Across the UK recently people have started noticing swarms of honey bees as they descend on high streets and parked cars.
Last week a swarm settled on a parked car in Marlborough and Salisbury, almost covering them, and in Chichester police tape had to be put around a tree where some bees had landed on a branch in the middle of the town.
It is believed that this rise in swarming bees is due to the growing fashion for amateur beekeeping, especially amongst the middle-class which means that there has been an increase in the number of hives in urban centres. In London the number of hives went from 1,677 to more than 3,500 between 2008 and 2013.
In the springtime it is natural for bees to be inclined to leave the hive in swarms if there is a new queen, but an experienced beekeeper will look for signs that this might happen and stop the bees from escaping their property. They do this by making sure there is plenty of space for the colony to grow, enough plants to forage and water to drink, and also that the queen is not too old.
Francis Ratnieks, Professor of Apiculture at the University of Sussex commented that “Keeping honey bees is not as easy as people think. If you had a colony in a box in your garden it would swarm every year.”
Occasionally a colony will make new queens even when the current queen is still quite young, but if noticed by a diligent beekeeper the new queen cells can be plucked from the hive or the bees can be tricked into thinking they’ve already swarmed by moving them a few feet away and getting them to occupy a new box.
If you see a swarm of bees you should bear in mind that they are very unlikely to sting. While the colony is swarming they are simply looking for a new place to live and therefore have nothing to defend so are not in the mood to fight. However, only a trained beekeeper should attempt to handle them as they could become defensive if disturbed after settling.
If you do find a swarm the British Beekeepers Association has a list of Swarm Collectors who will come and take away the bees, rather than destroy them as a pest controller would. If you enter your postcode here you will get a list of beekeepers in your local area who can help you out. There is also information for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Although the swarms might be scary, the increased interest in the survival of bees is a great sign. As bee expert David Teasdale said: “People are becoming more interested in beekeeping, and thank goodness about that.”
One in three mouthfuls of food we eat is dependent on pollination so the survival of the honey bee is critical.
Bee expert David Teasdale said: “People are becoming more interested in beekeeping, and thank goodness about that, and there tend to be more urban beekeepers.
“There are some naturally occurring colonies around, but not that many, and a lot more people in suburban areas are beekeeping.
“We would encourage that, but they need to go through the colonies and check them for swarm prevention.”
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