Patrick Murfet says he tried to import bees via Northern Ireland but was told they would be destroyed. A beekeeper trying to bring 15 million bees into the UK says he has been told they must be seized and burned because of post-Brexit laws.
Murfet wants to import the baby Italian bees for his Kent business and to help farmers pollinate valuable crops. But new laws that came into effect after the UK left the single market mean bringing bees into the country is banned.
Since the end of the transition period, only queen bees can be imported into Great Britain, rather than colonies and packages of bees. However, confusion over whether bees can be brought in via Northern Ireland has caused a legal headache.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was aware of the issue and is working with the devolved administrations to find a solution.
“I am a passionate beekeeper, I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years,” Murfet said. He is managing director of Bee Equipment, based near Canterbury, and every year he imports large numbers of bees from breeders in Italy, where the climate is warmer.
Patrick Murfet sits among some of his hives in an orchard near Canterbury in Kent. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
For decades, bees have been imported to replenish stocks, strengthen breeding lines and as early awakening pollinators for fruit and honey farms in the UK.
But the ban could put this in jeopardy, Murfet said: “It’s a monumentally stupid situation for a country supposed to be standing on its own two feet and exporting round the world.”
In an effort to avoid the import ban and abide by the new laws, Murfet arranged for his usual importation of 15 million bees to arrive via Northern Ireland in April, but said he had been told they may be destroyed if he tries.
“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,” Murfet said.
He says his inquiries into the reasoning behind the ban have been met with a wall of silence, except an email reading: “Illegal imports will be sent back or destroyed, and enforcement action (criminal charges) will be brought against the importer.”
Murfet said he had already paid a deposit of about £20,000 for the bees and stood to lose nearly £100,000 in costs alone if he cannot bring them into the country.
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. Fewer honeybees means less pollination, less top fruits and more imports.”
Defra said bee health was a devolved matter and it was working to find a solution. A department spokesperson said it would provide guidance to bee importers and beekeepers as soon as possible.
It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure goods dispatched from Northern Ireland meet the definition of NI qualifying goods or meet import requirements, they added.