Emily Simcock spends most of her working life with cattle for St David's Farm Veterinary Practice in Exeter, but she also has an interest in bees. At this year's Devon county show she was invited to attend as the ‘bee vet’ by the Devon Beekeepers' Association. The aim was to provide information on bee health and diseases.
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Where did your interest in bees begin?
It really comes from a general interest in ecology and conservation. I worked for a conservation charity (The Conservation Volunteers) before and during university. I also intercalated my degree with zoology, which provides a different angle on appreciating host-parasite relationships. Recently though, it was being fascinated by the bees visiting my allotment.
Do you keep bees?
With a young family and a busy job I know that I could not be a committed enough beekeeper to do a good job so I don't have my own bees yet.
Do you work with bees professionally?
It is mainly a professional role at the moment, but researching such an interesting species and fiddling about with other people's bees when I get the chance doesn't really feel like work.
Tell us a bit about bee diseases and where bumble bees fit in
Bumble bees have their own pests and diseases but I am concentrating on those of honey bees through The Bee Vet website (www.bee-vet.co.uk). The varroa mite is the biggest challenge. This jumped species to become a pest of the honey bee where it has a far more severe impact than in its original host, both directly and by spreading bee viruses. In the UK there are no longer any true wild honey bee colonies. They are completely dependent on human intervention to control varroa. Resistance to varroacides is a major problem.
What other problems do bees face?
The biggest threat to all bee species is a lack of forage, although impacts from pesticides and diseases are a factor. Since the 1930s, 97 per cent of the UK's wildflower meadows have been lost – an astonishing level and speed of habitat loss.
Why are bees important?
All wildlife should have an innate importance but bees also have a major economic role. The income from bee products is tiny compared to the value they provide in pollination. A UK estimate was a value of £200 million for the pollination services for crops with a total value of £2 billion.
What sort of questions were you asked at the show?
Some specific technical product questions from beekeepers, lots of questions about the problems facing bees from interested members of the public, and also a few quips about how small my theatre must be to operate on bees.
Are people fascinated of or frightened by bees?
Almost always fascinated, which you could not fail to be at the show where a glass display cabinet allowed you to view a colony of bees bringing in forage to build a wild comb. It's truly amazing.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I collected a sample of dead bees in an open pot in early spring to screen for Nosema apis. In the warmth of a vehicle they ‘un-died’ and had crawled all over the boss's car before I discovered the error.
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