Any time between April and October, colonies of bees may “swarm”. This is the term we use when a colony (or part of it) decides to leave its home and find a new nesting site. A swarm may contain thousands or tens of thousands of bees, and if it settles in an inappropriate place can cause significant nuisance.
If you are aware of a swarm on your property or in a public place, we may be able to help by removing it and giving it an artificial home in one of our hives. However, before calling us, please check the following:
- Are you sure it’s a honeybee swarm? As above, a swarm contains many thousands of bees; when flying, they form a dense cloud creating a loud buzzing noise.
When settled on a branch or other resting spot, the swarm forms a dense ball of bees between the size of a tennis ball and a large melon. If there are just “a lot of bees flying around”, see below.
- Are they somewhere accessible? A bee swarm occurs in two stages; first, the swarming bees leave the colony en masse and alight somewhere fairly close by, then send scouts out to look for a new home. They will stay in this temporary location for between a few hours and a few days, occasionally up to a week. Once the scouts find a new home they will lead the entire swarm, often at speed, to the the new location which will often be a cavity in a tree or building. Once they’re in a cavity it’s very difficult to extract them, and they will quickly make themselves at home. Unless they’re really causing a nuisance, best to enjoy their presence. Attempting to remove them may be difficult and may involve expense (But see links to BeeGone in “not a swarm” below). If they’re at their “temporary” home a bee-keeper may be able to remove the whole swarm, if they can be reached safely. That is within about 8 feet of the ground, not near power lines etc.
If they are a bee swarm that a bee-keeper can safely access, then please contact us or another beekeeper as soon as possible. If the swarm is in or near central Watford, you can phone us on 01923 243232 or 07761 637223; if we’re not available, or the swarm is elsewhere, the British Bee-Keepers’ Association has a list of swarm collectors on its website at
What will happen next?
If a bee-keeper comes out, they will first confirm that it’s a honey-bee swarm, and assess whether it’s possible to safely collect it. If so, they will shake or brush the bulk of the bees into a container, and will most likely need to leave that container on site until dusk. This is because we need to wait for any flying scout bees to return and enter the box. (The bees will know to go in the box because they’ll smell the pheromones from their queen). The beekeeper will be happy to explain the process to you, but please give them room to work.
After collection of a swarm, don’t be concerned if a number of flying bees remain. These will be the stragglers that didn’t make it into the box. They may hang around for a few days but their numbers will soon reduce.
How much will it cost?
Many bee-keepers – Nascot Wood Bees included – do not charge for removal of a swarm. A small donation to cover costs – or to the Bees for Development charity – is always welcome.
Is it dangerous?
Honey bees have stings and, if provoked, will defend their colony by stinging. However when swarming, the bees are far more concerned with finding a new home, and are also gorged on as much honey supply as they can carry in their stomachs. Therefore swarms are rarely aggressive, if treated with respect. Don’t approach too closely, and don’t try and swat bees that get too close. If near a house, keep doors and windows closed, and inquisitive pets indoors. But don’t panic, and enjoy one of British nature’s spectacles.
A true swarm is almost unmistakable; however you may find that you have lots of flying insects, and these are likely to be one of the following:
- Honey bees that have already swarmed and settled into a new home. This may be a hollow tree, an airbrick in a wall, or a chimney. Typically they will choose a place at least 8 – 10 feet above ground, with a space large enough to contain a full bee colony. You may see worker bees flying in and out during daylight hours. It’s likely that they will be difficult to extract from their new home, and unless their flight path is causing a real nuisance, we suggest leaving them alone and enjoying their presence. Plant bee-friendly plants and enjoy a bumper harvest! If they have to go, you will likely need the services of both a commercial pest controller and a builder, as some demolition may be involved. Better, contact BeeGone HoneyBee Removal; the only company we know of that specialises in removing bees from buildings, without killing the bees or using pesticides, and guarantees they won’t return. You can contact them on 0800 9551 999, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.beegone.co.uk
- Wasps. Usually a brighter yellow than bees, and with yellow rather than black legs, there are many species of wasp. They will make a nest below eaves or in a roofspace or shed if they can find an entry, and you will see them coming and going, and be aware of more wasps than usual around you. They can be a nuisance, so we suggest calling your local council or a commercial pest control company.
- Bumble bees. Normally – but not necessarily – larger than honey bees, and usually quite a rounded shape with distinct fur. There are dozens of species in the UK, but the one we get most calls about are the recently arrived “tree bumble bees”. These nest in cavities in trees or buildings, and normally go un-noticed all year round. However summer is mating time, and you may notice numbers of male bees – sometimes into the dozens – flying around. They’re most likely flying near the entrance to a nest, waiting for the queen bumble bee to come out on her mating flight. They’re very patient and you may see increased activity for a week or so, but once the queen has been on her mating flight they will very quickly disperse. They won’t cause a nuisance – they have their mind on other things – and will be gone soon. So again – enjoy their presence and see if you can spot where their nest is; avoid disturbing them for the rest of the year. (They’ll most likely find a different nest spot next season).
- Solitary bees. As their name suggests, these don’t swarm or live in large colonies. Typically they make small holes in the ground, or occasionally in brick or stone work, and you may see them coming and going. They’ll cause you no harm and, as important pollinators, should just be left in peace.
Bee-keepers, ourselves included, are unable to assist if you have a problem with wasps, bumble bees or solitary bees.