The Ranger’s employer, the Isle of Wight Council, based at County Hall, Newport, is known to be a hive of industry. But they’ve excelled themselves this month with an extra twenty thousand workers hard at it within the dreary walls of the Council’s nerve-centre. What’s more, all these new recruits are slaving away for nothing! Council tax payers everywhere must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Of course – it’s not quite what it seems. See the video above for the explanation. County Hall is not exactly a Slovenian bee house, but you get the idea. Honey bees often swarm at this time of the year, when a new queen takes flight and takes a host of workers with her. In nature the queen finds a suitable place to live, and the new colony is founded. With plenty of food available the bees can soon build up a good size colony, and maybe by next spring another swarm will be produced.
In domestic beekeeping, the beekeeper tries to avoid producing a swarm. The bees need to be producing honey, not more bees! By careful monitoring of the queen and control of any new queens that are born, a careful beekeeper can reduce the incidence of swarms and even avoid them altogether if they are lucky. When the queen flies off, gets ill, gets old or otherwise needs replacing, beekeepers can introduce a new queen themselves, perhaps from a strain of bees that has a certain desirable characteristic. Of course, not swarming readily is in itself a very useful characteristic, so beekeepers are sometimes reluctant to accept a swarm of bees – after all, if they’ve swarmed once they might do it again.
It’s a bad year for bees and so it’s nice to see that at least one colony is doing well without any human help. But can they stay there? The human workers at County Hall have been a bit disconcerted by their busy new colleagues, and at first the buzz going about was that the swarm would be eradicated. But the extremely high position the canny bees have chosen makes this very hard, and they’re not doing much harm other than obliging some people to keep their windows shut. So perhaps the bees will prevail a little while longer.