Monday, 14 May 2012

Martins Grove feral bee tree removal

A call for help
Bill  who has played host to the bees
*** click any photo to enlarge ***
Last Thursday I took a swarm call from a member of the public who had a feral colony in their garden in a tree which had blown over in the gales the week before. Removing an established colony is nearly always a 'no no', but having established that they were probably honeybees I thought I'd have a 'look see' just in case.

Comb visible at the base
of the severed trunk
Sure enough, it was a healthy colony. It had probably been there for at least 2 years and it seemed that it just might be possible to cut the trunk and move it to a member's garden for safe keeping and to carry on living as a healthy colony. Wouldn't swarms from that be worth having?!!! The tree was blocking the lawn and needed to be removed - though I am glad to report that owner agreed that rather than kill the bees he was happy that we prop up the trunk and leave the colony in situ, had it proved too difficult to shift.

As luck would have it the next YABeeP meeting was in two days time so I agreed with the householders that I'd see if we could arrange a posse of beekeepers and return that Sunday. Recruiting volunteers was easy as several came forward realising that it was an experience not to be missed.
Video of bees happily flying

Let's do it
Some of the gang assemble
Having agreed a convenient time for all involved, a motley crew of YABeePers assembled on site yesterday in glorious sunshine looking like we meant business!  The bees were happily active, having clearly recovered from their trauma of a week or so ago when the tree fell. Little did they know what was about to befall them as their Sunday afternoon peace was shattered by a chain-saw wielding group of beekeepers.

The situation was assessed, a strategy was agreed, bee suits were donned and 2 chain saws were started - that tranquil garden setting suddenly became a flurry of activity, noise and purpose.

The offending laburnum tree had probably stood up to fifteen feet high. The c.15" diameter trunk rose about 5 feet from the ground where it split into 3 large branches with the rest of the tree branching off above that. The centre of these 3 main branches provided the entrance for the bees who were living in the main trunk below.  The tree had suffered canker for the last few years and clearly had severe rot in a few places including the trunk which the bees were occupying. We had no clue as to the extent of the rot other than it was large enough to support a colony of bees over the years and that comb could be seen at the base where the tree had been severed at ground level by the gale. No bees were flying from the base. Had it been solid wood we could not have contemplated lifting it, but our hope was that it was hollow enough to have removed a substantial portion of the weight.

Operations started by removing the 3 main branches. We chose not to block off the bee entrance as so many were flying in the afternoon sun that it would have created as many problems as it solved. Amazingly the noise and vibration from the saws caused little concern to the bees and most of us quickly removed veils as working in bee suits ain't 'alf  'ot!
The first branch goes
Let's get digging!
We had hoped that once the top was removed we could drag the trunk onto the lawn and strap it ready for lifting, but there turned out to be a large root holding it which was unfortunately right under the fallen tree! There was no alternative but to remove the bottom section so there followed about an hour of mining under the tree to provide clear access for Fiona to swing her chain saw. Eventually, after much hard work and a sterlingly nifty bit of chain-work by Fiona it was free, though we had unfortunately had to cut off the bottom 4" of comb in order to clearing the root. Fiona was eventually able to save this once the main trunk was strapped and lifted out of the way.

All that remained now was to clear up and return at dusk, once all the bees had returned, to move it to Yatton.
Strapped and ready to shit

Amazingly, during our two and a half hours of sawing, chopping, digging and hauling the bees had remained gentle and calm throughout, not one sting was taken, despite most of us being unveiled throughout the majority of the operations. Two onlookers got bees in their hair but both were freed without incident.These are a gentle temperament dark bee - what beauties!

The Removal
At 9pm a party reassembled on site to get the trunk into the 'custard cab' for the journey home as we felt being inside the car between the axels would provide the bees with a gentler journey than bouncing around on a trailer. Moving the trunk was made more easy following Ali's epiphany to strap it to a sack barrow and wheelbarrow it along - beauty and brains, eh - dangerous!

By 10:30 pm they were settled in Yatton, on Ali's rockery awaiting their inaugural Yatton flight once day broke. As Ali lives just around the corner from where we meet for YABeeP, she has agreed to show any interested members the bees.
Safely back in their new home the following day

As Fiona so beautifully commented after we had done all the work, this exercise had not only provided us all with much valuable insight and experience into feral bees but it had also shown how a bunch of bee-friendly amateurs could so willingly come together to give their time and effort to save bees - she suggested this truly embodied the spirit of YABeeP - well said Fiona!

  • Mention must go to the YABeePers Ali, Fiona, Mark, Andrew, Ray, Sarah and your's truly who turned out work so hard on this project. 
  • Thanks also to Martin, Mark's and my boys who provided assisting muscle for getting the trunk into and out of the 'custard cab' for the journey.
  • Finally our thanks go to the householders, especially Richard the assisting chain-sawer and Bill who had loved and nurtured the bees.
Robin Morris
14 May 2012

More pictures & videos (click to enlarge photos) :-

Bees fanning during the disturbances
The second branch bites the dust
Time for the big one - yet the bees fly undisturbed!
Removing a branch exposes a new entrance
Top done; now let's sort the bottom!
Fiona gets stuck in

Preparing for the first lift
The root meant we had to loose the bottom 4" of comb

It's well known that you can 'drum' bees to make them climb out of a bee box. Here the same effect is seen when Fiona vibrates the trunk with her chain-saw while she cuts off the bottom to save the bottom 4" of comb. The vibration makes the bees climb to the top of what they are on - a useful trick to get them out of a harvested honey box. Drumming with your fingers has the same effect but will probably take a good 10 minutes - kinder when honey harvesting than using a chain saw!
A queen cell is found in the bottom comb
The bottom cut is propped up to allow the bees to go home
Job done, bees removed.....
....except for a few stragglers that need scooping and placing by the entrance 
I'm not missing this...
...Nor am I, though I was in such a rush I put my veil on backwards!
Didn't we do well?.....
Mark entertains the family
Strapped to wheels and ready to roll
Ready for loading
Safely in the 'custard cab' ready for the journey

...and they lived Happily Ever After. 


Emma said...

Wonderful pictures and a lot of information in there. Look forward to hearing how they get on.

Emma ~

Clear View Tree said...

Do you have any more of the pictures of the bee hive up close? I would be scared jumping out of my pants if I ever found something that large and menacing inside of a tree of mine!!

-Oscar Valencia
Tree Service Bronx

FollowMeChaps said...

Gosh Oscar, aren't there enough photos here for you?!
Nothing to be scared of, as I said the bees were calm throughout.