How to get rid of honey bees – The Facts
When people look at how to get rid of honey bees from their property they come across a lot of foolish statements and advice on the internet. Just this morning I read on a well-known national pest control site that it is illegal to kill bees – not true. Whoever wrote this did not fully understand their subject.
It’s legal to kill honey bees in the UK
It is perfectly legal to get rid of honey bees, wasps, solitary bees and pretty much any other useful insect in the UK. Whether it is ethically correct to do so is another matter entirely. But most important, is the way in which the honey bees are poisoned and how the bee nest is treated post poisoning and the preventative methods put in place to prevent foraging/robbing bees to get access to the poisoned bee colony. If this is not carried out properly then large fines can be enforced as a result of many laws having been broken. Furthermore these fines will be placed against both the property owner and the person that carried out the poisoning.
Honey bees are not a legally protected species, so a honey bee colony or honey bee nest can be destroyed using insecticide; however this does not mean that a colony can just be killed using a can of insecticide. It’s an option but only a small part of the process. If a Honey bee colony is to be destroyed using insecticide then it is a requirement to seal of any entry/exit points that the bees may currently have or may have in the future. This is a lot more complicated and difficult to do than you may initially think. If not done it is also likely to lead to additional costly problems later.
Before you get rid of honey bees
Before you get rid of honey bees you need to understand what you’re dealing with. You need to know whether you are dealing with a recently arrived swarm, if in situ for less than 5 days there are loads of ways to get rid of honey bees without killing them. On the other hand if they have been nesting in your property for 5 years you need to know as its going to have a big bearing on deciding what you are going to do.
If you intend to get rid of honey bees in September rather than February again that is going to have great bearing on how you go about it. You need to look at where they are. We usually use a thermal imaging camera to help us decide on best course of action. We have been using one since 2016 and have recently upgraded it in early 2022, apparently FLIR consider them to be throw away items rather than repairable. Our thermal camera has saved a lot of people, a lot of money.
How many honey bees in a nest
A couple of months ago I read about some honey bees in the roof of a local hospital. For some reason or other it seemed to hit the national press. What amazed me was not that we had not been asked to carry out the removal (pest control contract is with a National and they brought in some pest controllers from far far away). No it was that it was considered to be a huge nest with 50 to 60,000 bees in it. By my way of thinking that is nothing in reality. At the peak of season a honey bee nest can be producing in the order of 2,000 new bees per day, each new bee will take approximately 3 weeks from being laid to emerging, so that is approximately 42,000 bees not flying that will be in the colony. Additionally there may be between 20 and 80,000 adult bees. What I really really could not understand was why it was necessary for them to use so many bee hives. We would expect that to have all fitted into a standard British National hive no problem, but apparently it took 6 to sort this bee nest out, and several days – extraordinary.
Bees wax, honey and brood
Along with all these bees there will be honey stores, some of which will be capped but a lot of which won’t be, dependent upon the time of year.
By the end of summer most stores will be capped ready for the winter.
New stores in the spring and running thru to midsummer will have a lot of runny uncapped honey.
If the bees nest is poisoned initially the uncapped honey maybe a problem as it drains out of the uncapped cells, but the capped honey may also become problematic overtime as a result of damage caused by stored product insects such as a wax moth.
This wax and the stores dependent upon location may be adversely affected by heat build-up, rodent damage, ants or some other stored product insect.
So there will be several kilograms of honey in the nest, dependent upon time of year.
As I’m writing this in early June I can confirm that we removed 80 pounds or more of wax, honey and brood from a chimney last week .
That is not to say that there will be loads of honey available once the bees nest has been removed. There was no quality honey available for the property owners out of that 80 pounds: it was a tight access chimney with a long brood pattern with a lot of old comb up top.
This is not unusual, there isn’t normally that much honey to give out at the end of the honey bee nest removal. This is because the bees will store honey in the old dark comb previously used for bee larvae. This dark comb is like that because it has been repeatedly used for brood, and each time the bee has emerged the worker bees will have cleaned and polished the cell using resin to smooth over the silky cocoon spun on the inside of the wax comb cell as an inner shell to form a protective layer by the previous resident.
The honey stored in the newer comb is often right up against and mixed in with the brood, making it difficult to easily separate if in a tight chimney space. Of course if it’s in a ceiling or in a reasonably accessible cavity it’s a different storey, and you will usually get some nice homemade honey on the comb.
Poisoning the bee nest
To kill a honey bee nest similar to that above a pest controller needs to add a nasty toxic chemical neural agent to kill of these bees, and will create a horrible toxic mass that really should not be left in situ, not just legally but also simple common sense.
Legally speaking the main concern with the use of an insecticide is that of insufficient proofing of the entrance/exit points. These egress points allow honey bees from other colonies into the poisoned colony for them to rob it out. Because the insecticides by design do not kill immediately, these bees will carry the robbed out contaminated honey back to their own bee nest/hive. This will then kill of large quantities of honey bees in the robber’s colony. Additionally the honey from the poisoned bee nest will be stored alongside that of the previously not poisoned bees, meaning that the insecticide may end up in the food chain in products being described as freshly produced, which in reality are contaminated with toxic chemicals.
This poisoning of the initial colony may end up with multiple colonies with in the local area being killed off as a result of the poisoned honey being robbed and taken back to local hives. This would be cause for an investigation and the possible prosecution and fine for the misuse of an approved insecticide.
When to kill a honey bee colony
If a honey bee colony becomes established in a property and they are a risk to the health of the occupants then one of the options available to get rid of the honey bees is for it to be destroyed using insecticide.
This is not an option we have ever had to consider as we have never come across a situation that has necessitated the poisoning of a bee colony, we have always been able to access it to allow for its removal.
Should you find yourself considering the poisoning of the bee colony you will want to take into consideration the following factors within your risk assessment
When poisoning a honey bee colony there is a lot to take in to account.
It is important that you ensure that whoever you employ to carry out this task understands all the risks and possible outcomes prior to the event.
There is a Code of Practice: Relating to the Control of Feral Honey Bees (2013) that both the BPCA (British Pest Control Association) and NPTA (National Pest Technicians Association) members should abide by.
Even this is not an extensive document and does not take into account all factors or methods available for the removal of feral honey bees, but it is a starting point.
This Code of Practice was updated in 2017, Code of Practice: Relating to the Control of Bees Issue 3 October 2016 but still fell short by a long way.
Then updated again in March 2019, Code of Practice: Relating to the Control of Bees Issue 4 March 2019, and unsurprisingly is still not up to mark, but I guess that is inevitable when you have to dumb things down for the weakest link.
If you opt for the poisoning of a colony, make sure it is carried out by a technician who as a minimum abides by this code of practice, as you never know who else is aware of the honey bee colony and who they may talk to about it.
Post killing of a honey bee nest
Having killed a honey bee colony we would suggest that you still remove it.
All those dead honey bees will be a great place for clothes moths and carpet beetle to breed in, down the road these clothes moths and carpet beetle will run out of food and be looking for other food – namely your woollen suits, alpaca jumpers, silk dresses, wool carpets, etc etc.
We always find wax moth larvae in feral honey bee nests, once the bees are dead there will be no controlling the wax moth, and the wax moth eat their way thru the wax so releasing the honey which often ends up dripping thru ceilings and other places.
You would be surprised at how many properties we go to, to remove previously poisoned honey bee nests, because of the dripping honey or the realisation that the clothes moth infestation is as a result of the dead bees nest. People regularly believe that the poison would be sufficient to kill of these other pests too – but it does not seem to work like that.
The Alternative Methods for the removal of feral honey bee colonies
Honey bee cut-outs
To get rid of honey bees the standard nontoxic method for the removal of honey bee colonies is referred to as a cut-out; basically the bees are vacuumed into a bee vac box (without harm), the brood (bee larvae and young carer bees) are placed in a nuc box (a small hive box – to allow a smaller quantity of bees to maintain temperature more easily) to be united later with the bees in the bee vac box, and the comb (wax) and stores (honey, pollen and resin) are cut out of whatever void they may be in. This maybe a disused chimney, a gas flue chimney, a roof space, wall cavity or some other location. Most cut-outs can be completed within a day, the easier ones within a couple of hours. It is usually the clearing up of the bees that holds up a job, which normally is relatively easy but on occasion can take forever, probably as a result of a combination of weather conditions, hive temperament and often a lack of foraging being available.
One of the main objectives when we get rid of honey bees from a chimney or other space is to ensure the continuity of the colony, this is achieved by finding the queen, or if she can’t be found (they often separate from the colony running of by them self during disruptive cut-outs) then the brood and young nurse bees will usually produce a new queen from one of the eggs in the nuc box.
Once you get rid of honey bees from a void having successfully carried out a honey bee cut-out it is important to proof the area so that future bee swarms don’t recolonise the void. Where possible it is advised that the void be filled, providing this will not lead to damage of the property over time. During the cut-out as much honey and wax is removed as is practically possible. However the area will be attractive to honey bees for many years to come because of the residual odours, pheromones and chemicals given off by the residue remaining. The importance of proofing the area properly post honey bee cut-out cannot be over emphasised.
Honey bee trap-outs
Another way to get rid of honey bees is to utilise a trap-out, this is not such a common form of honey bee removal in the UK but can be very effective when used in appropriate scenarios. We don’t carry out that many of these partly because they are very seasonal and can be very time consuming – preparation is key to their success. Effectively the bees are trapped out of the void that the honey bees have colonised and they are then collected in a nuc box over an extended period of time. This takes a lot of time as it is based on the life cycle of honey bees and the brood. It is however a very effective method for removing bees from voids that cannot be easily accessed, and areas were accessing the void would be very disruptive.
On completion of a successful trap-out, the old queen will have left the void along with the last of the bees looking after her and the newly emerged bees, to set up shop a long-way away (far from where she currently is, as this location appears very unsafe as all bees sent to forage have not returned). The nuc box will have collected all the other bees and have produced their own queen from good stock. These bees in the nuc box are then allowed to enter thru the old colony entrance to clean out the honey stores, on completion of this the nuc box is taken to the apiary and the old entrance sealed off.
As beekeepers we have been able to achieve a 100% success record on our trap-outs, though some have taken a lot longer to achieve than initially expected.
The two largest difficulties when carrying out honey bee trap-outs are the removal of any secondary entry/exit points of the void, and the ability to attract the excluded bees into the nuc box (achieved using brood from our bee hives), even then this can be a difficult time consuming process.
For more information
For further information on how to get rid of honey bees from your property, either explore our site further or give us a no obligation no pressure call to see how we can help you on it. Often it requires specialists that know what they are talking about to get rid of honey bees in an ethical eco–friendly manner without the need to kill the colony so creating toxic waste requiring special care, or even worse leaving it all in situ.
Our honey bee relocation Specialist is waiting for you!
Swarmcatcher are the UK honey bee colony removal specialists that provide an ethical eco-friendly bee removal and relocation service across the UK.
For further information on bee removal and relocation please use the contact form in the side bar or message button below, or CALL 01297 441272 to speak to someone local who knows all about it.
If you are looking for information on removing bees from a chimney check out our article ‘Honey bees in chimney‘, or if you repeatedly have bee swarms take up home in your chimney you may want to look at our page ‘Why honey bees like chimneys‘ & ‘Everything you need to consider when removing bees in a chimney‘ which is a fairly extensive overview.
For examples on removals of honey bees from these and other more unusual places check thru our blog page Honey Bee Removal Blog and investigate our Tag cloud too.
Don’t forget a general overview on honey bee removals which can be found at ‘Live honey bee removal‘.