Honey bees nest in our chimneys for a year – BBC News

  • By Fiona Murray
  • BBC News IS

image source, Stephen Kelly


A large comb is removed from Paula Denvir’s chimney

Paula Denvir thought there was a swarm of wasps at her parents’ house last July and was told they would leave when it got colder.

Fast forward a year, and the ‘wasp’ is actually a honey bee that has made a nest in the chimney of the County Down home she now shares with her husband.

The beehives they make are huge. It must be broken into pieces so that – and the bees – can be removed from the chimney.

“My husband was out for a walk a few weeks ago and came back and opened the door to the office bedroom,” she told BBC News NI.

“There were like 100 bees. And they were all over the floor, the curtains and the windows, and it was like, ‘Quick – close the door again’.

“We went outside. We could see in the disused chimney at the gable end of the house, that they were congregating around there, very large numbers. [of bees]. The next part is trying to get help.”

image source, Paula Denver


Paula Denvir said she could appreciate how a swarm would cause a lot of stress

One beekeeper told BBC News NI there had been a tenfold increase in the number of phone calls he received from panicked homeowners.

And the BBC has heard similar stories.

The British Beekeepers’ Association says that in the summer they get a lot of calls from people about bees in homes, outbuildings and gardens – but they can only help in the case of honey bees.

Beekeeper Stephen Kelly says the insects only need a small opening to enter the house.

“A chimney is probably the most common place,” he says. Also gaps between tiles, under fascia boards, flat roofs, under gutters around soffits and in gabled roofs,” he says. Basically anywhere they can get in.

“The chimney is the ideal environment for them. The chimney is there and the lid provides some protection from the elements. It’s as close to nature as you can get.”

image source, Stephen Kelly


One way to get rid of bees from parts of buildings is to use a simple vacuum cleaner

Paula Denvir says even though the bees in her house aren’t aggressive, a swarm is the last thing she needs.

“You could see them off the property, in the chimney above and if you went in the house it was in that one bedroom.

“It was very stressful because we have a lot of families coming to our house.

image source, Paula Denver


The chimney at Paula Denvir’s house was inspected to find the exact location of the bug

“There was a kind of panic. What happened? What are we going to do?

“I immediately started calling and googling for help.”

He admits that while the bees are not aggressive, they are a frightening sight.

“I can really start to appreciate how someone would be really, really stressed out, especially with young kids,” she said.

Busy bees

There are about 250 species of bees in the UK – only one of which is the honey bee.

Crowding is a natural process. It was a colony reproduced by an old queen who left with a few bees.

Most flocks occur on warm sunny days from May to late July.

Source: British Beekeepers Association

Stephen Kelly said this year was his busiest in the last five years.

“For the past three to four weeks [I was] on the phone every day,” she said, “talking to people who have nests in their homes.”


Stephen Kelly has had a very busy summer so far

The beehive will die naturally, but the honey bees get bigger – and so does the hive – and that makes them more difficult to oust.

A survey is conducted to find insects and beehives and determine if part of the house – often the roof – needs to be opened.

Mr Kelly, who owns around 50 nests in Newcastle, County Down, literally used a vacuum cleaner during the process.

“The bee vacuum we use; they will be sucked into it and no harm is done to them. They are then left in the storage box.”

The bees are then taken away, and placed in a place far from other bees to prevent disease transmission.

image source, Stephen Kelly


A vacuum is used to carefully remove the bees and then placed into the box

“I will prepare the nest and I will open the vacuum and empty it in front of the nest,” he said.

“The bees will smell the combs in the hive and basically march in. You literally swear walking ground. What a sight to behold.”

The voids left by the insects are then filled with fiberglass insulation – to try to reduce future problems.

But why did they move into the house?

Some believe a long, cold spring followed by rising temperatures means the larger flocks are now looking for new nests.

Dr Lorraine Scott from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast said honey bees were 99.9% domesticated, mainly living in human-managed hives and being treated for disease.

“My opinion is that we’re seeing a lot more swarming honey bees, so nesting in houses, because of beekeeping,” he said.

“Like a swarm that sits in a chimney for over a year, that would be really interesting to us in terms of research, because it means the colony survives without any intervention; it can withstand a very high pathogen load.”

image source, Stephen Kelly


The chimney can hold thousands of bees – but the extraction process requires an expert

If bees nest in a house, he says, it’s due to “a lack of nesting resources in a natural environment” because they usually prefer underground nests in meadows or even old mouse holes.

“Studies have shown that our native pollinators, the bees, actually do slightly better on genetic health and other indicators of health. They do slightly better in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas.

“And the reason? It could be rural pressures and pesticides and growing food and loss of hedges.

“Whereas in the city center you tend to have gardens and a diversity of flower resources. Whatever little gap they find, a queen will set up a colony there.”

He suggests bee colonies should be left alone, unless they cause distress – in which case you should contact a conservation charity.

image source, Stephen Kelly

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