Friday 20 July 2012

Brunel's Bees

You never know where you are going to end up when taking swarm calls. Also, you have no idea how difficult it will be to gather the bees. Well, today's call proved to be both the most spectacular in terms of location and also one of the most challenging deciding how best to recover the bees.

The swarm in question had chosen to settled on the stern of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's historic ship, the S.S. Great Britain. Well, you can't turn down a call like that, can you, so it was off to Bristol to see what awaited.
What a place to gather; right above the unicorn's horn
(click any picture to enlarge)

On arrival I met with the manager, Gary Musson, who explained "You can't miss them, they are above the first unicorn"; was I in some sort of a fairy tale? Sure enough, the bees had swarmed in earlier that afternoon and settled on the stern of the ship. Originally the majority were on board the edge of the deck, but by the time I had arrived they had moved aft, out of the wind, to spill over the rear gunwale and park just below the stern railings. This presented a problem in that they were very difficult to reach. 
The drop to the water below!
(click any picture to enlarge)

A challenge
To catch them from below was difficult as they were about 15 feet above the glass bottom moat that surrounds the ship. My swarm pole would just reach them but collecting them this way would mean that any fanning bees were a long way from those that remained on the stern plus there was a real danger of drowning any bees that  fell outside the swarm pole bucket. 
A row of heads looking up as if to say
"catch us if you can!"

To gather them from the deck was compromised by the stern railings and netting which prevented me from reaching to hold a box below them - again any dropped bees would certainly drown. Unfortunately I didn't have my climbing harness with me, although I suspect that my hanging off the rear of the ship bee box in hand might have caused issues with their their Health & Safety policy! There consequently followed three quarters of an hour problem-solving how best to gather the bees.

In the end a Heath Robinson catching box was made from a cardboard box, some sticky tape and wooden slats - a Blue Peter badge should be awarded for its construction! It is right when they say that the planning is the hard part for, once made, the resulting catch was easy and straight forward.

Within a few moments the bees were scooped off the hull and poured into a Warré box - job done!
 - see the video below to see how quick it was once planned.

(Use the YouTube 'full screen button - bottom RH corner)

Construction fun with sticky tape!
As if to oblige and to give their seal of approval the bees were soon to be seen fanning in their new home's entrance calling the strays to join them. All that remained then was to cordon off the immediate area around the hive box as there was a private function just starting and leave the hive for collection around dusk when all the strays and returning scout bees had returned. A housed swarm fan a pheromone into the air to tell the flying bees where they are so they can join them. This will also attract returning scout bees who will have been out house-hunting for this new colony not knowing that a home had already been provided.

Gary & Arwyn watch the newly housed swarm settle.
Our Heath Robinson invention is to the left.
The hive will be collected tonight by Gareth & Dianne, the YABeeP members who will now care for and cherish this new colony.

My special thanks go to Gary and Arwyn who so bravely helped with the catch despite my having only one bee suit between the three of us. I even sensed some disappointment from them when we came up with the Heath Robinson box answer, as under an earlier plan they were looking forward to hanging off the railings helping hold the box while I scooped in the bees - sorry guys! 

My thanks also to Ian Thomas of Chew Valley Pest Control who referred SS Great Britain's distress call to me. Bees are not pests and most reputable companies refer bee calls on to local beekeepers to collect. 

It's been about 15 years since I last visited IKB's historic ship. She has a special place in my heart as she returned to Bristol when I first moved here. I can only thank the bees for bringing me back to see what a great job they have made of her restoration, I'll certainly be back for a full investigation. Visitor centre details here.

Robin Morris
19 July 2012

More photos......
Swarm catcher extrordinaire!
Though I don't know why he's smiling as at this point
he had no idea how he was going to recover the bees
Job done! 

Scooping up the stragglers
Hive can bes seen at the rear of the deck
Well even a swarm catcher can have a laugh