Collecting Swarms

The BeeHolder, Summer 2014

After the committee meeting on 23rd June, I thought about Roy's exasperation at trying to co-ordinate the collection of swarms. This has been a year of many swarms, not just in Montgoeryshire, but across Britain. Roy has been our swarm co-ordinator for a number of years now, gathering the names of members interested in collecting swarms and then taking the phone calls of the public, the police and the county council reporting swarms. Usually he can weed out the false alarms – bumblebees, wasps, solitary bees, established colonies etc – and then pass on the details to our nearest beekeeper(s) in order that they can get round to the scene and collect the bees before they move on to pastures new.

scratch headBut the system isn't perfect – too many false alarms, not enough swarms being reported through the right channels so that Roy is out of the loop and eg Tony Shaw or Keith Rimmer are the first contact, too many beekeepers who sign up for a swarm and then either are not equipped, not willing or have “already got one”. Don't forget we have to tell Roy when we want to be taken off the list, as well as when we want adding to it.

And it occurred to me that maybe there is a better way to co-ordinate this effort – which seems like a lot of work for the beekeepers and especially Roy for such a low return. Perhaps other BKAs have a better system? I couldn't find anything on WBKA or BBKA websites about how to organise swarm collection in a BKA (doesn't mean to say it isn't there - I just couldn't find it).

So I contacted all the contributing editors to the eBees (the exchange scheme for the bee kelight bulb momenteping press, sponsored by Northern Bee Books), reasoning that this would reach an informed representative of almost every BKA in the UK. I summarised our predicament and asked “Does any BKA out there have a strategy which yields greater success than this? Is it worth pooling our "best practice" to improve success across the BKAs?” I couldn't find any help on this on the WBKA and BBKA sites (doesn't mean to say it isn't there - I just couldn't find it).

I had seven responses, five of which basically said they had the same approach, the same problems and the same low percentage of success. The other two outlined a marvellous new strategy which describes not only how to tell with a single question whether it is a swarm of honeybees or some red herring, how to get exactly the right beekeeper to a swarm in a timely fashion, how to extract bees from established nests without having to destroy the parts of the building in which they are living, and also how to make money doing this...



... No, only kidding, there doesn't seem to be a silver bullet for this problem – at least not yet. But some good has come of it. There is a useful piece on the BBKA website to help the layman determine whether a group of insects is a swarm or something else The MBKA committee is going to put together a written policy on swarms in time for next year so that everyone involved in swarm collection knows what to do. Hopefully by having everyone better informed the system will work better. Thanks must go to David Teasdale and Doug Brown of BBKA for useful input and a couple of BBKA documents on swarm protocol and bees in buildings.

do you have a swarm

So we can't pretend to be perfect, but hopefully we're getting better. The orange banner above appears prominently on our web site now (not on BeeHolder pages!), so people looking for what to do with a swarm are pointed to Roy Mander and asked to check the BBKA page to see if they really have a swarm first!

Chris Leech