I went inside and grabbed my camera and went back for a closer look (yes, I'm daft ;-) I've seen bee swarms on the telly before but never quite such a large one, it must have been nearly three feet long - wow! The bees didn't seem at all aggressive, they just formed a huge, quietly buzzing mass. In fact people walking past only a few meters away didn't even seem to realise they were there.
I was in a bit of a quandary about what to do. The British Beekeepers Association website has a "swarm help" page which gave a contact number for the area, but I didn't get any answer. The site also suggested contacting the local Environmental Health Officers, but today being a Bank Holiday meant that wasn't an option. The local Council website gave a contact number for another Beekeeper, but again, no answer. Hmm. Chris then remembered that she'd bought some honey in the past from a local Beekeper and as we were heading out of town in that direction anyway, we decided to knock on his door and ask for advice. When he came to the door and we explained the story to him, he immediately said that he'd come and collect the bees - wow, didn't quite expect that! Brian asked us to go back home and keep an eye on the bees as he said often they would move on from where they had settled. We duly went home, and about 10 minutes after we arrived, and for no apparent reason, the outer layer of the swarm started to fly off the swarm, and within a couple of minutes the entire swarm were in the air and on the move.
They moved across onto another tree, and then onto another, finally starting to form a bee ball again just as Brian arrived. Unfortunately they'd formed three different clusters in the tree, all over a parked car, which made getting at them rather difficult. Brian fetched an empty hive from his car and placed it as close as possible to the bees. He explained that if he got the queen into the hive the other bees would most probably follow, and that he'd put combs and food in the hive to try and make it a tempting residence for them. I asked him why they swarmed in the first place and he explained that it was how colonies propagated - the colony would hatch a new queen who stayed in the hive whilst the old queen and a good proportion of the flying bees left in a swarm to form a new colony.
You can see two of the bee balls in the tree above the car. I got a ladder from the shed and with the hive in place below, Brian climbed up and, one by one, clipped off the branches with the bee balls on them, collecting a couple of stings for his troubles. By now there was a bit of an audience watching him, several of the neighbours were as fascinated as I was and had come out to see what was happening.
Brian gently cut and carried the branches down to the hive, put the branch inside the hive and shook the bees off. I expected a storm of angry bees as he cut and carried the branches, but they just stayed in the ball and disappeared inside the hive when shaken off. Brian said it was a pretty big swarm, he estimated probably 10,000 bees or more. Once the bees were in the hive and the lid was on, Brian said that he'd leave the hive where it was until dusk, then the bees would all go inside the hive and he could safely plug the entrance and move it. When we got back home this evening the hive had gone, so I guess the rescue was successful.
Bees are having a bit of a hard time at the moment, with colonies dying out for reasons that aren't fully understood - Brian said he'd lost 7 hives over the winter, and that he was expecting some bees from the Isle of Man to see if they will fare any better. It was therefore nice to see the founding of a new colony, and Brian kindly gave me a jar of his honey when he left, so a success all round :-)