A British beekeeper attempting to bring 15 million bees into the UK said he has been told they may be seized and burned due to Brexit rules.
Patrick Murfet, managing director at Bee Equipment, wants to import the baby Italian bees for his Kent business and to help British farmers pollinate valuable crops.
Beekeeper Patrick Murfet with beehive in Canterbury (PA)
But new laws that came into effect after the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union mean that bringing certain types bees into the country is banned.
Since 1 January, only queen bees can be imported into Great Britain. However, confusion remains over whether other kinds of bees can be brought into Great Britain via Northern Ireland.
“I am a passionate beekeeper, I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years,” Mr Murfet told the Press Association. “It’s a monumentally stupid situation for a country supposed to be standing on its own two feet and exporting round the world.”
Before Brexit, Mr Murfet was able to imports large numbers of bees from breeders in Italy, where the climate is warmer. It has helped the Canterbury-based business strengthen breeding lines and boost the number of early-awakening pollinators for farms in the UK.
Mr Murfet called on Boris Johnson’s government to help sort out the mess.
He said his enquiries to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the reasoning behind the ban on imported bees have been met with silence, except an email reading: “Illegal imports will be sent back or destroyed, and enforcement action (criminal charges) will be brought against the importer.”
Mr Murfet revealed that he has already paid a deposit of about £20,000 for the bees, and stands to lose nearly £100,000 in costs if he cannot bring them into the country.
Mr Murfet’s cash loss is not the only problem evident. The UK is only one of three countries in Europe to see a decline in bee colonies, the fewer honey bees means less pollination, ultimately less top fruits and more imports.
Defra, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it is aware of the decline issue and is working with the devolved administrations to find a solution. A department spokesperson said it will provide guidance to bee importers and beekeepers as soon as possible.