Scottish ministers have come under fierce attack for delays in issuing warnings about European Foulbrood, which is currently suspected of infecting thousands of hives. They are also accused of failing to plough enough resources into tackling the deadly disease.

“This is our foot-and-mouth,” one angry beekeeper told the Sunday Herald. “I can’t understand why they are dragging their heels. It’s crazy.”

The latest crisis comes on top of a series of mounting problems affecting bees. Mites, pesticides and bad weather have all been blamed for collapsing bee colonies and a 10%-15% decline in bee populations over the past two years.

Beekeepers say there have only been isolated cases of European Foulbrood in Scotland before. But last week, the Scottish government confirmed a major outbreak of the disease in Perthshire, where most bees are farmed.

It is a fungal infection that attacks bee larvae, causing them to starve to death and then rot. It can be detected by the appalling bad-fish smell that it creates.

Left untreated, it can finish off whole colonies of bees. But treatment methods are expensive and draconian, including burning hives and destroying bees.

According to Alan Teale, the president of the Scottish Beekeepers Association, the outbreak could affect “potentially thousands” of bee colonies from Aberdeenshire to Fife. It was first spotted at an apiary near Alyth in Perthshire, and is now known to infect at least three major commercial operations in the area, he said.

“It’s a very serious outbreak,” Teale warned. “Unless the government throws more resources into it, there is a big risk that the outbreak will get away from them and we could end up with a situation where it becomes endemic in Scotland.”

This could have a devastating effect on the industry, especially as there is no compensation scheme in place to cover beekeepers’ losses.

Although the disease was first identified at the end of June, the first Scottish government ­statement about it wasn’t posted online until July 22.

“They have been very slow about an announcement,” Teale added. “They have got to get a little more serious.”

Nigel Robertson, a beekeeper near Dingwall in Ross-shire, claimed that the outbreak could affect 5000 of the 7000 colonies in the Perthshire area. “If we lose 5000 colonies in Perthshire, a lot of livelihoods will go,” he said. “It would be devastating.”

Robertson criticised the government for the three-week time lag in informing beekeepers of the outbreak. He said there had also been an unacceptable delay in producing a long-promised bee health strategy – it has been postponed from last month until the autumn.

Labour MSP and former minister Peter Peacock accused Scottish ministers of being slow in getting the word out about the outbreak.

He said: “At times like this speed is of the essence. The earlier the symptoms are identified, the better chance of treatment, rather than the destruction of the hives.”

Peacock has put down a series of questions in the Scottish parliament about the outbreak.

“It is all the more urgent that the government publish their long-awaited bee health strategy,” he said. “This is a very worrying outbreak of a serious disease and adds further pressure on an already heavily pressured and declining bee population.”

According to the Scottish government, a disease outbreak investigation was launched on June 29, after European Foulbrood had been confirmed at a bee farm in Perthshire. Bee farming organisations were informed on July 1, said a government spokesman.

“Up to now over 1000 hives have been inspected and 61 confirmed as positive for European Foulbrood,” he added. “The investigation is continuing and information on the extent of the outbreak is still emerging.”

A disease strategy group involving stakeholders has met once to discuss options for the long-term control of the disease.