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Charity Ready To Rescue Honey Bee Swarms

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. Visit here.

Beekeepers work hard during the season to manage the natural impulse of their honey bee colonies to swarm but sometimes they are unsuccessful.


Diane Drinkwater, BBKA chair said:

“Conditions have to be just right for a colony of honey bees to swarm. 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.”

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.*

About the BBKA:

• Established in 1874, the BBKA is a charity made up of 75 associations in England and Wales plus one each in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Jersey and serves more than 25,000 members.

• Our charitable objectives are to advance the education of the public and beekeepers in the craft of beekeeping and promote the importance of bees in the environment.

• We act as an umbrella group for the associations, co-ordinate a swarm collection service for the public, provide training for beekeepers and encourage the setting up of teams to respond to Asian hornet sightings.

• In addition, we champion issues which impact on honey bees and other pollinators. Campaigns include Asian hornets, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, adulteration of imported honey and planting for pollinators. We also fund vital research into bee health and welfare.


*Data from The Lives of Bees by Thomas Seeley suggests that only about 23 per cent of swarms survive their first winter.


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