Go Tell It To The Bees
When a person dies, you are supposed to tell the bees. Now the bees are dying so we need to tell the people.
Bees are in big trouble, and I have big trouble with bees. It is said that the population of bees in England declined by 54% between 1985 and 2005. Thirty five species of UK bees are under threat of extinction. However, I share my house with bees; more often than not they are my sitting tenants.
About 10 or maybe 12 years ago, we heard a faint buzzing. This buzzing gradually grew louder and louder and on looking out of the front window, we realised that the air outside was black with bees. They were swarming across the front garden. The area right across the road as far as we could see was filled with bees. We quickly rushed to shut all the windows in the house. Cars drove slowly, nervously edging through the swarm, their windscreens obscured by bees. Parents going to collect their children from the school down the road turned in their tracks and ran. There was a constant humming noise in the air. Eventually, as the bees showed no sign of moving on, we phoned the local council and a man turned up in a van to assess the situation. He covered his head with his coat and made a run for our front door. Confirming that they were indeed honey bees and not wasps, he called the local beekeeper and left us with the swarm. Hours passed, and evening fell and eventually the bees settled and hung in a great cone from the branch of a holly tree. It was an extraordinary sight.
The beekeeper, an old man, came along dressed head to toe in his white beekeeping suit, he knocked the swarm into a sack with his stick, knotted the top and took them away.
It had been an amazing experience. Little did we know that this would become a regular occurrence year after year but one that did not always have a happy ending. Another summer, another swarm; always on the hottest day of the year the air filled with buzzing bees – only this time, they didn’t settle on a tree. They set up home in two air bricks which are situated between the ceiling and the roof of my flat roofed house.
In the bedroom there was a troubling ticking noise as the bees flew over the roof and tapped on it before going into the nest. There was constant activity at the entrance to the airbrick as the bees brought nectar back to the nest and then went out again in their exhaustive search for more. The front windows which had to remain firmly closed, were covered in little sticky marks where the bees had battered against it. Every morning I was woken up by the sound of hundreds of bees tapping on the ceiling as they woke up to face another hard day’s work and in the evening there were faint scratchings long into the night. When finally it was dark, we all settled down to sleep. Me in my bed and them above me, in the ceiling.
We phoned the bee-keeper. Another year older, he came and looked up at the front of the house and scratched his head. It was all very unfortunate; he was too old to climb a ladder and it would be perilous to attempt to balance on a ladder and knock the bees into a sack. And anyway, it wouldn’t be possible for any beekeeper to get the queen because the bees were not hanging, they were inside the airbrick cavity which presumably extends right back across the width and depth of the bedroom. The only advice he could give was that it was regrettable, but we should call the pest controller and have them poisoned.
He came around the back of the house to look at more bees who were entering a hole in the one area of the house which has a pitched roof over the garage. Happily, these turned out to be white tailed bumble bees which could be left and would do us and the house no harm.
The Pest Controller
Sadly, we called the pest controller who came and pumped syringes of poison into both air bricks. The next day, the bodies of dead honey bees lay scattered on the ground beneath the windows. That night the bedroom was quiet, there was no tapping on the ceiling, although there was one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen on the wall, probably flushed out of the ceiling by the insecticide.
So, we went on with life that summer. But the following summer the bees were back! They set up home again in both the air bricks. We lived with the situation for a while, but we were having new windows installed and we didn’t want the responsibility of the window fitter being engulfed by a swarm of angry bees while he was up his ladder. So the pest controller paid us another visit. He told us that in ensuing years, a passing bee looking for a new home for his queen, might smell any traces of sweet honey substance remaining in the air brick and so more bees might be attracted to setting up home there.
The Next Year
The next year there were no bees.
Another year, on a hot day, we heard the tapping again and the bees were back. And so it goes on, year after year. Some years there are no bees; some years the bees arrive, we shut all the windows and the bees live on.
Last year, the bees came and then there was a sudden cold snap and they disappeared.
This year they are back with us once again. We probably should have the airbricks blocked up. We don’t sleep in that bedroom now, in case the ceiling falls down, complete with wax, nectar, honey and forty thousand bees, both dead and alive. We probably should call a builder to take the ceiling down and clear out whatever is up there. But most years, and for now we share our house and of course, our garden with the bees.
They are out in the garden now, in the sun, collecting pollen from the foxgloves, the red valerian, the roses and the snapdragons. Later in the year they will visit the cosmos and the yellow flowers of the rudbeckia. They pollinate our runner beans, our strawberries and our broad beans and marrow plants. They love the wildflowers that grow behind our shed, the dog roses that come from our neighbour’s garden and cascade down our fence, the sunflowers which spring up from seeds under our birdfeeders. Soon they will be feasting on the escallonia flowers and then the buddleia. In the front garden the cotoneaster horizontalis shrubs are alive with white tailed bumble bees drinking the nectar from the tiny pink flowers.
Writing and researching this article had made me realise just how bad the bee situation is so…..
What YOU can do to help the bees:
Plant more nectar rich bee friendly flowers: honeysuckle, foxgloves, lavender, crocus, sunflower, hollyhocks, mallow. Leave an area of long grass, weeds and wild flowers in the garden.
Build a bee hotel for solitary bees.
Participate in the Great British Bee Count.
Avoid using pesticides wherever possible.
Raise awareness and spread the word. Have a conversation with the next person you meet today about the plight of the bees.
For more information see these useful websites:
Let’s do all we can to save our bees.
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© Michelle Le Grand