This is me! Carefully removing and then rehoming honey bees from a Grade II* historic timber-frame is not something that is done very often so I took the opportunity to document it here as a learning opportunity for others.
The bees were living within three panels of the house and we think that they had been there for about ten years.
The house is Grade II* and Listed Building Consent was obtained in advance. Consent is always required for any physical alteration to a Listed Building.
Plywood sheets were stood up against the walls, but were not fixed in place. This was to partly to prevent any debris falling and causing damage but also to avoid honey dripping down the wall. Honey would be a problem to clean off, for obvious reasons. The first task was to carefully remove three of the panels where we knew the bees were living. This was done using some hand tools and gently easing the panels out from the edges. The house had been worked on in the 1980’s and the panels had been replaced with a cement based render supported on expanded metal laths. From a conservation perspective, this is not a preferred method now but it is often seen in older repairs. The laths will rust which causes cracking and moisture can get in.
However, this made it easier to get the panel off as once they had been eased they simply came away in one piece – literally like icing off a cake.
Each panel was carefully removed so that we could then see what was inside the wall and to what extent the honeycomb had developed. The darker honeycomb is older, the lighter honeycomb is younger. It was dripping with freshly made honey. The Queen bee lays her eggs in the honeycomb and the lava grows very quickly and emerges as an adult bee.
In this video you can see how densely populated the colony is. We think there might be about 40,000 bees, or thereabouts. It is impossible to know for certain.
The next stage is locate the Queen bee and to use a gentle low pressure suction device to move them from the wall into a transport container. Smoke is puffed to prevent the bees from becoming aggressive. It is a very safe process and in no way at all harms or causes any distress to the bees.
Once the bees have safely removed, the honeycomb is removed and the frame and inner wall is cleaned as best as it can. The honey is very sticky.
We found the frame to be in remarkably good condition. The panels will be reinstated using a more suitable lime render but without the use of any metal laths or cement.
This procedure took all day. A slow and methodical approach, without rushing, is the correct approach and it avoids any unnecessary distress to the bees.