If the idea of a swarm makes you sweat, meet the Herts experts who can provide you with a Plan Bee

PUBLISHED: 14:00 05 July 2015

Comet colleagues Kiran Bains and Oliver Pritchard prepare to meet the bees

Comet colleagues Kiran Bains and Oliver Pritchard prepare to meet the bees

Archant

Now we’re in the height of summer beekeepers are offering their expertise to reassure people about what they should do if they come into contact with these busy but essential benign creatures.

Reporter Oliver Pritchard with one of the plates from the hiveReporter Oliver Pritchard with one of the plates from the hive

The North Herts Beekeepers Association has already received more than 40 calls this year from people concerned about bee swarms.

Swarms happen when a queen moves to establish a new hive, and the resulting mass exodus as others follow can create problems if they come into close contact with people.

Gary Hammond, who chairs the association, said: “We go out and collect them as quickly as we can so that they’re not such a nuisance for the public.

“Once we’ve collected them the main problem is finding a home for them.

Oliver Pritchard is shown inside a hive by Lieva NationOliver Pritchard is shown inside a hive by Lieva Nation

“About this time of the year, everyone is kind of swarmed out. Over the winter period we do have to get additional hives and equipment knowing that we’re going to have to either expand or make room for swarms. This year has been particularly busy for myself and most of the keepers.”

But Gary says many of the calls they get are from people worried about bumblebees.

“Bumblebees never swarm,” he says, firmly. “There are only about 40 of them in a hive so if you’ve got a few of them in your garden don’t worry about it.

“A woman called me recently and said she had a swarm in her garden. I asked how many bees she could see and she replied about 20. If it was a real swarm they would be thousands and you’d have real problems.

One of the plates from inside the hiveOne of the plates from inside the hive

“Honeybees are endangered and protected and only sting people if they feel threatened. Our advice to people is to leave them alone and in all likelihood they’ll leave you alone.”

To find out more I joined Gary and Lieva Nation and Mike Goodhew from Welwyn Beekeeping Association to see what it’s like to get up close and personal to a swarm.

I was provided with plenty of safety kit, but I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Once we opened the hive they came from everywhere. Beforehand there were about 20 or 30 bees around but within a minute there were thousands.

One of the plates from inside the hiveOne of the plates from inside the hive

It was quite disconcerting to begin with and even though I was covered head to toe, my natural reaction was to move away.

I eventually got used to it and listened as Livea explained how a bee hive works.

It was fascinating, and I have no doubt that they would be the first people I’d call if I found a swarm.

Lieva pointed out the queen, who lives at the bottom of the hive and has been fittingly marked out by the keepers with a gold dot.

The queen bee of the hive (marked with a white spot)The queen bee of the hive (marked with a white spot)

She explained how the queen will lay around 500 eggs a day throughout the summer. The vast majority of these are female bees who work tirelessly to bring nectar back to the hive. In the summer they only live for about six weeks and in that time each manage to make less than a teaspoon’s worth of honey.

Their strength lies in working together and a hive can produce up to 100kg of honey in a summer, she said.

As well as reacting to call outs the association provides information days for people who are interested in learning more about the insects.

“These days are great if you’ve got an interest in how bee hives work and are even considering becoming a beekeeper,” Lieva said.

Oliver Pritchard is shown inside a hive by Lieva NationOliver Pritchard is shown inside a hive by Lieva Nation

The group also urges people who have a swarm to ring the nearest beekeeping association, rather than the first number they see on a website.

“I’ve had call outs to St Albans and that’s a long way to go when there’s someone just around the corner,” Gary said. “If you go on our website you can see a full list of beekeepers in your area and ring the nearest one.”

From this year the north Herts branch will be running its own courses. For more about them visit www.nhbka.wordpress.com.

Anyone affected in Knebworth and interested on going on a course should visit 
www.hertsbees.org.uk.

You can also find out more about bees at the Buzzworks Discovery Centre in Hitchin, which runs courses and hosts regular open days – the next one is on Sunday, July 19. Full details are at buzzworks.org.uk.

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