Swarming bees

Bee swarm

First things first... don't panic if you see a swarm.  Most people get a little nervous as they think they are going to be stung or attacked by a mass of bees.  As long as you don't start jumping around near them or shouting, they will leave you well alone.  Swarms are actually calmer than usual as all they are doing is looking for somewhere new to live.

Swarming occurs when queen bees leave the colony with a large group of worker bees.  The first, or prime swarm, goes with the old queen. Afterswarms or casts are usually smaller and accompanied by one or more virgin queens.  Sometimes a hive will swarm in succession until it is almost totally depleted.

Swarming is the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies where two or more colonies are created in place of the original single colony. Beekeepers try to discourage domesticated bees from swarming by using a technique called artificial swarming.  Regardless, it still happens however alert they are. 

The swarming season occurs most frequently in May and June. However, in recent years they have also been seen in April and very occasionally March.

What to do if you see a swarm?

Don't forget... don't panic!

Try to check if it is a swarm of honey bees and not wasps or other similar insects. For a quick reference between honey bees and other types of bee, it is worth visiting the British Beekeepers' Association website for more information:

If they are honey bees they are likely to be quite friendly and non-aggressive.

Many calls received are for bumble bees which frequently adopt homes in the eaves of houses. Bumble bees are lovely friendly insects, that won't want to harm anyone, and will only stay with you for the summer - they find a new home in the autumn. If you can live with them and enjoy their company, do, it's a rewarding experience. 

If they are a ball of honey bees, please call our Swarm Collection Co-Ordinator on 07910 235 891 advising where they are and if possible please keep an eye on them to  watch that they don't fly off.

Alternatively call your local Council Offices who will ask some questions about the location of the swarm, how long it has been there, and what the access is like. You will then be advised when the swarm will be collected.

Please remember that these people are volunteers. They will do their own assessment and decide if they are willing and able to undertake the work.  They are not insured and might reasonably expect a small payment for their work.  To the best of their ability they will remove the bees and find them a good home.

Please note beekeepers can only collect honey bees - they do not have the tools to remove bumble bees or wasps.

2013 saw an enormous increase in the number of bumble bees (more than 80% of all the calls received) and a beekeeper can't remove them. If they are bumble bees, try to live with them if at all possible - they will only stay with you for the summer and tend to be very peaceful. At the end of the summer the pregnant bumblebee queen flies off to hibernate for the winter, and will then hunt round for a new home in the early spring to start a new colony all over again. The remaining bumble bees that shared their summer with you die out in the early autumn leaving very little other than lovely memories of bumble bees in your garden on sunny days!