Swarms can happen in the UK anytime from April to July, with May being the main swarming season – this is a natural process and is simply a honey bee superorganism reproducing and looking for a new home.
Swarms of honey bees may seem alarming but are not normally dangerous if left undisturbed or handled by an experienced beekeeper. Their sole concern is protecting their Queen bee (who will be in the centre of the swarm cluster), and finding a suitable new place to live.
A swarm usually forms when a new Queen is created and the old Queen leaves, taking half of the bees with her to establish a new colony somewhere else. The swarm will fly a little way from its old home and then gather to rest and wait while some ‘scout’ bees look around the area for a suitable new home – this is what is normally seen, a large cluster of bees hanging from a tree or fence. This cluster is passive and if left undisturbed will eventually relocate, but can be collected by a beekeeper and removed.
Note that beekeepers will only remove honey bee swarms, and will not remove or destroy any other bees or deal with wasps. Please check if your bees are honey bees before reporting (see below for identification of bee types). Note that if the honey bees are already established inside the fabric of a building, e.g. in a chimney or wall cavity, they cannot usually be removed by a beekeeper – see here for more information on bees in buildings.
July 2019: we have collected >40 swarms this year and so this group has now filled all our hives and cannot collect any more swarms this season – we have nowhere to put them! Thank you to everyone who has reported swarms to us.
However other swarm collectors are around, enter your postcode here to identify a swarm collector near you.
But don’t worry if a swarm is uncollected, it will eventually decide on a permanent new home for itself, and move on. This can take anything from 20 minutes to 3 days. If you leave them well alone they will ignore you.
If they happen to move into a chimney, make a smoky fire and they should move on (but not if they are already established there).
Identification of honey bees
Honey bees are small, slightly furry, and their dominant colour ranges from browny-gold to black – whereas wasps are similar in size but smooth and with distinct stripes of yellow and black; and bumblebees are generally larger, furrier, rounder and can vary in colour.
If you have a swarm, but are unsure if they are honey bees (Apis mellifera), see here for further guidance on identification as there are several different species that may be mistaken as honey bees, such as wasps, hornets, bumblebees or solitary bees.
If you have bumblebees nesting on your property, these should be left alone to flourish. They are a valuable pollinator and are not aggressive. They build their nests only for one season and usually cause no problems unless the nest is disturbed. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has further information here.
Problems with other insects
If you have problems with other insects, such as a wasp nest, ants, or if the bees you have cannot be collected by a local beekeeper and cannot be left in situ, you can contact the Environmental Health Department of your local district council for advice (e.g. Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire Council, South Oxfordshire Council, Vale of White Horse District Council, Cherwell Council )