Bees, Bumblebees and The Dreaded Tree Bumblebee! The Law And What We Can Do!
Updated: Jun 21
Contrary to popular belief there are NO PROTECTED SPECIES OF BEES IN THE UK.
There are still some outdated, and frankly wrong and misleading, articles circulating on google saying otherwise, but trust me, I know my bees. I have some Honey Bee hives and have re-homed numerous species of Bumble Bees at my home over the years. Truly amazing creatures!!!
Let's start with Honey Bees.
Honey bees are quite often confused with wasps by customers. A good way to tell the difference is this. If it's a wasp nest, the numbers will slowly grow over time. You will see them going in and out of a hole somewhere, maybe in your roof or sometimes the ground. The numbers grow slowly over time as the queen wasp builds up the number of worker wasps by laying eggs. Honey bees will turn up on mass.
When I say mass, I mean MASS!!! A swarm of bees can be some 10 thousand, or more strong!!! Usually the swarm will land in a tree in the garden and hang in a huge black bunch in the tree. Inside this swarm there is the Queen Bee. She sends out some chosen 'Scout' bees from here to look for a new home for the colony. When the scout bees come back to the swarm they will tell the queen what they have found. If the queen likes what they have found, the whole swarm will fly up into the air, usually making a huge ball of flying bees circling around each other, waiting for instruction from the queen and scouts to go to their new home. As soon as this is communicated through the swarm, all 10,000 bees will fly off to the new home (a void or hollow somewhere). It's truly an awesome sight and noise!
BUT PLEASE DONT PANIC and start spraying insecticides or trying to swat them!!! This would be futile and could be construed as illegal! And when Honey Bees are in this swarm mode they are at the least chance of stinging you as they have no honey or young to protect and are basically moving house! So leave them be (pardon the pun).
Whilst they are hanging in a tree or bush, or sometimes stuck to a wall, we can come out and take the whole swarm away in a box and put them into a BeeHive, or give them to a Beekeeper.
If you are unlucky the bees might choose your house as their new house! The worst case scenario is when they fly down your chimney. If this happens we always ask you to give the colony 48 hours to decide if they are going to stay in your chimney or move on to somewhere else. If they stay there for more than 48 hours then they will probably stay there for many years, producing a few more swarms every year (swarming is how they multiply and reproduce). After the 48 hours is up, you have a few choices, live with them (but as mentioned before, be prepared for swarms to occur a few times a year), or, we can try to remove them alive, or, we can exterminate the entire colony that is living in your chimney.
We would only do this as a last resort.
You need to make your mind up quickly though, as after 48 hours the colony of Honey Bees will start to make its home of wax. Once they start making wax honey comb and storing honey and producing young the treatment or removal gets more difficult and complicated.
The more complicated the removal, the more time it will take and the more it will cost you for us to remove your honey bees or to exterminate your honey bees. Removal means we have to actually remove all the honey comb and brood comb (where the young bees are made), and we also have to remove the thousands of bees and most importantly the queen bee, which can be sometimes very hard as the only difference between the 10,000 other bees and the queen bee is that she's a few millimetres longer!!! The removal of the honey bees is done by literally vacuuming them up into a special 'Bee Vacuum'.
Even if you want us to exterminate them, we still have to remove all the honey comb and clean the area, because otherwise you will be re-infested by other honey bee swarms that pick up the scent of the honey! (Scout bees can smell honey from two miles away!!!!!! Truly amazing insects!)
The same process is true if they get in a hole in your roof or maybe a hole in your houses walls! Sometimes we can't take the honey comb or remove the bees in this situation, sadly, the only options for you are to live with the bees or to have them exterminated, or, sometimes we will offer to take your roof or wall apart to get the bees out of your house. But we must also seal any entrance points after this process for legal and environmental reasons.
BUMBLE BEE REMOVAL or TREATMENT (NATIVE)
All native species of bumblebee in the U.K. (there are around 25 species!) are fantastic insects. Sadly we have lost two species of bumblebee since the 1940's, and we would really like to not see this rise in the future, one reason is the fact they are brilliant and prolific pollinators, and another reason is that they are amazing little creatures!
Most native bumbles have a similar life cycle. The queen bumble bee will find a hollow somewhere in the spring, sometimes an old mouse burrow or just an old pipe hole in your cavity walls, and set up home using the old mouse nest or the insulation in your walls.
She will then start producing young. Baby bumble bees are easily one of the cutest babies on the planet in my humble opinion, they are like tiny versions of their mom, and even their buzzing is like a higher pitched version of their elders!
Bumble bees are usually quite laid back and non aggressive. Obviously if you get too close to the nest they will defend themselves, but wouldn't we all! Even in this situation they are really quite lovely to the intruder. They will usually give you a few warning shots before stinging you. They do this by banging into you!!! They will tend to bang their body off the top of your head, which is quite a thwack with the bigger species of bumblebees! After a couple of warnings though, if you don't heed their warnings, they will sting you! And unlike Honey Bees, that can only sting once and then die, bumble bees can sting over and over again! So please be careful!!!!
Their life cycle is usually quite short (1 or 2 months usually), so our advice with native bumbles is simply to live with them if you can, perhaps view them as interesting pets rather than pests. Bumble bees will never use the same nest twice, so when the life cycle is over, they are gone for good.
If there's a danger to life, perhaps someone in the household is allergic to bee stings, we can try to remove them or as a last resort, exterminate them if there are no other options.
TREE BUMBLE BEES
Tree Bumblebees are a NON NATIVE species of bumble bee that came over from Europe. They were first spotted on the south coast of England in 2001. They quickly spread across the whole of the U.K. from here. They reached all the way up to Scotland by the year 2013! We first started getting calls about these bees in the Midlands back in 2010. At first we gave out the same advice as we do for native bumble bees (see above), but we soon started to realise that these bees were very much different to all our native bumbles!
Here's a list of the main differences and problems caused by them that we have observed over the years, and we are still learning more about them every season!
1. They can 'over winter'. So if you've got them this year you'll probably have them again next year.
2. They are highly aggressive! If you send vibrations through the nest (perhaps a child bangs a football off the wall near them) or if they pick up on the carbon dioxide in your breath (because you've got too close), hundreds of little worker bees will start to pile out of the nest entrance and will attack! They seem to go for your face and eyes, and anywhere that is not covered by a protective suit!
3. They breed like wildfire! When the nest gets really going, you will notice some bees circling around and around the nest entrance and never going actually into the nest. These are Drone bees, aka male bees from other nests in the area that are waiting for queens to emerge from your nest so they can mate with them. To give you some idea of how fast they breed, sit and watch the nest for a while. Every ten minutes or so a huge queen bee will fly from the nest, the drones will all fight to grab hold of her. As you watch you will see one of the drones climb on her in mid air and cling on while he mates with her. He will soon drop off after the deed is done and die shortly afterwards (male bees really don't have much of a fun sex life!!! Well, not one that seems much fun to me anyway! Birth, sex, death. And that's his purpose served!) The queen tree bumblebee then flies off down the street to set up a new nest. Quite often in a very similar place to where she grew up. So we often see nests at different stages of development all the way down the street in exactly the same place on the guttering or facia boards of neighbouring houses.
4. Since the tree bee arrived in our area we have noticed a huge decline in the call outs to our native bumble bees! In fact every year we see a decline! Last year, out of thousands of calls to bumblebees, only two were native species!!! I think this is truly scary for our native fauna as I strongly believe that the Tree Bumblebee is outcompeting and outbreeding our native bees for food and places to set up home!
5. They seem to be learning very quickly about their environment! In the first few years we had calls to them and treated them similarly to our natives, we would nearly always find the bees nest in peoples lofts, under the insulation. Over the years they seem to have learned that if they make their nest in cavity walls or in the facia boards (where we can't get to them) they stand a better chance of not being destroyed or moved to another site!
6. They are extremely hard to exterminate! Using shop bought insecticides is pointless. All you will do is annoy them and end up getting numerous stings in the process. We use two different insecticides at the same time!
7. They nearly always live up high, usually up by your gutters. They also love to take over a bird box that has an old nest in it! When they are in bird boxes or easy to get at places we still remove and re-home them on local farms as all bees (even these!) are useful pollinators of crops.
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