I was happily laying into an overgrown cotoneaster in the big country garden I look after this morning when I heard a low humming noise.

I thought at first it was a bug flying around my ears so I was swatting away when the hum got louder. And louder. Finally it occurred to me to look up, and there was the biggest swarm of bees I’ve ever seen. Actually, the only swarm of bees I’ve ever seen.

They came up the hill from the open fields behind, a great big black cloud of them, making that insistent, purposeful drone as they came. I watched in awe as they flew overhead and made for the far side of the garden (thank goodness – I had momentary panics over what I’d do if they decided I looked interesting). I looked for them later but couldn’t see them – not sure what I’d have done if I had, to be honest.

It all prompted me to look into this funny business of swarming. Funnily enough, the first place I found was a local council not far from me, at Elmbridge. Here’s what they had to say:

“Colonies totalling as many as 20,000 bees can and will swarm. The noise of a bee swarm can be alarming but the danger is not very great. The swarming bees will cluster, possibly on a tree branch, and should be collected by an experienced beekeeper (contact your local Environmental Health Department or the police if a beekeeper is not known to you). Honeybees can sting, especially if you venture close to their hive. “

Apparently honeybees swarm, but bumblebees don’t. And I discovered a whole website dedicated to informing people about honeybee swarms, at Swarms.net: here’s what they say:

“Honey bees swarm to multiply the number of colonies and thus propagate and perpetuate the species. By division of the bee stocks in the hive, those left behind have honey stores, and along with young bees about to hatch is a young queen in her special cell.

The bees that swarm with the old queen do not go far from the hive. Maybe because queen bees do not fly as well or as fast as workers! They will move on from each resting spot until a new home is found. (Or until a beekeeper collects them and puts them into a new hive.)

Swarms can survive for a number of days on the honey stores they filled themselves with before leaving the hive. As the days pass they will be more upset when approached – hence its important to get a beekeeper to collect them quickly. “

You learn new things every day… hope whoever finds their swarm when it finally settles gets some nice honey out of it!