A Rescue

This is an account of a rescue I carried out with my friend Kit back in October 2014. It has been languishing in my Drafts folder, so I thought I would publish it but apologies for the grainy photos: taken on an iPhone 3. Anyway, enjoy!

There has been a colony of feral bees in the roof of my village church, and as with most small churches, the roof has reached a point where it needs replacing. Having spoken to the vicar about it, I was hoping that there would be a way of removing the bees intact and relocating them in to a hive of some description.

I was greatly saddened yesterday to see the pest control van and a ladder up against the wall where the bees come and go through a crack in the masonry. The vicar had said that the bees were damaging the stonework; I replied that the church that had been there since the 14th Century and that bees may propolise the entrance but they don’t have the need or wherewithal to make much of a dent in 600 year-old blocks. I think he was confusing them with Mason bees which drill tiny holes in the ground or will further excavate an existing hole in brickwork to lay their egg on a ball of pollen.

Anyway, the bees were puffed with poison before myself or my beekeeping friend could do anything. We have a nasty feeling that the pest control operative put that they were wasps on the form given to the churchwarden…we watched the powder-covered bees staggering around beneath the nest entrance.

All this has made me realise the lack of knowledge surrounding bees and their needs, and although I don’t necessarily agree with how the majority of conventional beekeeping practices are carried out, I’m sure any beekeeper would have tried to save the colony. And expecting everyone to be sympathetic to bees’ requirements is ambitious, but I suppose us beekeepers/bee guardians should expand our repertoire and offer an identification service regarding nests of ALL flying insects? I have met lots of people who don’t know the difference between honeybees, bumblebees, wasps and hoverflies, and even those who have these basic entomological skills rarely have an understanding of the ecology of the different species. If we ensure that those in our locality are aware of our presence and our skills, perhaps people would contact us instead of the pest control man, and steps could be taken to deal with the various nests and colonies appropriately. I understand that wasp nests are less desirable but again, if the general public were aware of how they actually operate, perhaps there would be more tolerance.

I just can’t help wondering how many bees’ nests have been destroyed on the grounds that they are “wasps”. Tragic. And in the wake of growing enthusiasm for pollinating insects, it would seem sensible to not only encourage the adults foragers in to our garden, but also make sure their nests are made safe from poor decisions resulting from poor knowledge.

The following day we checked on the bees. It appeared that the pest control operative had not done a thorough job, and the roofers were being pursued by bees that were very much alive and well. Kit and I headed off to the church armed with equipment, having been advised by another natural beekeeper who had more experience of these things (that’s to say more than none).

We were hoping that the bees would be quiet as it was fairly chilly, and drizzle was forecast so we wanted to relocate them before the rain started. Peeling back the felt underneath the tiles was rather nerve-wracking but the bees were remarkably calm given their home was being interfered with yet again.

One of the roofers borrowed my beesuit to go up and take off the tiles and batons so we could reach the combs that we’d spotted nestling under the felt between the rafters:

Removing the tiles and batons so that we could reach the bees’ nest

It extended some way up, and was tucked in all around the stonework under the rafters. There was masses of comb full of honey, but we were after the brood nest as that was where the queen was most likely to be.

Our main aim was to get the queen in a box so that the rest of the colony would follow, but it was too cool for the bees to feel inclined to fly. Kit then – miraculously – found the queen bee sitting on a baton, all alone, next to his leg! It was so lucky to find her, and he picked her up and put her in the box with the main cluster of bees. We then found combs of capped brood, and these were carefully removed and put into a nucleus box, although we had to take the ends off as they were about 2′ long and 6″ wide.

By this point, the two boxes we’d brought were full of bees and comb, so we put a sheet over the remaining bees and comb and took the bits we had to Kit’s handmade hive up the road.

Rescued bees and their natural comb

We debated how we should arrange the combs inside the hive but in the end, we lay them in, as upright as possible and shook the bees in as best we could. The bees were fanning their Nasanov glands and clustered up so hopefully – hopefully the queen is there and the bees are ok.

We went back to the church and collected more comb and as many bees as we could; they had woken up a bit by now and were flying round, but not in an aggressive manner at all. It was such a pleasure to help them, and I was pleasantly surprised at how keen the roofers and passers-by were to get the bees out and rehomed safely. There was also the opportunity to do a bit of educating as per my last post so perhaps that’s a few more people aware of the differences between honeybees and bumblebees, bees and wasps.

The weather tomorrow will hopefully be better and with luck, the stray foragers still at the church will venture out and smell the familiar scent of their family a few hundred yards away and head on in to their new hive rather than back to the roof.

I will wait with interest to see how they do in Kit’s hive…

The bees survived for the rest of the winter and swarmed the following spring in to one of Kit’s log hives on his land.

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