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Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 12:43 UK
BeeBeeC Radio Sheffield
Beekeeper Gloria Havenhand
Beekeeper Gloria Havenhand with her old and trusty smoker

There was a buzz around Radio Sheffield in the summer of 2009 - but it was not caused by a faulty aerial or a celebrity in the building - it was a honey bee colony.

The bees, which numbered around 1000 to 1500, had broken away from a much larger hive and started their own - under one of the wooden benches in the Radio Sheffield garden.

Gloria Havenhand, a beekeeper at Troway Hall in North East Derbyshire, came to remove and transport the bees to another honey farm.

Gloria, who once worked alongside David Attenborough in the BBC's Natural History Unit, assessed the bees' nest and found it to be a small swarm, about the size of a large grapefruit.

"There are only 1-1500 honey bees in Radio Sheffield's car park; a normal swarm is around 12,000. These ones have probably broken away from a much larger beehive. You've lost a lot of bees over the past week and the swarm is now breaking up - they're moving quickly but not frantically."

Honey bees
Honey bees represent only a small number of the 20,000 species of bee

Gloria explained that in the case of this swarm, a larger beehive had become too big and 'exploded':

"The worker bees are female and they die after around six weeks. The Queen Bee lives on Royal Jelly and she lives three or four years. This swarm will have come from a Queen who's getting a bit old, around two, so she won't produce as many eggs. So the Queen Bee was shooed out like a mother-in-law and allowed to take her courtiers with her. They have 'hived off', cast off to another hive."

Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. They are valuable because of the way they produce food and pollinate a huge range of plants. They also need handling carefully.

"Bees are flying pollinating machines which we can't live without. But viruses, mites, pesticides and climate change may be contributing to their falling numbers."

Because many bees carry a virulent disease caused by varroa mites, this swarm will not be taken to Gloria's honey farm:

Rony Robinson in a beekeeping suit
Rony Robinson enjoyed dressing in his head-to-toe beekeeping suit

"The bees at Troway Hall are currently disease-free so we don't dare put them in contact with potentially diseased bees. Instead these ones will go to merge with a swarm at another bee farm nearby."

Removing the bee colony

Rony Robinson donned a head-to-toe protective bee suit and followed Gloria to watch her remove the hive.

"This one will be quite easy because it's small. Recently I removed a bees nest of 20,000 - it looked like a three or four foot-long carrot. Last night I opened 40 hives and they spilled out like oil wells. You need a vacuum cleaner to collect every last bee!"

First of all Gloria lit straw and hessian to get her trusty smoker going and pumped it with the bellows to send out clouds of pungent smoke which calms the bees and points them in a particular direction.

Bee smoker
Burning hessian and straw are pumped with bellows to create the smoke

Next she placed a small hive underneath the wooden bench hoping that the large, gooey honeycomb inside would lure in many of the bees.

Gloria then used a brush to gently persuade the bees which have still not moved into the hive. This is the point at which the bees can get angry and agitated, so Rony was instructed to take a few steps back.

Gloria says the best way to avoid bee stings is to keep quiet and remain still.

"I talk to them softly and they get used to your presence. They don't like loud noises or jerky actions. Be calm.

"If bees are in a bad mood, they buzz. I listen rather than look at my hives as I go past and I can tell in a microsecond if there's something wrong, like if a slug or a mouse has got in the hive."

Beekeeper
Gloria tries to direct the bees into a hive filled with honeycomb

Bees can sense when another one has stung something or someone and more flock to their aid.

Gloria says she is often stung 30 or 40 times a day and on one occasion was stung more than 120 times. She also firmly believes in the therapeutic properties of bee stings:

"Some people actually want to be stung because because they think it might help their osteoarthritis or rheumatism. We do think there could be a link because beekeepers don't seem to suffer from those ailments."

However Gloria points out that bee stings can be dangerous and people should not attempt to get stung on purpose:

"Those bee stings are only to be administered by a professional api-therapist. Do not go out into a field to get stung in any shape or form!"





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