If you have a swarm of honey bees, while the swarm is hanging in a hedge or tree it is a relatively straightforward job for a beekeeper to collect them and re-house them in a hive. Swarms in other places and colonies of bees in buildings can be more difficult to remove.
If you are absolutely sure that you have a swarm of honey bees, you will find the contact details of local swarm collectors here: BBKA- find a swarm collector
If you are not sure whether you have honey bees or another flying insect, please read the explanation below.
If you need help to deal with flying insects which are not honey bees, you can contact your local council or a pest control service. (Both will make a charge.) In the Forest of Dean the district council can be contacted on 01594 810000. Their web site has a section on Pest Control here: District Council Pest Control
Forest of Dean Pest Control are based near Lydney and cover the Forest of Dean and the surrounding areas. They can be contacted on 03333 215961 (free phone) or 07842 822522.
What is a swarm?
Honeybees have evolved swarming as a method of increasing the number of colonies.
In the Spring, usually in May or June, around the middle of the day the queen bee in a colony will emerge outside together with thousands of worker bees, and in a whirling mass, fly off and land nearby on a branch or post or other resting place. If a swarm is in progress, you will see a lot of bees flying and milling about over about a ten to twenty metre area – the air will appear thick with bees. If you watch carefully from a safe distance you will see the activity is centred around a cluster of bees on a branch (or sometimes a man-made object) usually some way off the ground.
Eventually, in an hour or less, the flying activity will more-or-less cease and the hanging cluster of bees will remain in place. Often this cluster will look like a rugby ball. This is a SWARM – it can be collected by a beekeeper and turned back into a productive honey-bee colony.
Eventually, if left to itself, this cluster will fly off to a new home, usually within 24 hours. They will hang there in a mass somewhat smaller in size than a rugby ball while scout bees go off and explore for possible new homes. The decision process may only take a few minutes, or may fail and the bees remain there, but usually before the end of the afternoon the bees take off again and head for their chosen place. This may be an empty beehive or a hole in a tree or often somebody’s roof.
If the presence of a swarm alarms you, remember that swarming bees have other things on their minds than stinging, and so are rarely aggressive. If you just wait they will probably go away anyway.
Identifying bees and wasps
Honey bees are often confused with wasps and other species of bees. Before taking any action it is vital to know what insects you are dealing with.
Honeybees vary in colour, from almost black (like a house-fly) to golden brown (like a teddy bear) but have no yellow on their body at all.
Bumblebees and wasps do not swarm, and neither type of colony will last the winter as new queens are produced at the end of the summer, and the old colony dies. The queens find somewhere else to hide away for the winter before starting again elsewhere in the spring.
Wasps are often confused with honeybees, as they are more-or-less the same size. Wasps ALWAYS have bright yellow and black stripes and body markings. Wasp nests can be underground (sometimes) or hanging from an undisturbed branch or in a loft space. The nests are usually roughly spherical, ranging in size from that of a cricket ball to a large beach ball. They are an off-white or pastel brown/grey colour and made of paper chewed from soft wood by the wasps.
Honeybees vary in colour, from almost black (like a house-fly) to golden brown (like a teddy bear) but have no yellow on their body at all. If you have insects coming out of a hole in the ground then they are not honeybees. They may be wasps. If wasps in the ground become a nuisance and you wish to destroy them, any insect powder squirted down the hole after dark will normally finish them off.
Hornets are like BIG wasps. They are usually 30 to 35mm long; the colours, markings and nest structure are very similar to wasps.Interfering with wasp or hornets nests is not recommended, and if you need help you should contact your council pest control officer or a specialist firm. (See Who to Contact below.)
If the insects are round and furry then they are probably bumblebees. These lovely little creatures are becoming rarer and should be preserved as they do a great deal of good as well as being a integral part of nature. Bumblebees are not aggressive and rarely sting, so you have to work hard to upset them.
Removing a swarm
While a honey bee swarm is hanging in a hedge or tree it is a relatively straightforward job to collect them and re-house them in a hive. Bear in mind that they may not be there for long, and if you would like them gone then you will need to contact somebody quickly.
Insects coming in and out of a roof are more likely to be wasps than honeybees. Unless somebody saw a swarm go in, then the chances are they are wasps. The only sure way is to get up close and have a good look, an option that is not always popular. If they are not causing any trouble then you can just leave them alone. Wasps will die out anyway, and honeybees will probably die out after a couple of years and in the meantime you get the benefit of a free pollination service.
The removal of honey-bee colonies from structures needs to be planned by experts. Do not attempt it yourself because, even if you kill the honeybees, you will leave behind a lot of their honey which will attract other honeybees and wasps, so you will be back to where you started. Any residual pesticide will be picked up and transferred to other colonies of honeybees and kill them too. Most poisonings of honey bee colonies occur for this reason.
Information for beekeepers
For beekeepers, there is an article on the BBKA web site which explains how to go about collecting a swarm: BBKA Collecting a swarm
This page uses information from an article written by Chris Deaves, BBKA.