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With bees very much in the news this month, here is our own bee news from our Wildlife Garden bee-keeper, Luke Dixon:

 

“We have a new bee tree in the Wildlife Garden. It is a great trunk of oak, two tonnes hewn from a tree in The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Gloucester. It took a specialist team from Norbury Park Sawmill, Dorking, Surrey to fell the tree and cut it into shape.

 

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Delivery of the new bee tree

Image copyright: Qais Zakaria

 

 

And another team to remove the old bee tree and prepare for the new tree...

 

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Spencer Abberley who, with beekeeper Qais Zakaria, removed the old bee tree and prepared the pit for the new tree

Image copyright: Qais Zakaria

 

Then yet another specialist team and two mighty cranes to lift it into the Wildlife Garden and gently lower it into the hole in the ground where the old bee tree once stood ...

 

 

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New bee tree about to be lowered into the ground

Image copyright: Qais Zakaria

 

The old tree had served the garden and the bees well and never has London known a happier colony of bees. Unlike many of their urban sisters, these bees had survived season after season. The colony had thrived in this first bee tree, living in a plastic observation hive, building down natural comb. The only disturbance was visitors opening the doors in the tree to reveal the 'wild' colony, living as bees have done for millions of years, hidden away in the dark interior of a tree.

 

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The colony of bees in the old bee tree

Image copyright: Derek Adams

 

The original colony came from Lambeth Palace and it was the Palace beekeeper, John Chapple, who had suggested the bee tree. A team at the Museum built the hive inside that first tree and John Chapple and I collected a bucket of bees from one of the Palace hives and carefully removed a sealed queen cell that was about to hatch.

 

We placed a few strips of wax in their new home as a starting point to build new wax comb, tipped the bees into the hive, wedged in the queen cell amongst them and then left them to it. After a couple of weeks the new queen had hatched; there were swathes of 'wild' comb, eggs and larvae and the colony was established.


But then, last year, the weight of bees and honey and comb in the colony reached a critical mass and split the hive apart. It was time for a new and larger hive. With fellow beekeeper Qais Zakaria, we set about designing a new bee tree with a bigger hive and a system that enables removal of the bees should they again grow too big for their home.

 

Danny Smith, one of the beekeepers at the London School of Economics and who made their beautiful oak portable observation hive, built our new hive. The new bees came from Oxford in a nucleus box, living on frames just as in any traditional bee hive. This time the bees were shaken from their frames into the new hive. We made sure the queen was amongst them, knowing that if she was in the new hive the thousands of other bees would stay with her.

 

Within a couple of days the bees had built down five pieces of wild comb some six inches long and were already making honey. Soon the queen was laying. The combs the bees came on were placed in one of the Wildlife Garden’s traditional bee hives, the emerging young combining with that hive’s colony.

 

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Inside the new bee tree

Image copyright: Jonathan Jackson


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The new colony of bees lost no time and promptly set to work collecting pollen and are seen here at the hive entrance

Image copyright: Jonathan Jackson

 

And the original bees? Their hive might have split and begun to fall apart, but that had not bothered them at all. When we removed the old bee tree we gently removed the colony within and found them a new home. You can now visit them at the Kennington Lodge Community Apiary in South London.

 

And you can visit our new bee tree every day that the Wildlife Garden is open. All we ask is that you treat the bees with respect: open the door onto their world slowly and be sure to close it after you have looked at them."

 

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Bees prefer to be kept in the dark

Image copyright: Qais Zakaria

 

Thank you Luke and Qais, Spencer and Danny for all the planning, digging and tweaking necessary to install our new bee tree new colony of bees and thank you to our new bee tree-funder, who wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Caroline