My first collection request came as a bit of a shock.

It was only my second summer when I found an answer machine message out of the blue from a very worried couple who had been given my phone number. That happens a lot.


I frantically thought through everything I had read or heard about swarm collecting. Ran around collecting bits and pieces while I rehearsed the whole procedure in my head. Then I called them back being very reassuring, I hope.

Fortunately for me these were nice literate bees who had read the right books. They were about four feet from the ground in an apple tree, close to the lawn (not many people appreciate their flower beds being trampled). They fell happily into my box and I shared a cup of tea while I waited for the stragglers to follow the queen.
Not all bees are so cooperative.

Last summer my second career as a swarm collector really took off, beginning with a friend who keeps bees but doesn’t join groups. To coordinate my day and hers we arranged for me to pop over about 6.30 the next morning. Again, well-read bees, cooperated and stayed in the box.
If only the trend had continued

My experience of those calling with a swarm is that they fall into 3 main categories; 
The folks who point the swarm out in their garden and then go back in their houses never to be seen again. This is the smallest group.
Then the largest group, interested, watch, chat and make lovely tea. They are a delight but are generally happy to see the back of the bees and beekeeper. An hour or two is fine but all day? No.
Finally, those who are happy for the beekeeper to set up, establish the queen in the box, then buzz off to return in the evening.

Ideally, while a swarm can be encouraged to occupy a box at any point of the day, collection should take place as late in the evening as the householder will tolerate. Swarming for very obvious reasons takes place during the time of warmth when there is a good flow on. In Britain this is also the times of the long days. While I have no intention of travelling around at 10pm, it is probably the best time.
But I was aware that in my first two seasons of collecting I generally scooped and ran. Leaving a fair number of bewildered foragers and scouts returning to find they had been abandoned. Guilt set in. I decided I would, where possible encourage the householders to see the advantages of an evening pickup.
This turned out to be a double edged sword, costing a fair amount of petrol and several times, no bees.

The first such occasion involved a trip over to a nearby village, the swarm had apparently emerged from the hive of a bee inspector. I thought that I would enjoy collecting well raised and well treated bees. They were happily hanging in a Holly tree in a magnificent garden. They seemed to like my skep and settled quickly. Chatting with the owner resulted in an invitation to return early evening for collection. When I returned he said they have been quiet since about 3pm. Quietly elsewhere I discovered when I checked the now empty skep.

Some swarms are happy to come back to the homestead for a spot of bed and breakfast. But then feel the need to explore pastures new. One such, stayed for a week, ate their way through pints of syrup and then felt Brinklow wasn’t for them. Ungrateful critters!

My personal favourite collection of this season was recently. A Friday, the end of a long swarm filled week. I explained to the caller I would find someone who lived closer than I did to go over. She, in turn, explained she had called every number on the BBKA website, that this was the second time she was trying all those numbers, additionally she was alone in the house with a toddler and nine months pregnant.
Ok, on my way.
I did defer collection time until evening. Good plan as it turned out. I toddled over about 7pm, in the company of my favourite bee-bothering companion,Peter, fortunately as it turned out.

The bees looked very accessible, 3-4 ft from the ground in a nicely trimmed tree. I explained to the family what I planned, they settled in the bay window to watch safely. I thought we would be in and out and home by 8. However…

Swarm collection revolves around safely getting the queen. Once her majesty is settled, bees will follow. Of course, if madam decides to stay hidden behind a twig or a leaf, then all those bees who so easily dropped into the box very quickly return to join her. That was what happened here. All the bees down, stand back to wait. All bees back to the tree. Three times.

The tree had myriad tiny twigs all intertwined, impossible to get fingers or a brush into. The owner , understandably, didn’t want us to mess with the look of the tree, it’s matched partner was on the other side of the front door and I suspect it had taken a while to train. Despair was arriving in equal measure with the encroaching darkness. Then a thought struck, did they have a car vacuum?

They did, as did the neighbours who had joined us to watch. The neighbour’s vac won the day, we gently slurped the inaccessible bees into the box, shut the lid quickly, then went back for more, suddenly the demeanor of the bees changed and they wanted to get into the box. In no time at all we were on our way home.

Peter now has a designated winter project of designing a portable, gently bee slurper for next summer’s adventures!


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  • Survey on how training and information sources for beekeepers and bee farmers can be improved now closed
    20 April 2021
    With thanks to those of you who have already responded. 

    Gyda diolch i'r rhai ohonoch sydd eisoes wedi ymateb. 

    Defra and the Welsh Government want to ensure that beekeepers and bee farmers have access to training and information that can help them implement effective biosecurity and maintain good standards of husbandry, so as to minimise pest and disease risks and improve the sustainability of honeybee populations.

    A questionnaire was available for current beekeepers, people who have recently stopped keeping bees as well as bee farmers to give their views and opinions on the type, accessibility and range of training and information available and how it could be improved. 

    The survey closed on 21 April
  • Seasonal Bee Inspector (SBI) Vacancies
    19 April 2021
    The National Bee Unit currently has a number of Seasonal Bee Inspector (SBI) vacancies advertised in the following areas South Kent & East Sussex, South West Devon and South East Wales

    If you are interested in applying for the job, full details can be found on Civil Service Jobs.

  • Reporting Varroa
    12 April 2021
    Amendments to the Bee Diseases and Pests Control (England) Order 2006, the Bees Diseases and Pest Control (Scotland) Order 2007 and the Bee Diseases and Pests Control (Wales) Order 2006 come into force on the 21st of April 2021 requiring all beekeepers and/or officials in GB to report the presence of Varroa in any of the hives that they manage. This amendment will allow Great Britain to comply with the Animal Health Law which is necessary for future working relationships with the European Union.

    To make this simple, a tick box will be introduced to BeeBase, the voluntary register for beekeepers managed by the National Bee Unit. This will be the easiest way to report Varroa but an alternative mechanism will be provided for those who do not wish to register on the BeeBase system. Details of this alternative system will be provided after 21st April. If Scottish Beekeepers wish to, they can report varroa by contacting the Scottish Bee Health Inspectors (

    Although Varroa is known to be widespread, it continues to be one of the most serious pests faced by beekeepers. Reporting Varroa will contribute to the overall pest and disease surveillance work of the National Bee Unit and the Scottish Bee Health Inspectorate. We are grateful for your assistance with this new simple measure.

    No action will be required until after 21st April.