Every summer, we receive frequent phone calls from householders concerned about nuisance bees:
“We’ve got a swarm of bees in the garden, bees in the chimney or roof, bees in the shed, bees in the compost heap, bees in the bird box, bees in the lawn, bees burrowing into the house walls. We are worried that the grandchildren, the neighbours or the dog might get stung”.
Our advice is always the same: Live with the bees if you can, and be glad that they have chosen your garden. We need more bees, and they are very unlikely to sting.
Bees in the bird box
Most probably these are bumblebees. How lucky you are to have these nesting in your garden! The birds no longer need the nest box, and it is just the right size for bumblebees, and too small for honeybees. Just enjoy watching the bumblebees coming and going, busy pollinating the flowers in your garden.
Note: Our members do not remove bumblebee nests.
Bees in the chimney or roof
These probably are honeybees. If they have only just arrived in the chimney (May or June) you might be able to drive them away by lighting a fire in the fireplace. If they have been there more than a day, they will have started to make honeycomb and they will be impossible to remove alive. We know of houses that have had honeybees in the roof for decades without any problems. We always encourage householders to live with them.
Our members do not climb onto roofs in search of bees.
Bees in the shed
These may be honeybees, but are more likely to be wasps. Wasps make a paper nest, with the entrance at the bottom. Honeybees make parallel beeswax combs, and you will see the bees on the combs. Wasps can be a nuisance, but they help the gardener by eating aphids. The nest can be destroyed with a wasp spray, obtainable from any hardware shop. Wait until evening, when the wasps are in the nest. Squirt the spray into the entrance. Next day, remove the dead nest.
Bees in the compost heap
These are probably bumble bees. We need more bumble bees. They are very important pollinators of fruit and vegetables. They work at lower temperatures than honeybees, and they should never be destroyed. If necessary, make a new compost heap elsewhere. Only the queen lives through the winter. Click here for more information on bumblebees.
Bees in the lawn
These are probably solitary miner bees. Click here for information.
Bees burrowing into the house walls
These are probably masonry bees. Click here for information.
Why do bees swarm?
Swarming is the natural way honey bees divide and therefore increase the number of colonies.
On a chosen day, usually around mid-day, during May/ June the bees “swarm”. A cloud of bees in their thousands leave home for the last time. The mother queen is persuaded to leave with them as they seek their fortunes further afield. As mother queen has not used her wings, for flying purposes, for at least 12 months or indeed seen the light of day outside the hive during this time she is somewhat loath to fly very far, so she alights usually within a short distance of leaving home and all of her daughters surround and protect her whilst the “scout bees” search for a new home. In the natural scene this would be a hollow tree but so often they select the eaves or roof void of a house or even the chimney.
It is at this stage that most non-beekeepers panic, as a cloud of bees invade their property.
What do they do?
Don’t panic! Swarming bees are intent on one thing only–looking for a new home and not seeking to sting anyone. Within a few minutes the queen will have landed and the worker bees will follow her into their new home or will again form a protective ball around her if she has settled upon a branch etc.
A telephone call to your local beekeeping association. is usually the recommended next step as most beekeepers are on “stand-by” for such call outs and will either collect the swarm or advise upon any possible problem, e.g. where they have settled in a chimney, possibly the most difficult situation to overcome.
You could of course consider yourself extremely fortunate to have such a gift arrive on your property. Become a beekeeper and provide yourself, your family and friends with a welcome product–pure honey.
An added bonus, if you take this route, is that you will have joined the ranks of beekeepers and from then on enjoy a hobby that will captivate you for the rest of your life.
A list of swarm collectors in North Wales is here. Beekeepers may make a charge to cover travelling expenses.
Visit National Swarm Co-ordinators: www.britishbee.org.uk/swarm_collection.php
Updated June 2016