Swarm Collection Service 1

Swarm Collection is a service that is no longer provided by our local authorities. Instead, members of the public, contacting their District or County Council offices or local Police for help or advice about dealing with a swarm, are most likely to be referred either to a local Pest Control business or to a nearby Beekeeper…

Reigate Beekeepers has a volunteer team of (currently) fourteen members, geographically distributed around the district who are both equipped and experienced in dealing with and hopefully capturing swarms of honeybees.

Our service is offered free of charge, however we do kindly ask for donations to Reigate Beekeepers which goes towards the development of our training facilities.

Successfully caught swarms are matched up with new (and not-so-new) beekeepers within our membership wanting to either establish and manage a ‘new’ colony of bees or replace losses due to the weather for example.

The locations and contact phone numbers of our Swarm Collectors can be found under Found a Clustered Swarm of Bees?, together with information about identifying honeybees (as distinct from bumblebees and wasps).

Due to the appalling spring and summer weather of 2012, we entered the winter of 2012/2013 with fewer and weaker stocks than usual. Then in 2013, after a long, hard winter we had no proper spring, with a very cold April and May. In consequence, we entered spring 2013 with fewer, and weaker, colonies than usual. The prolonged cold spring of 2013 meant that many beekeepers had to struggle to keep their surviving colonies alive by feeding late. Eventually in May, warmth slowly returned so that surviving colonies gradually gathered strength, and the weather then improved, with a wonderfully sunny spell which started in June, lasting almost right through from July to October. So in the end we had a lovely summer and bee stocks recovered, but only with noticeably late development and growth – a general pattern seen in other forms of nature; both plants and animals.

This weather pattern explains our swarming experience in 2013, when many beekeepers wanting early swarms to replenish their depleted stocks sadly had to be disappointed, with hardly any swarms in April, and only very few in May. Eventually warmth returned in June, and from then on we had a good summer. As a result, colonies started to build up, so that swarms began, but only very late, in mid June. With the following fine weather, swarms then continued, but again much later than usual, well into July, before finally ceasing during August. In the result, as swarm collectors we had very few swarm calls in April and May, but were unusually busy in June and July. Overall, however, our annual total of swarms was much less than usual. The late incidence of swarms also meant that honey gathering from caught swarms was much reduced.

The above summary is borne out by our recorded statistics, giving the figures for 2013 in bold, compared with the 2012 figures italicised in brackets, as follows:

Total calls (all insects) 130(172); Swarms reported 50(126); Swarms caught 43(84); RBKA members getting caught swarms 23(49) [NB Some members got more than one swarm, including small casts, and swarms from their own bees]; RBKA members getting swarms in bait hives nil(2); Swarms taken to RBKA apiaries 11(2); Monthly swarm calls:- Apr reported nil(11); May reported 7(46) & caught 6; June reported 20(29) & caught 17; July reported 20(26) & caught 18; Aug reported 2(11) & caught 2; Sept reported 1(3) & caught nil; Honeybee nests reported in cavities 12(10) & removed 3(3); Tree bumblebee (bombus hypnorum) calls 25(22) & nests relocated 4; Other bumblebee calls 28(9); Red Mason Bee (Osmia rufa) calls 1(1); Wasp calls nil(3).

As before, we received many calls about bees in building cavities (often chimneys). Swarms in building cavities are typically very difficult to successfully extract and capture. If they are honey bees, then once they are settled within such cavities they will be attempting to establish themselves as a colony. Unless there is an adequate means of access to extricate not only the flying bees but new wax brood comb that the Queen and her attendant nurse bees will already be regarding as ‘home’, there may not be much that we can do.

The previous increase in calls relating to the newly arrived tree bumble bee (bombus hypnorum) continued, confirming its spread across the UK, with a marked liking for setting up home in bird boxes (read more), – with two removals from school premises being undertaken. The decline in the number of wasp calls (from 3 to nil) also continued, though there were more and later sightings of wasps than previously.

Coming up to date (as at March 2014), due to a mild though very wet winter and an early spring, survival rates of honey bee colonies in hives appear generally good, with stocks of bees in much better shape than they were at this stage last year. Our members are reporting full brood boxes, and even the start of a nectar flow, with some drone brood and even some hatched drones already sighted. So the signs are that a more typical pattern of swarming will resume, with more and earlier swarms than last year. Our Swarm Collection Team will stand ready – and beekeepers will need to give their bees plenty of room, and keep a close watch on them to prevent or control swarming!

Queen Bumble bees have also been sighted, which is a good sign, because these (and other forms of) bees are also important for pollination. With regard to bird boxes, please see our advice about the need to locate these before the bee breeding season above head height and away from passage ways or on structures liable to vibrate (read more).

Our collectors are not able to deal with bumblebees or wasps, so we do ask that callers attempt to positively identify the problematic ‘swarm’ as being honey bees before calling our collectors out. Found a Clustered Swarm of Bees?

To assist you, Click here for more information on identification, and advice on either dealing with problematic wasps, or hopefully living happily with bumble bees.

One comment

  1. Fantastic job chaps. You have all spent a lot of time on this. Looks highly professional. Well done. David Allbeury

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