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Swarm Collecting

How to prepare yourself for collecting a swarm

The collection of swarms is an important part of beekeeping. A significant number of non-beekeepers are frightened of insects and in particular a mass of several thousand of them. In 50 years of beekeeping I have only ever come across about three swarms that have been aggressive, in general they are very docile and easy to deal with.

In my opinion the removal of swarms is a service to the general public and is often an opportunity to educate non-beekeepers about bees and beekeeping. Many BKAs operate a swarm collection service and there may be national facilities as well. Swarm collection lists rely on volunteers to collect swarms from all places that are safe. Some beekeepers go on a list because they only want one swarm and when they have acquired that they won't collect any more. This is an abuse of the system and puts more pressure on those who are more responsible and will collect swarms if they want them or not. In my opinion these people should be removed from the list forever - they are selfish.

In dealing with swarms you need to take into account that the general public have little knowledge and you may have to clarify several things. A "swarm" often means two or more bees and I was once called when someone had two bumble bees in a greenhouse. I think anyone who is on a swarm list should satisfy the following:-

  1. Be experienced enough to take the swarm safely with little or no inconvenience to others.
  2. Be fit enough to do so, bearing in mind ladder/step work may be involved.
  3. Be fully insured. BKA membership should cover this, but be aware of conditions and restrictions.
  4. Be knowledgeable about possible alternatives to honey bees. Some information is here

When taking the call, it would be helpful to find out about the situation and I suggest asking the following questions as a minimum:-

  1. Has anyone else been contacted? A non-beekeeper may panic and call everyone on the list. On several occasions I have turned up to see someone else taking the swarm, or they already have.
  2. Take a telephone number and give yours. Ask them to call you if the swarm leaves.
  3. Ask for a description of the swarm. Don't forget it is only honey bees that swarm.
  4. Where are they? If they are inaccessible there is no point going. Bees that have already found a home will often be difficult to remove.
  5. How high are they? It is amazing how many people are unable to judge distances! Six feet can easily be twenty! I generally get the caller to compare the height based on something like a bedroom window.
  6. How long have they been there? If in a building for more than a few hours they won't leave easily.

Having satisfied yourself they are honey bees and it may be possible to take them, you will need to take some kit with you. Some suggestions are:-

  1. Normal beekeeping kit - hive tool, smoker, protective clothing. I suggest spare protective clothing, as it is common for non-beekeepers to want to get close.
  2. Queen cage.
  3. Some sort of container. This is often a straw skep, but a cardboard or wooden box is suitable. Don't use plastic as the bees can't grip it.
  4. Saw, secateurs, loppers etc. Don't cut vegetation without asking permission.
  5. Cloth without holes and string to tie it up with. Baler twine is ideal.

When you have finished thank the person who called you. Make sure no damage has been done and the premises left tidy.

If you expect payment for collecting a swarm you will need to make sure your insurance covers you, as it is then a commercial activity. Expenses may be allowable.

Roger Patterson.