great Britain is banned since the Brexit transition period ended, although queen bees can still be imported.

Patrick Murfet wants to import the baby Italian bees for his Kent business and to help farmers pollinate valuable crops
Image: Patrick Murfet wants to import the bees from Italy to his Kent business to help farmers pollinate valuable crops

Mr Murfet is looking at importing them via Northern Ireland in April, but said he has been told they may be seized and destroyed if he tries.

He said: “I don’t care what they think it should say. At present the rules are clear that bees from Northern Ireland can enter the UK legally.

“If the law intended something else, they have not written it into legislation.”

Mr Murfet’s firm, Bee Equipment, based near Canterbury, imports large numbers of bees from breeders in Italy, where the climate is warmer, every year.

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It’s a trade that’s been going on for decades, as imported bees are used to replenish stocks, strengthen breeding lines and as early-awakening pollinators on the UK’s fruit and honey farms.

But the new ban could put this in jeopardy, Mr Murfet said.

Mr Murfet has been told the 15 million bees he wants to bring into the UK for next spring may be seized and destroyed
Image: Mr Murfet has been told the 15 million bees he wants to bring into the UK for next spring may be seized and destroyed

Mr Murfet, who describes himself as “a passionate beekeeper” and has been doing it for nearly 20 years, has condemned the situation as “monumentally stupid for a country supposed to be standing on its own two feet and exporting round the world”.

He says his attempts to find out why the ban was brought in have been met with a wall of silence, save for an email from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) saying: “Illegal imports will be sent back or destroyed, and enforcement action (criminal charges) will be brought against the importer.”

The deal has already cost him a deposit of about £20,000 and he could end up £100,000 out of pocket if he cannot bring them into the country, he said.

He added: “So far the department has overseen a policy whereby the UK is only one of three countries in Europe to see a decline in bee colonies.

Beekeeper Patrick Murfet with some of his hives in an orchard near Canterbury
Image: Beekeeper Patrick Murfet with some of his hives in an orchard near Canterbury

“Fewer honey bees means less pollination, less top fruits and more imports.”

A Defra spokesperson said bee health was a devolved matter and it was working with the devolved administrations to find a solution and would provide guidance as soon as possible.

It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that goods dispatched from Northern Ireland meet the definition of NI qualifying goods or meet import requirements, the spokesperson added.

A third of food crops are pollinated by bees and other insects and Greenpeace estimates the economic value of pollination services provided by bees globally amounts to some €265bn (£226bn).

Diseases and parasites, climate change and wider industrial agricultural practices as well as pesticides have combined to reduce bee numbers across the UK and Europe.

 Sky News

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