The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP)

With the Australian beekeeping industry having voted last year to increase the honey levy from 2.3c/kg to 4.6c/kg (applied to producers selling over 1500kg per year), the increase takes effect on 1st July this year. The increase was approved so that the funding would be secured for the

  • National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) and
  • National Bee Biosecurity Program

The Program is jointly funded by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL), Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the Australian Government through the Department of Agriculture. In-kind contributions for the implementation of the program are provided through each State and Territory Department of Agriculture and volunteer beekeepers. At a national level, PHA coordinates and administers the Program.

The round of State Conference (just completed) have been discussing the proposed Code of Practice for the National Bee Biosecurity Program, but the NBPSP is in place already, so perhaps (now that the increased levy has taken effect) it is appropriate to give a more detailed explanation of the NBPSP.

The NBPSP has two major objectives:

  • Trade support, by providing technical, evidence based, information to support Australia’s pest free status claims during export negotiations and to assist exporters in meeting export certification requirements. The Program is essential to support the trade of packaged bees and queen bees.
  • Exotic bee pest and pest bee early warning system to detect new incursions, which greatly increases the possibility of eradicating an incursion, and limits the scale and cost of an eradication program.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program follows on from the surveillance system known as the National Sentinel Hive Program, which was established in 2000 to improve post-border monitoring around Australia for exotic pests of honey bees, including Varroa mites (Varroa destructor and V. jacobsoni), Tropilaelaps mites (Tropilaelaps clareae and T. mercedesae) and Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi). The Department of Agriculture had funded the Program in its entirety since 2000. In 2008, when the More Than Honey report was released by the House of Representatives Standing Committee, an additional $300,000 was provided to the program. This funding ran out on the 30th June 2013. Ports where assistance is provided by Departmental staff include Melbourne (VIC), Port Botany (NSW), Brisbane, Gladstone, Cairns and Weipa (QLD), Darwin (NT), Fremantle (WA) and Port Adelaide (SA).

In January 2012 the management of the National Sentinel Hive Program was transferred from Animal Health Australia to PHA. This followed the transfer in responsibilities for bees at a national level from Animal Biosecurity to Plant Biosecurity.

PHA convened the National Bee Pest Surveillance Workshop in July 2012 to discuss the future of the program, as well as a future funding model. At this meeting both the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) committed to each providing $75,000 pa ($150,000 in total) over the next two financial years for 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. Funding is n ow secure for 2015/2016.

The Australian honey bee industry also provides a large amount of support to the program through in-kind services such as managing and conducting the surveillance on sentinel hives at specific ports.

All states and territories (except ACT) are contracted by PHA to complete surveillance activities at specified ports as part of the NBPSP. However, this funding does not pay for the entire Program in each state or territory, and is instead seen as a contribution towards conducting specific levels of surveillance. Each state and territory provides extensive in-kind commitment through apiary and biosecurity staff, as well as diagnostic support as part of the NBPSP.

PHA’s role includes:

  • National coordinator and administrative contact point.
  • Ensuring the Program is meeting objectives.
  • Developing surveillance method summaries and techniques.
  • Writing program reports.
  • Purchasing sticky mats and chemical strips on behalf of the program and mailing these out to state/territory coordinators.
  • Data entry on behalf of state/territory coordinators.
  • Finalising contracts with governments and private stakeholders.
  • Maintenance of APVMA permits.


Since transferring management of the surveillance program to PHA in 2012, a large number of improvements have been made to the program. These include:

  • An increase in sentinel hive numbers from 26 in 2011, to over 120 by the end of 2013. Further hives are being added to the Program as risk assessments point to need eg. Hives were placed at the Port of Eden in Nov. 2014.
  • Sentinel hives being tested every 2 months, instead of every 3 months.
  • A risk based surveillance program being adopted, with the highest risk ports in each jurisdiction being heavily targeted with a variety of surveillance strategies.
  • Contracts being established with each jurisdiction and partners to the program to formalise reporting and milestone arrangements.
  • Updated data capture forms and a new program data management interface.

Exotic pest bees targeted now monitored include exotic Asian honey bee (Apis cerana), Giant honey bee (Apis dorsata), Red dwarf honey bee (Apis florea) and exotic strains of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), including Africanized honey bees (A. m. scutellata) and Cape honey bees (A. m. capensis).

Regionalised pests such as Braula fly (Braula coeca), (Tasmania) Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) (Qld, NSW, Victoria) and Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) (Qld) are also monitored in specific states and territories.

For more information about of each of these pests, and the damage that they could cause if they entered Australia, or spread to other parts of Australia, please

The full range of surveillance techniques utilised by the NBPSP now includes:

  • Sentinel Hives: Hives of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) of a known health status that are maintained at locations believed to be of high risk throughout Australia. These hives are tested every two months using an acaricide (miticide) to provide a means of early detection for external mites. Additional surveillance techniques are also usedsuch as routine sugar shaking and alcohol washing at high risk ports by hobby beekeepers. Samples of bees are also taken from these sentinel hives every two months and submitted for dissection and examination for Tracheal mite, which also could have entered via exotic bees.
  • Swarm and nest capture in port areas: Swarms and nests can be routinely found around port environments. For this reason, regular capture of swarms and nests of honey bees can lead to the early detection of exotic bee pests and pest bees. Once captured these bees are examined to determine if they are established honey bees which have swarmed into the port environment, or exotic honey bees which have entered on an incoming vessel. This occurs by determining the species of the bee as well as the examining the bees for external and internalmites.
  • Catchboxes: Catchboxes positioned in high risk port areas provide a means of early detection of exotic species of A. mellifera including Africanized honey bees (A. m. scutellata) and Cape honey bees (A. m. capensis). Newly arriving swarms of European honey bee (i.e. inadvertently imported on cargo/vessels) as well as the local A. mellifera population may also be picked up using catchboxes and can subsequently be sampled for exotic mites on a regular basis. Catchboxes are not used to detect Asian honey bee (A. cerana) due to their different nesting requirements, or the Giant honey bee (A. dorsata) or Red dwarf honey bee (A. florea) as these species are not cavity nesting.
  • Remote surveillance catchboxes: A remote surveillance catchbox is an empty hive with a mobile phone camera and sensors that can detect when honey bees are present in the hive. The phone captures an image at frequent intervals and performs image analysis to determine the presence of a swarm. The phone uploads an image on a daily basis or if activity is detected by image analysis. Power to the phone is provided by a solar panel and batteries in the catchbox lid. An electronic door on the catchbox entry can be triggered remotely to close and open the hive door.
  • Floral sweep netting:  During the Asian honey bee response in Cairns, Biosecurity Queensland and the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) demonstrated that floral sweep netting was the most efficient and effective sampling method to confirm the presence of Asian honey bee in the Cairns port area. Considering the work by NAQS and the reality that another incursion of pest bees poses a significant risk to Australia’s honey bee and pollination-reliant industries, floral sweep netting has been proposed as the main surveillance method to provide early detection of exotic pest bees at high risk ports. For this reason, PHA have built on the work conducted by NAQS and developed a floral sweep netting and mapping method that targets all pest Apis spp., not just Apis cerana.

The guideline provides instruction regarding the resource requirements of floral sweep netting at a port, including the specific time of day to conduct floral sweep netting, how often and for how long. This has been compiled to ensure the NBPSP has a surveillance method for early detection of high priority pest Apis spp. in Australia, including the Red dwarf honey bee (A. florea), the Giant honey bee (A. dorsata) and exotic and established strains of Asian honey bee (A. cerana). This method is not meant to provide a means for detection of the Africanised honey bee (A. m. scutellata) or the Cape honey bee (A. m. capensis).

Hobby Beekeeper involvement

The BeeForce community engagement pilot was designed to test the involvement of urban hobbyist and professional beekeepers in a passive surveillance program for Varroa mites in both Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria. The BeeForce pilot demonstrated not only that an active task force could be enlisted and trained, but that after two years of testing in two separate locations, all participants were still willing to be involved in such an initiative.

The pilot program also demonstrated that if this strong motivation is encouraged and nurtured, then the BeeForce model of community surveillance could provide a reliable task force on which government agencies could draw on, not only for early surveillance initiatives as part of the NBPSP, but also for eradication or surveillance in an emergency response for a honey bee emergency plant pest.

As part of the NBPSP, coordinators in each state/territory actively seek the involvement of local beekeepers in high risk port areas. They then provide awareness training about exotic bee pests and show the beekeepers how to conduct routine surveillance on their hives. This includes how to conduct the sugar shaking and alcohol washing methods on their bees. These methods have been selected as they are easy to conduct, are very effective at picking up exotic mites and do not require testing with chemicals under permit.

Data management

Data collected from the NBPSP is collected by the state/territory coordinators and is entered into the NBPSP interface by PHA


The NBPSP Interface and data capture forms are managed by AUSVET Animal Health Services through a contract with PHA.


The data and summary reports collected as part of the NBPSP are reported in the Animal Health in Australia yearly report which is presented at the World OIE meeting, as well as the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report which is also published yearly. These are the only two formal reporting avenues currently available; however, requests for reports can be received at any time.

Author: Des Cannon (compiled from notes provided by Plant Health Australia)