To Bee Or Not To Bee

A couple of weeks ago, on a fine warm summer’s day, we were sitting out on the patio enjoying a spot of lunch. The gentle gurgling of the river. The occasional disgruntled moo from one of ‘The Ladies’ in the field on the other side of the valley. The twitter of birds. Bucolic peace.

It was Mike who heard it first. From out of nowhere it seemed there came a mighty buzzing. We turned toward the direction of the sound to be faced with something quite surreal.

 
 

 

The entire chimney above was gradually becoming smothered with bees. A swarm. Within seconds it was impossible to even see the bricks, just a writhing mass of the insects clinging to every surface. As we watched the air around the chimney filled with bees as wave after wave continued to arrive. Over the next few minutes the bees found their way inside the chimney, largely through the ventilation holes in the pot. Gradually the density of bees, on the chimney stack and in the air, diminished. Along with the intensity of the buzzing.

Three years ago the same thing happened. Back then though we hadn’t seen the bees arrive so hadn’t realised just how many of them there were. They nest in the left half of the chimney, the part which used to serve the bedroom fireplace but has long since been blocked off. The chimney pot on the right is the top of the flue for the sitting room woodburner.

 
 

 

When we had the chimney rebuilt a few years ago the builder recommended leaving slits in the brickwork at the bottom of the stack to allow rainwater to drain from the lead plate which covers the main portion of the void below. The bees use these as their back door.

So what to do?

Although the bedroom part of the chimney stack is supposedly blocked off there must be a gap somewhere as the more adventurous bees have found a way through. I have peered up the chimney from inside the fireplace and can see no daylight at all, the gap must be tiny but it is definitely there. We periodically remove dead bees from the window sills and the floor. It isn’t as bad this year, so far, perhaps they are still settling in. Last time around Mike actually got stung – early one morning a bee crept into the folds in the duvet cover on the bed. And we have had to get back into the habit of wearing slippers everywhere – having checked the inside of them first!

 
 

 

The bees enter the second part of the chimney stack too.. straight down into the woodburner, the door of which is staying firmly shut. Watching Gardeners’ World on a Friday night now has an entirely new dimension: are the bees we can hear buzzing in Monty’s Jewel Garden or is the sound coming from inside our woodburner?!

Had the bees returned in these numbers last year we’d really have had a problem, for most of last summer there was no woodburner. The chimney was completely open to the room in the midst of the sitting room renovations. Perhaps, like me, the bees had decided that all the noise and disruption was just too much. Or, and equally understandably, they didn’t care much for the builders’ taste in music. Either way, they had the option to go off and find a more peaceful place to rest.

 
 

 

Three years ago, about thirty seconds after Mike got stung, he started looking for solutions.

Neither of us wanted to harm the bees. They have a hard enough time as it is. But what I feared was that the trickle of bees in the bedroom would one day become a very large number, perhaps early in the morning after first light but whilst we were still asleep. Something had to be done. At first it seemed there was an alternative. We found a local company which would attempt to relocate the bees by luring them into an alternative hive. But there was no guarantee of success and the service, which took place over a number of days, cost hundreds of pounds.

Getting a man in with a ladder and a toxic spray obviously costs far less. Although still in three figures. Fortunately for the bees (and our consciences) when the man turned up and had a look at it he declared the nest to be six inches higher than his ladder would reach and thus, for insurance reasons, he would have to decline the work. We decided to hold off and just hope for the best. As it turned out the rest of the summer passed uneventfully. We continued to sweep up dead bees but there was no further incident.

Now, however, they are back.

As a temporary defence we’ve purchased a chimney balloon which inflates to fill up the void. It is primarily designed to stop air draughts coming down the chimney but I’d hoped it would suit our purpose too. Now that we’ve got it I discover it has a ventilation gap which we’ll somehow have to seal. If the bees can manage to find a hairline crack in the brickwork mortar they’ll have no trouble with an inch wide hole. Perhaps, with a judicious bit of duct tape, we can once again peacefully cohabit until it’s time for them to leave. Provided they go before the insurance deadline to get the chimney swept..

Are there any bee people out there with a better idea? Any thoughts gratefully received.

 
 

 

And as if the bees aren’t enough.. even the wasps have moved in now too.

I give up.