Yesterday I attended the funeral of my friend David Charles at St John’s Church at Glastonbury. I wasn’t able to attend in person because of ‘lockdown’ limitations but was able to see it as it happened on my computer screen. As the camera scanned round there appeared to be about a score of people there and I think there were about three score watching as I was.

Unfortunately, due to a poor signal, there were frequent interruptions and freezes, which was a pity as I missed parts of what our mutual friend, Chris Utting, was telling us about David’s long and interesting life, from his early years abroad as the son of a serviceman to his later career as a teacher. He must have been very popular as a teacher as many of his former pupils remained his friends.

David was a long term beekeeper and, for a while, was President of the BBKA. Although not a member he came along to some of our DARG meetings and, of course, was at all the many successful events run by Somerset BKA.

He had given up his bees a few years ago, downsized and moved to a flat in Glastonbury, where he died on 31st December.

He will be missed.

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I’ve spent most of this wet and windy day sat with the laptop on my lap virtually attending the National Honey Show. I also got to some lectures yesterday and the day before but missed some. I may look at lectures from previous years on the NHS website if I can find time. The last time I did that I found the information interesting but somehow familiar. When it came to the question time at the end, I saw myself on screen asking a question!

The signal isn’t always good here. The first lecture, on Thursday, was by Medhat Nasr on wintering bees in Canada and the picture and speech were often ‘crackly’. I am familiar with his name as it often appears on the BeeList yahoo group so it was good to put a face to it.

Yesterday I watched Chris Park skep making. I made my first skep in 1984 and it still appears annually at the County Agricultural Show Bee Tent. Chris, in his lecture, said that brambles are good for binding but difficult because of the prickles. I overcame that problem by working them through a short length of an elder branch.

The next lecture was by Etienne Bruneau, from Belgium and I had difficulty in following it, partly because of his accent and also because he showed lots of graphs which were illegible.

I missed the lecture on showing honey as I’m not a show off!

I arrived halfway through the Bees for Development quiz as I had the time wrong in my diary, but the bit I saw was interesting and fun.

This morning I watched Sara Robb making soap, but it had little relevance to beekeeping as she wasn’t using wax. I intend, soon, to make some soap from conkers.

Bill Turnbull and Robert Pickard were very scattered and disjointed on my screen and I couldn’t really follow the conversation, which is a pity because Robert is the best bee-lecturer there is!

The last lecture was the best: Jeff Pettis on why queens aren’t lasting as long as they should. Not only was it interesting, but the screen behaved itself.

It was a lot more convenient and cheaper to watch it at home rather than attending in person, but much of the enjoyment of the NHS is bumping into old friends and nattering, and going round the trade stands.

Last year I was persuaded to buy a heavy (10kg) parcel of fondant because I was told the price was good. I very rarely feed my bees so I was kicking myself afterwards but I have a colony that I split which isn’t too strong and they’re devouring it. I visited them yesterday to give them their 5th kg slab and, although the temperature was only 12 C they were working as if it was midsummer with lots of pollen going in!

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A couple of days ago a small parcel arrived from Victoria Buswell of Plymouth University. It contained a small transparent plastic container about 3/4 full of deathanol (ethanol) into which I was requested to place 40 bees from a selected hive and return it to her.  She wants samples from here and there to analyse their DNA to discover their origins, in particular to see what proportion of the native honeybee, Apis  mellifera mellifera is present.

The container was just about large enough to contain my finger so I didn’t really expect to get that many bees in it.  I had no instructions as to how to do it so I had to invent a method.

The hive I selected is within walking distance so yesterday I went there with an empty jam jar and  small seed catalogue in addition to my usual kit.  I opened the hive, removed a frame of bees from a super and placed the, now lidless, jam jar over some of the bees, trapping them.  I slid the jar sideways to get the bees climbing onto the sides of the jar which I slid  over the  slim catalogue.  I repeated the procedure several times until I thought I might have enough bees but wasn’t sure as they’re not easy to count while on the move!

I went home and put the jar into the freezer to kill them off humanely.  I was expecting to have to go back and get some more today.  I emptied the jar onto a dinner plate and started to count them.  I’d killed far too many!  I put 40 of them into the phial of deathanol which raised the fluid level exactly to the top!  Clever Victoria had put in exactly the right amount – she must have done it before.

I packed the phial in the padded envelope in which it had arrived.  As it was after lunch I knew the village post office would be closed so I googled the opening times of Dorchester PO and was informed that they were open until 5.30 so I headed that way.  Google was wrong!

I won’t be able to send the sample until Monday morning.  I hope the bees don’t rot, but presume the deathanol will prevent that happening.  I’m looking forward to being told the result.  The bees are a self-hived swarm that arrived this spring.


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A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Hayley, the gardener at a large estate a few miles away.  Her boss wants bees around the place so would I like to place a hive or two there?  I went over and, keeping our distance, walked around the garden/park and I selected a spot by a gap in a hedge up out of the frost pocket and where flight lines wouldn’t be a problem.

I went home and started to dismantle the empty bait hive in my back garden, only to discover that it wasn’t empty!  There was a tiny, fist sized, cluster of bees in the super with a little comb with sealed brood.  I’d seen the occasional bee there but thought they were just looking.  It must be a cast, a secondary swarm.  I’ve never seen one as tiny!

I moved them to the new site and put a feeder on them.  Then Hayley suggested a second site a couple of miles away so she led the way in her garden truck while I followed in my car.  After going through the next village there’s a half-mile long, bumpy farm track to reach the farm house, which I think has just been converted for a holiday home.  We looked around and I selected a site at the edge of a lawn, again facing a gap in a hedge.

I went home, gathered parts and returned to set up the hive.  Next day I split one of my hives in the village, taking a nucleus, including the marked queen.  As I was closing up, I noticed a bee on the hive fanning and displaying her Nasenov gland, which made me wonder whether the queen had escaped from the nucleus.

I drove to the site but found the farm track was occupied by a bulldozer and digger so I had to drive across a field, hoping it wasn’t too rough for the bees.  I transferred them to their new home without mishap or sting but couldn’t see the queen.  The frames I had selected had plenty of food and brood, including eggs and young larvae and it occurred to me that, brain being occupied with what I was taking, I hadn’t thought of ensuring that I’d left behind brood from which the parent hive could produce a new queen.

Next day I went and checked and found that I had taken all the young brood so I went back to the farm and found the gate closed and locked.  I contacted Hayley who kindly drove over and brought me a key.  The track was now quite smooth.

I opened the nucleus, saw the queen and removed a frame with eggs and young larvae, brushing the bees off.  I went back to the parent hive to put it in, which I did, but the bees gave me a pasting!  I received about a dozen stings.  I’d forgotten that queenless hives can get stroppy.  I shall leave them alone for a month, when I shall look for pollen going in before I open them again.

Yesterday I had a call from a lady to say there were bees in my bait hive in their wild flower meadow at Neal’s Copse.  I visited and, yes there are bees but they aren’t in the hive, they’re UNDER it!  They’ve been there some time because there’s lots of drawn comb suspended under the floor.  I have yet to decide what to do about it.

Down by the house, in some wasteland just below the haha, I have a hive which had lost it’s queen and just had a few laying workers a couple of months ago, so I went to check that they were now all dead.  A swarm has moved in!  They’re doing well with brood in all stages but not a lot of food and they’re not using the supers.

As I was using my hive tool to lever and loosen the propolised end frame I managed to prise the brood box apart, only slightly and I was able to bang it back almost into position without upsetting the bees, but I ought to swap that brood box for another one before too long and repair it.

I drove on over the boundary into darkest Somerset as I’d been sent a photo of a swarm in an apple tree in the cider orchard and also a video of bees entering my bait hive there. The hive was empty, although there were a few bees investigating it.  I walked all round the orchard looking for the swarm without success, so I guess they’ve found a new home elsewhere.  I don’t know where they came from but, last time I was there I noticed a colony was occupying the Church Hall, not far away.

As you can see, I’ve been kept quite busy during lock-down!

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During the current ‘lock down’ because of the Corona virus we hadn’t been able to have any beekeepers’ meetings but now it’s becoming almost routine to have meetings via Zoom, of which I’d never previously heard.  It isn’t perfect and there’s lots of room for improvement but it’s a lot better than nothing.

A few weeks ago we had a meeting of DARG on Zoom, the main subject of which was Richard Ball leading discussion on beekeeping and climate change and how to monitor it.  He’s been keeping rainfall records for the last 20 years and was able to show us graphs of the information.  I have been keeping rainfall records all this century but don’t know how to play with them on computers.

I managed to scroll the screen so all the pictures disappeared but was unable to get them back so I rejoined the meeting via my mobile phone although I was still pictured via the camera on my laptop.  I was told afterwards that, with my head and eyes down looking at the phone I appeared to be asleep.  I wasn’t, really!

The following week Lynn Ingram organised a Zoom meeting of Somerset BKA for a talk by Richard Ball which I enjoyed despite my computer repeatedly telling me that I have a poor signal.  We’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings of the U3A Singing group.  Because of all the distortions of signals it was impossible for us all to sing together, keeping time so we were muted but joining in inaudibly at home, singing along with our leaderine whom we could hear.

I had been asked to give the North Devon BKA a talk on top bar hives because of my chapter on that subject in the recently published Variations on a Beehive.  I was meant to travel up to Barnstaple to deliver it but now it has been suggested that I do it via Zoom.  I had been intending to take a hive with me to demonstrate the parts so now I had a problem in finding pictures to wave at the camera.

By coincidence, my new apprentices, Venetia and her husband, Gautam, asked if I could show them a top bar hive, so today we went along to Ourganics where I have a TBH in my friend, Pat’s, organic nursery where she lives off-grid.  As I opened the hive with Venetia and Gautam mostly keeping their distance, Gautam was taking photos and video of what looked, to him, most interesting.  He’s going to email them to me so I can print off pictures to illustrate my talk.

When we got back to our cars, next to Pat’s giant polytunnel, Pat was there and they fell into conversation about their experiences in living off-grid, particularly in purifying drinking water.  They swapped ideas and got on well and I think they might join some of Pat’s teaching sessions when they recommence.  It’s a funny world.

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A couple of weeks ago I had an email from a lady called Venetia of whom I’d never heard nor met.  She must have got my email from the BKA website and asked me how to join as she wants to become a beekeeper.  Venetia is an uncommon name and the only other one I know is also a beekeeper!   I put this Venetia in touch with our Secretary, Sally,  who emailed her the forms and suggested that she ask me to mentor her and possibly set her up with a swarm if I was asked to collect one.

A few emails were exchanged but we couldn’t sensibly meet during the lock down, however she has now acquired a hive and, at my suggestion, baited it with lemon grass oil.  She asked me to visit to advise whether the location was ok. We would have to keep our distance of course.  As the visit would be in respect of livestock it ought to be ok.  She gave me directions, unusually for a lady navigating by pubs rather than shops!

I found their house, an old farmhouse in the Piddle Valley, without difficulty.  I met her husband, from India, her parents and her two young children.  There were a few bees investigating one of the chimneys of the house and we, keeping 6 feet apart, went in to see the room with the fireplace.  They have had bees in from time to time and I guess that they are thinking of going there again so I suggested lighting a smoky fire to put them off.

Then we made our way through the garden towards the paddock where the hive has been set up.  On the way we passed under a tree with what appeared to be an established colony flying from a hole about 30 feet up!  Concentrating mentally on the bees, I didn’t register the species of tree but, if she reads this, Venetia will be able to tell us.  I suspect that they may be the source of an impending swarm.

We crossed the Piddle and walked up the hill for a few yards to the hive.  It’s a Warre! I know virtually nothing about them and have never opened one.  Venetia had baited it, not only with lemon grass oil but also with propolis on a piece of hessian sacking at the entrance.  There were about a dozen bees inspecting it and also going in an upper entrance.  I did warn about queens being reluctant to get too close to lemon grass oil, although it’s very attractive to the workers.

We discussed the site.  It can be a frost pocket but there’s not much that can be done about that and the hive should be well insulated.  It should get plenty of sunshine.  It’s a bit close to the neighbouring paddock that has horses so I suggested erecting some plastic mesh fencing to  get the bees flying above them.  It might be a bit windy there in the winter so I suggested either bungees attached to the concrete paving block base or a rope to the fence post.

We returned to the house and sat in the garden refreshing with home made ginger beer.  I haven’t drunk ginger beer for decades!  It was lovely.  I must make some.  We talked bees etc.  They have been living off-grid in Indian jungle where the locals place log hives about the place to keep off marauding wild heffalumps which can be a nuisance.  Their bees are Apis cerana, which are smaller and darker than the ones we had been looking at.

Venetia has been reading bee books, including David Heaf’s, who is keen on Warres.  She intends to get a copy of my (co-authored with Dave MacFawn of S.Carolina) book, Getting the Best from Your Bees.  Although it’s cheaper to download a copy to read on-line, they prefer to get a paper one.  I gave them a copy of my book of poems, Bees vs People and was flattered to be asked to autograph it.

Venetia wants to come and see me working a top bar hive, which might be interesting but not too easy to do while keeping 6 feet apart.  We’ll have to think about that.

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That was an expensive day! I spent 6 hours behind the steering wheel covering 360 miles which will have cost me about £36 in fuel and spent 4 hours at Beetradex at Stoneleigh.  I had to pay £7 and be branded on my hand to enter the vast trade room with rows and rows of traders’ stalls.

I made my way anti-clockwise around the perimeter and then up and down the centre aisles seeing what bargains there were and trying to remember which items that I might buy were least expensive.  I didn’t do very well.  The first thing I bought was a bee brush, having lost mine, for £4 but just before leaving I saw another, almost identical, on another stall for 50p.

I got a reasonable deal from National Bee Supplies, getting 50 second class brood frames for £30.  I don’t need nearly that many at the moment but will get through them as the years go by.

The most expensive thing I bought was a gas heated oxalic evaporator, the bits of which added up to £53!  It works on the same principle as my home made copper pipe but is much smaller and easier to use so I hope it’s worth the money.

There seemed to be fewer people there than last year, possibly because of corona virus fear. I met a chap I haven’t set eyes on for years and we elbowed each other.  There were quite a few people I know, through Gormanston and elsewhere, but nobody else from distant Dorset.  I ate my bread and cheese lunch in the cafe with friends from Cambridge who were feasting on pie and chips.

As always, I browsed the books on the shelves of Northern Bee Books.  There are several that I don’t have already.  Jerry is down to the last 3 copies of Bees vs People so I must remember to let him have some more when next I see him, probably at the Spring Convention.  He has sold out of Getting the Best from Your Bees, which I co-authored with Dave MacFawn of North Carolina, and wants to get some more but has to get them from the publisher, Outskirts Press in America, which adds to the hassle and cost.

There were some talks but the programme was unclear and they may have been shuffled. After lunch I arrived halfway through a talk by Filipe Salby from Africa about the virtues of having additional upper entrances to hives.  This was followed by Ken Basterfield giving a talk, illustrated by a magic lantern, on the subject of processing beeswax.  He seems to be very fond of the Bercow boiler although he’s now retired.

The programme said the event was going on until 4.30 but when I left at 3.45 stall holders were already packing up and my car was the only one left in the previously full car park.

It’s a long way to travel for just a few hours there.  I do wish the BBKA would bring their Spring Convention back to Stoneleigh as it’s easier to get to for we southerners and you don’t have to drive so far in one day.  The accommodation used to be adequate, although not as good as at Harper Adams, however not much accommodation is now available at Harper Adams so we have to find B & B elsewhere, which is not nearly as convenient.

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I’m just back from this annual event which I manage to attend most years.  Although I arrived a few minutes early the car park was overflowing so I had to find a space down the road.  I didn’t count the people in the hall but there must have been well over a hundred.

The first speaker was Clive de Bruyn who has been a beekeeper for 60 years and he covered a lot of ground too rapidly for my notes to be very legible but here goes: From winter into spring. When does the beekeeping year start? Anywhen!  Sort out weak colonies in the autumn.

There’s no right or wrong way to keep bees as long as family and neighbours are considered.  Never use the words ‘never’ or ‘always’ when discussing bees.

Clive didn’t have a powerpoint but used real pieces of equipment to demonstrate the points he was making.  He puts crates next to his hives to keep woodpeckers off as they’re a problem in his area. He winters his bees in one box per hive. It suits his bees but all are different.  With local strains of bees you lose colonies in March rather than during the winter. He replaces old frames with new combs full of sugar stores.  Frames are  marked with colours the same as standard queen marking so he knows how old they are and when due for replacement. He cuts out the old wax and boils the woodwork in a soda solution in a Bercow boiler.

This is the time for planning. Queen rearing is not a problem. Getting them mated is. Over produce and cull the worse.  Look at local forage and encourage the public what to plant by telling them about pollinators.  Look at the 5 questions in Hooper’s book and bear them in mind (my record cards have a slot for each question).  Look at the record cards at the  start of the year.  He marks each of his many hives with stones placed in various positions on the roof to indicate what’s happening down below.

Try the Taranov shook swarm method.  Start with a nucleus bought locally and add foundation one frame at a time.  Time up.

Next on stage was Professor Lars Chitttka who’s subject was the honey bee brain.  He used a powerpoint so, as always, the lights went down and so did my eyelids at times.  I couldn’t see my book well enough to take full notes.  He showed lots of diagrams of the interior of the bee’s brain and how it works.  Some colonies are more intelligent than others.  He doesn’t know of any practical use for all the information he has gleaned from his studies.

Coffee break, followed by Dr Nika Tsiougkos.  He is an allergy specialist at Southmead Hospital, Bristol. His subject was allergy to honey bee venom.  People who get 15 – 25 stings a year are at greater risk then those who get 200 or more!  He gave us lots of advice on what to do if somebody goes down with anaphylactic shock.  Immunotherapy can last for up to 5 years.  At question time I pointed out the benefit of bee stings for curing tennis elbow, which I have done to myself.

Lunch break and more nattering with friends. There were a couple of stalls, one selling equipment, the other Northern Bee Books.  I was disappointed that the NBB stall had neither Getting the Best from Your Bees nor Bees vs People on display but I was pleased to show my friend Leila Goss, nowadays a Bee Inspector, my name in Variations of a Beehive heading the chapter on Top Bar Hives.

The first lecture after lunch should have been prizewinning Dinah Sweet on making different types of mead and melomels but unfortunately she’s in hospital so her hubby, John, and his brother stood in for her and did a good job. John’s favourite mead is flavoured with elderflower and wild strawberries.  I make gallons of elderflower wine annually so I might try it with honey rather than sugar this year.  Cyser was on his list, which I make every year with apples from my garden and honey from my bees.

Points he made were that boiling is needed to kill off wild yeasts so they can be replaced with ‘proper’ yeasts.  Dinah’s favourite is champagne yeast but others are available.  Tannin is a useful addition, maybe from the dregs of a teapot.  When, after a few months in a warm place, the mead had finished fermenting it should be ‘racked’, ie the clear mead should be syphoned off from the sediment at the bottom of the demijohn.  The racking is done into another demijohn and it is left, preferably for several years, until it is bottled.

There was a list of types of meads: plain made of honey and water; melomel made of fruit juice and honey; pyment made of fruit juice and honey;  hippocras made of grape juice, herbs and honey; cyser made of apple juice and honey; metheglin mead made with herbs and spices; sack mead, strong and sweet and, finally, braggot made of malted grain and honey.  I have a couple more pages of notes which I needn’t have taken as at the end of the talk I was able to buy a copy of Dinah’s pamphlet Practical Mead-Making published by the BBKA News.

We were able to sample several types of honey beverage at the end of the talk.  The one I liked best was braggot, which is a honey beer produced by John’s brother in his nano-brewery in Wales.  Unfortunately the recipe isn’t included in the pamphlet.

After a tea break Clive de Bruyn took to the stage again to do a round up of the day’s talks and to comment and elaborate on them.  Leave dissection to A level students and don’t yourself kill bees unnecessarily. Allergy: he used to insist on his students have a sting each week as it’s insane to take up beekeeping if you haven’t been stung.  Scrape off the stings with a hive tool, don’t squeeze them.  Take a mirror with you so you can find stings on the head etc.

Queen rearing: the method most people have success with. Start with a swarm box with a 2″ gap beneath the frames and ventilation at the sides.  Add some pollen clogged combs and some empty ones and dummy boards.  Go to your chosen colony and find the queen, putting her aside.  Shake 6 frames of young bees from the brood nest into the swarm box. Leave it in a cool, dark place for 6 – 10 hours, then add cells of young brood for rearing queen cells.  Transfer to mini-nucs for mating.

There’s no such thing as a profitable hobby. For the last 30 years he’s earned his living from beekeeping.  Marketing: he sells it only in bulk at farmers’ markets etc. Be interactive offering tastes.  Don’t sell it cheap.

Propolis in vodka makes a tincture that can be useful.  Wax for candles, cosmetics, soap etc. Re-queening – he sells queens, not cheaply as he has more orders than he can cope with.  Ask for feedback from customers.

It was a long day, from 9 ’til 5 with a 25 mile drive through ‘Storm Dennis the Menace’ each way.  It was worth it though and I’m glad I went.  I wonder who they’ll have next year?



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South West Beekeepers’ Forum

We had a meeting last Tuesday, 11th February, at the Taunton BKA’s den tucked away in the depths of Somerset.  There were about a score of us present from branches as distant as West Cornwall, the New Forest, Dorset and Avon.  Avon’s representative, Ann Rowberry, was promoted at the recent BBKA AGM to become their Chairwoman.

Our Chairman, in his opening remarks, pointed out that we need a Regional AHAT (Asian Hornet Action Team) plan and also local clusters of co-operating teams.

The main reason for holding this meeting so soon after the last one was to have an update on the recent BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting, which several of our members had attended.  More information is required on the electronic voting system which is replacing the traditional methods.  People seemed to be unsure how trustworthy it is.  There was also the question of delegates’ votes versus branch votes as the smallest branch has 30 members and the largest about 1,800.

The Treasurer reported that we’re solvent.  The change of bank accounts and signatories hasn’t yet been completed but he’s getting there.  Annual subs to cover our expenses should remain the same at £50 per annum a branch rather than basing it on the number of members as each branch has 1 vote.

Lynne Ingram used powerpoint to give us a review of the recent Asian Hornet Training Day about which I blogged at length.  I have notes to look at Somerset BKA’s website and to get from Chris Utting a copy of his powerpoint. The more recent National AH Training Day complemented ours with some overlap.  We are advised, if we spot an Asian Hornet, not to tell the world via social media until it has been confirmed.  We should get friends and connections who spend time outdoors alerted to the likely invasion and tell them what to do if they spot a hornet.  There is a website: AHAT.ORG.UK that’s worth a look (I haven’t done so yet).

After lunch we had a conversation via skype projected onto a wall with Peter Kennedy of Exeter University who is taking a leading role in developing methods to locate AH nests. He is using radio telemetry, partly subsidised by us. The system works best in rural and semi-urban areas.  The tags which are attached to workers to track them to their nests have recently been modified and are now much lighter in weight.  They’re rather expensive and he’s asking for more money from us.  We’re currently consulting our branches to see whether they’re willing to contribute again.  It’s not necessary to use radio telemetry in all circumstances, only when the nest is difficult to find.

As it’s illegal to release a hornet once you’ve trapped it, BKAs can’t go hornet spotting on their own, only when working in association with a Bee Inspector.

Next item on the agenda was a review of the recent Annual Delegates’ Meeting.  It was better than most and not as controversial as in the past.  The new training apiary at Stoneleigh was funded by a donation.

We did some shuffling of terms of office. Peter Darley, our Chairman, is standing down. Kathy Lovegrove was willing to stay on as Secretary and was voted in and Roland (Ben) Benjamin was confirmed as Treasurer, starting immediately.

Under AOB it was suggested that labels need to be placed by bait stations with pictures of the AH. Wicked stations are good but need to be monitored frequently. Traps need a sponge or something inside on which the trapped insects can stand rather than drowning in the bait.  This enables beneficial insects to be released.

We agreed to hold another AH training day in January 2021.


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AHAT Training Day at Bridgwater

Yesterday, Saturday 25th January, I got up at crack of dawn (not that there was any sunshine) in order to head into darkest Somerset where I had booked a place at the Asian Hornet Training Day at Bridgwater.  I was hoping it would be good as I had ended a holiday a day early to fit it in. In case you’re wondering, no we’re not trying to train Asian hornets but to train people how to identify them and locate their nests.

The event was organised by Lynne Ingram on behalf of the South West Beekeepers’ Forum and there were getting on for 150 people present, members of local BKA Asian Hornet Action Teams, from as far apart as Bath and Jersey, West Cornwall and Hampshire.  I guesstimate I was about the average age.

Peter Darley, the SWBKA Chairman introduced us to the subject.  We didn’t need introducing to each other as we all had name badges and, through DARG etc, I knew quite a few anyway.  Peter pointed out that most Asian hornets have been spotted by members of the public rather than by beekeepers so we must raise the profile and engage schools, councils etc. and enthuse them in AH hunting.  As (currently) they aren’t established, people could develop their skills by tracking wasps or European hornets instead.

Dr Sarah Bunker took to the stage and explained the life cycle of AH through the year: nests, mating behaviour, what to look for and when. The queen emerges from hibernation in March, and, in April, builds a primary nest about 2 inches in diameter in which she lays eggs and raises a few workers.  Numbers gradually increase and in June/July the workers build a large secondary nest that might be getting on for 2 feet in diameter.  Three quarters of the nests discovered in Jersey have been in man-made structures but they’re also in hedges or high in trees.  A couple have been found on cliff faces. Sarah has written The Asian Hornet Handbook about which you can discover more on her website:

Dr Peter Kennedy of Exeter University was next. He updated us on current research.  Whereas the European hornet is spread all across Asia, the Asian hornet was, until recently only in part of China.  It invaded South Korea in 2003 and arrived with some china pottery in SW France in 2005.  It does very well in western Europe so we must try to slow down the spread and minimise the impact.

Juliette Poidatz from France then told us of research on a fungus to target the AH specifically but it will take some time to develop.  The hornets strip moss off trees both to make paper for the nests and also to feed on the sap.  Bees tell other bees about dangers in their environment, using the ‘stop!’ signal as described by Tom Seeley.

After a coffee break, Simon o’Sullivan of Devon AHAT described The Role of the First Responder. Educate yourself: can you identify the AH, its life cycle and nests throughout the year? Spread the word and educate the public. Carry AH identification cards and visit the AHAT web site.  Give talks or suggest others do so.  Get in touch with organisations whose members might come in contact with AH, eg farmers, hedge trimmers, ramblers, caravan clubs, garden centres.  Confirm reports of  sightings, make contacts and get people on side. Keep a record: name and address, location, date, grid reference or What3words. ask the experience of the caller, arrange a meeting, take photographs, set up a bait station with Suterra (renamed Trappit now) .  Positive engagement: get a photo or a sample, send a report to NNSS (Non-native species secretariat I think). Email photo, location and details to: Report back to your county coordinator.  What next? Keep within the law: no catch and release, no trespassing, confidentiality.

Next came the first workshop.  We had a choice of 5: a) Understanding the characteristics of the Asian Hornet in the field. b) Practical tracking including compass skills. c) Use of maps for tracking including digital maps. d) Monitoring traps – What? When? Where? (traps/bait stations/wicked traps). e) Radio telemetry.  I chose a.

This was led by Gerry Stuart of the Torbay AHAT. Nests are never far from a source of water. The queen is not aggressive when building the primary nest.  When re-located to a secondary nest she lays about 100 eggs a day. Workers lick the queen to clean her. Workers fly about 100 metres a minute.  If you find a nest that is potentially dangerous to the public, notify the Police and the Council. A shallow bowl with a couple of tablespoons of Sunterra/Trappit on a tissue is fine.  Put a stone or two in it both the weigh the tissue down and to provide something for the hornet to stand on.  They’re easy to catch when feeding.  They don’t fly in bee-lines but tend to follow roads and hedges then go through gaps.

Lunch break and nattering.  Then Alastair Christie, the AH Coordinator from Jersey told us of the experience of AH on their island, which is only about 15 miles from France.  In 2017 they found 5 primary and 3 secondary nests, 2018, 13 of each, 2019, 69 primary and 27 secondary. Health and Safety: never look for nests alone!  They’re looking for more volunteers to help them in the battle.  You will have to find your own way there but accommodation can be provided by Jersey beekeepers.  If you’re intereted, contact  .

Then we did our second chosen workshop.  I went to D: monitoring traps.  We were shown a digital camera mounted on a post above a baited bowl and film from it showing wasps on the bait. The camera only films when it detects movement.  I think that’s a bit too technical and expensive for most of us. We were shown various types of traps and bait stations.  Most popular, apart from the bowl already described, was to have a small amount of bait in a jar with a wick of J cloth coming up through a hole in the lid. Trappit is not cheap and this doesn’t waste or spill it.  The French make their own bait of 50:50 white wine and beer with a dash of vinegar to deter bees.

After a tea break we split into groups depending on the colour of our badges and were to debate plans for the future and come up with ideas and then we rejoined in the main hall to report back.

The first group discussed monitoring traps and lures. It should go national, not just the SW.  Bulk purchase Trappit for all the SW counties. Start monitoring and trapping in April. A sponge in the trap will prevent drowning natives, which can be released. Tell people where to put them. They don’t have to be near beehives as at that time of year the hornets aren’t after the bee protein as much as sweets from nectar. Use video camera.

The second group discussed getting the message out to the public via The Archers, Bill Turnbull on the BBC, members’ updates, cards and posters, conservation trusts, councils, wildlife trusts, Ramblers, walkers, gamekeepers, The Duchy.  Make contact at your level. Make sure the message is correct for the time of year. Schools, fetes, garden centres and nurseries.

Third group: What message at national level? Feedback from today at the BBKA event on the 8th February, Funding after Brexit? More training for tracking. National plan needed. Celebrities needed to raise the profile with the public, not just beekeepers.

Fourth group: What additional resources or training are needed? Off the shelf presentation for non-beekeepers. Standard check list for responders. Equipment list for responders. What3words or OS etc. Field day event, localised. Frustration over poor interaction with the NBU. Live training environment in Jersey.  Same again next year, especially if the situation changes.

Finally, as 5 o’clock was fast approaching, there was a Question Time session with the main speakers of the day on stage. My stream of notes reads: National plan a good idea but start locally.  Jersey funding model invisible. Species funding of £25,000 soon gone. £69,000 spent on removal. NBU would like trapped hornets for analysis as well as photos.  What effect will Brexit have on funding? Uncertain.  Has there been an economic impact in France through lack of pollinators? Jersey has lots of beekeepers visiting – we’re welcome to do so too.  EU report on pollination – numbers and calculations on the back of an envelope: no real meaning and no real calculations yet.  Only one nest with gynes found in Jersey.

Not very easy to distinguish castes. Workers vary in size throughout the season. Males have longer, swept back, amtennae.  Male backside blunter with two yellow balls.

Jersey nest removal process.  Getting up a hoist if access available. Daytime gently remove branches. Go back at night and bag up the nest and remove it to a freezer to kill them.  Sometimes pesticides are used.

New Forest: what’s the NBU doing? Lack of information from the NBU about single fliers found elsewhere.  Answer – it’s dealt with by FERA and the information doesn’t get down to the NBU. The New Forest hornets were related to the French population and not linked to each other.  All from separate populations and not established colonies.

It was a LONG day, well spent, and hence this LONG blog post!  It was also a long drive home through fog on the hills.

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