Last month I removed a colony from the cavity wall at Bollington library. The building was undergoing some refurbishment including a new roof and new window frames. The colony was in the cavity wall below a window. The bees entry point was through a hole in the rotten window frame.
It was claimed that the colony had been there for eight years or more, but I think it very unlikely that this was the case. Colonies rarely survive in the wild for more than 3 years as without help from a beekeeper they succumb to the ever increasing number of varroa mites.
The builders had prepared the site for removal of the colony. Barriers were erected to keep the public out of the way. I’m not sure about the wording on the warning sign, but the message was clear – keep out of the way!
When I lit my smoker another warning sign appeared from nowhere!
The builders removed the window frame which exposed the cavity and there were the bees. Being late February and rather cold, they were not very active. Notice how the stonework of the cavity is coated with brown propolis. This must have taken the bees a considerable time to complete.
There was a large area of comb in the cavity. The space was only wide enough for a single comb, but it was approximately two feet wide and four feet long. Some of the comb was very dark in colour demonstrating that it had been there for many years. I think it likely that the cavity had been in use by bees for many years, but I expect the original colony had died out and another swarm had since taken up residence.
Because of the length of the comb, and the narrowness of the cavity, the builders removed a stone from the wall to provide better access to the comb.
The plan was to remove as much comb as possible, together with the bees and transfer them into empty frames in a travelling box. I set to, using a hive tool and a builders slate rip, cutting the comb into large pieces and pulling it out of the cavity together with the bees. Some of the comb and all the bees were placed into the travelling box. There was no evidence of a queen, and no brood in the combs. The number of bees was quite small, probably not more than 250 in total.
Most of the comb was empty, with no bees or honey. The quantity and colour of the combs demonstrates that there had been bees in the cavity for a long period.
The bees in the travelling box were taken to my apiary but sadly the colony did not survive. The small number of bees, and lack of a laying queen probably mean that the colony would not have survived even if it had been left in the cavity undisturbed – and that wasn’t an option.