I started working with the National Trust bees at Winchelsea when my friend and colleague Paul asked me to help remove some bees from a wall in a National trust cottage at Crutches Farm. We couldn’t get them out so decided to leave them until they had built up again and were a bit more populous; there are always casualties with colony removal. Having plonked the surplus comb in to a brood box and stuck it around the corner for the bees to rob out with a bait hive underneath, Paul discovered the bees had actually moved in to the upper box – having ignored the bait box (naturally).
We had only brought one roof with us so we had put on a crownboard with a brick over the hole. This means the wood has sagged down and obviously allowed water to enter in, even though the hive is in a sheltered spot. This doesn’t seem to have deterred the bees, and the mesh floor has helped in letting water drain away. So that we could move them, Paul shut them in and I brought them back to my apiary.
They have propolised the entrance so the hive block doesn’t really fit, so I improvised with some bits of stick:
In the spring I will put a super with frames on top of the sagging crownboard so the bees can build up in to it. My experience of bees with wild comb in a box is that they are very reluctant to leave it, and as the combs are attached to the crownboard, I can’t remove it. So, I will pop on a super and if they build up and the queen decides to follow, I can swap the messy box underneath for a new one with frames, but I won’t hold my breath for that to happen. There are enough clues as to the health of a colony without having to have frames so I am not worried. They are from wild stock so have proven ability to fend for themselves.
The other task was to move some bees who had swarmed from the colony in the church. They seem to be very aggressive and not suitable for a garden, so we decided the best place for them was down at Crutches Farm, away from humans!
Here is the colony in the church, both before and after they had a swift box inserted in to their nest cavity…
The swarm had been put in to a hive nearby, so we took the frames out of the WBC and transferred them to nuc boxes, ready to be taken to the farm. They are a big colony and clearly have a mature and fecund queen given the amount of brood and stores in the frames. As the farm is only a mile or so away from Lookout Cottage, there were lots of bees back at their original site during the day. This is because bees orient themselves by the sun and landmarks, so if they are only moved a short distance (conventional wisdom suggests less than 3 miles) the bees will fly back to their old location, as they fly out of the hive in its new place and won’t have reprogrammed their internal map, thus end up back where was previously home.
There is still a hive at the cottage, so they might join that colony, or even the rejoin their mother colony in the church. There are plenty of bees and stores so the loss of a few foragers won’t dent the new colony too much, but it is something to consider when moving a hive.
One way to prevent it is to obfuscate the entrance with branches so the bees really have to look and see where the hive entrance is before they leave. You can also take them a greater distance away for a couple of weeks, then bring them back so that they will have forgotten where they used to live, but this must be quite stressful for them; bee colonies are static creatures.
The next project is to find a home for the bees who swarmed out of the oak tree in Market Wood. They are currently in my apiary, but it would be great to get them back to Winchelsea, so we are investigating options. Watch this space.
**With thanks to Paul and Rosa for the photos**