Swarm Taking – Good Practice
Taking a swarm of bees can be rewarding, but also time-consuming or even hazardous. This document points out some potential dangers and the care needed.
Swarm taking is a skill that can best be learnt by going with an experienced beekeeper several times to see swarms in different situations.
Note if you find yourself in a situation where you feel endangered by passing traffic, in need of traffic control or to keep the public at a safe distance, then call on 101 and request police assistance. If you feel at any time an emergency response is required, then please call on 999 and request police.
If you receive a call about a swarm, ask questions:
Are the insects honey bees?
- Referring to the pictures on the Bedfordshire Beekeepers’ website may help with identification.
Where is the swarm?
- If the swarm is inaccessible – in a cavity wall, roof or chimney, for example – explain to the caller that the bees cannot easily be removed.
- If the caller insists that the swarm must be dealt with, provide details of a reputable pest controller such as the one recommended in the Association Yearbook.
How long has the swarm been there?
- If the swarm has been there several days, the bees may be hungry and become aggressive when manhandled.
How high off the ground is the swarm?
- Working at height is the single biggest cause of fatal accidents within a working environment. With the use of ladders, the odds of a serious or worse accident increase significantly.
- There may be other ways to capture a swarm high up without using a ladder, e.g. with a bait hive or nuc containing some used brood comb to attract the bees, or a swarm-catcher bag on a pole. In any case, it may be better just to leave the swarm alone.
- If you decide to use steps or a ladder to reach the swarm, take great care.
- Remember that a swarm can weigh several kilograms, so be prepared for this sudden increase in weight when shaking bees into a box, especially if you are up a ladder.
When attending a swarm call
- Take with you everything you will need: step ladder, secateurs, large sheet, skep or box, rope, smoker, bee brush, personal protective equipment.
- Gain permission from the householder/landowner to access and remove the swarm.
- Consider whether you might cause damage to property. It may be wise to obtain for yourself some form of written indemnity against any damage caused.
Before you start
- Assess the risks to yourself and others – and act accordingly.
- Only proceed to take the swarm if you are confident you can do so safely.
- Wear all your personal protective clothing.
- You have a duty of care to people in the vicinity who will not be wearing protective clothing. Warn neighbours or passers-by, or ask someone to do this for you.
- Request that nearby door and windows be closed.
- If the swarm is in a very public place, consider if it would be safer to return in the evening to capture the swarm or whether to leave the bees to fly away of their own accord.
Boxing a swarm
- Spread a sheet on the ground beneath the swarm, or as near as possible to it.
- Shake or brush as many of the bees as possible into the skep or box.
- Gently place the upturned box in the middle of the sheet. Prop up the edge of the box to make an opening at the base, so the bees can get in and out.
- Stand back and watch for a few minutes. If the queen is in the box, the bees will follow. Otherwise the bees will leave the box, reform a cluster wherever their queen is, and you must start again.
- For an awkwardly placed swarm, in the middle of a thick hedge for example, place the inverted box above the swarm and gently smoke the swarm from below to encourage the bees to walk up into the box.
- A “Bee Vac” may also be borrowed from the Association for collecting a swarm in some awkward situations by gently hoovering it up.
Leave the boxed swarm in situ until sunset
- You MUST NOT move the boxed swarm until the bees have finished flying for the day and are all in the box.
- Taking the box away during the day will leave many foraging bees behind. These bees will be left queenless, bad tempered and likely to sting people.
- Explain to the caller why you need to leave the boxed swarm in situ. Tell them you will return at dusk.
- Take measures to keep people away from the boxed swarm for the rest of the day. If necessary, put up signs – “Danger! Honey bees in box. Keep away!”
- If the box is in full sun on a hot day the bees may abscond, so consider providing shade over the box. You might also place a queen excluder under the box to stop absconding.
Removing the swarm at sunset
- Don’t remove the swarm until the bees have finished flying and are all inside the box.
- Wear all your personal protective clothing.
- Wrap the sheet around the box and tie it up with strong string or rope.
- Ensure the swarm box is secure when transporting it in your vehicle.
- Beekeepers do not generally charge for collecting a swarm, and the Association advises you not to.
- Grateful householders sometimes give a donation to the Association or travel expenses to the beekeeper.
Version 1.2 January 2017 Owner – Executive Committee