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Members of the British Beekeepers’ Association across the country are starting to collect swarms of honey bees as the beekeeping season gets underway.

Thousands of beekeepers become volunteer swarm collectors from now until about the end of July to rescue honey bees in search of a new home.

The charity, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, runs an online, interactive swarm collection service to connect the public with local swarm collectors. https://www.bbka.org.uk/pages/category/swarm-removal

Beekeeper sitting on floor with beesBeekeepers work hard during the season to manage the natural impulse of their honey bee colonies to swarm but sometimes they are unsuccessful.

“Conditions have to be just right for a colony of honey bees to swarm,” said Diane Drinkwater, BBKA chair. “They build up their colonies in the spring and wait for a window of sunshine and warmth, which often follows a period of poor weather, before heading off with their queen.”

Armed with rescue-essentials including a straw skep or cardboard box, a smoker, sheet and secateurs, swarm collectors are able to safely remove thousands of bees at a time and rehome them in more suitable locations.

Diane added: “There is something magical about a swarm. It is the colony’s means of reproduction and is triggered by a group of bees who not only slim down the queen to a flying weight, but also scope out new home possibilities and take a collective vote on it!”

A honey bee swarm can be extremely dramatic involving many thousands of bees in a large, noisy cloud. However, they normally settle into a cluster within 15 minutes before regrouping and moving to a new nest site. The public is advised to keep at a safe distance and to not disturb or destroy the swarm.

If the swarm moves into a building, it is very difficult normally, if not impossible, for a beekeeper who does not have professional building skills or insurance to remove the bees. Pest controllers are required to undertake this type of removal either solely or in conjunction with a beekeeper.

Beekeepers are unable to help with the removal of the nests of any of the other more than 250 species of bees found in the UK which include wasps and hornets. Honey bees are the only bees to swarm.

“On the BBKA website there are descriptions of insects which are often mistaken for honey bees, “ said Diane. “But always send a photo to a swarm collector who will be able to check.”

https://www.bbka.org.uk/honeybee-swarms

Often, the honey bees’ gamble to swarm does not pay off. Scientist Professor Tom Seeley from Cornell University in the United States calculated that only about 20 per cent of swarms in the wild survive their first winter.*