Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

EFB Picture Diary - Part IV

The story continues…

Queen Mab’s colony are culled as ordered by the NBU. The process of destruction is, sadly, now a familiar routine. This time it was complicated by heavy rain, and I have further doubts about petrolling as a quick method of extermination.

Here are the bees as they were:

6 May 2019. Queen Mab’s colony before destruction

The dark process of killing them was the petrol method which I previously described in Part I:

7 May 2019. Hive prepared for petrolling at dusk.

7 May 2019. Hive prepared for petrolling at dusk.

8 May 2019. The next morning. A quiet hive in the rain.

8 May 2019. The next morning. A quiet hive in the rain.

That night it rained heavily, so that in the morning all the ground was wet and the smell of petrol had lessened.

The Bee Inspector had another destruction job to complete before mine, so he didn’t arrive until the early afternoon. Meanwhile, the rain carried steadily on.

I wheeled the hive to the pit.

8 May 2019. The pit is ready.

8 May 2019. The pit is ready.

NBU at work.

NBU at work.

The many dead bees

The Bee Inspector tried to light a fire in the pit as his assistant unloaded the brood frames and began to clean the hive boxes. It was difficult to light a fire in the pouring rain, even with petrol and a gas blowtorch. The fire in the pit, and the blowtorch flame, kept going out and were difficult to relight.

A smoky fire got going eventually, and the Bee Inspector torched the boxes to sterilise them.

During the rest of the afternoon, after the Bee Inspector had gone, the rain continued on and off. The fire smouldered for a bit then went out, so I returned to relight it when the sun came out towards evening. And here’s the macabre thing. Some of the bees were waking up. The pit was full of brood frames, charred cardboard and ash, with the bodies of many thousands of bees among it all, but some of those bodies were moving. Bees were walking around, trying to climb the walls of the pit. They seemed flightless, and disoriented, but alive. Which was very disconcerting. I had assumed them to be killed by the petrol fumes, but perhaps they had only been knocked unconcious and were now reviving, having been exposed to the open air and some warmth from the unsuccessful pyre.

I relit the fire as well as I could, to end their suffering.

It seems unlikely that these were curious bees who had been attracted from other hives. They were not behaving like healthy bees, and bees should not be attracted to a smoky fire. These bees had the appearance of survivors crawling from a wreckage. I wondered if they were new adult bees, freshly emerged from their brood combs. If so, what a terrible world for them to emerge into. They didn’t have the bright fluffy appearance of newly emerged young bees, although I suppose not many of us would retain a bright fluffy appearance for long if we had to drag ourselves from the smouldering remains of our home.

I don’t know whether it’s possible, but my guess at the moment is that these live bees were the strongest of the adult bees who had been in areas of the brood box where the concentration of petrol was not as high, so that they did not die. Ordinarily, the culling method includes burning all the bees in the morning, but since the fire was delayed and then dampened by rain, that didn’t happen here, and those bees somehow revived.

Bees are tough, and the petrol method (prescribed by the NBU) may have been designed with the intent of rapidly incapacitating the bees and facilitating destruction by burning, but I’m having doubts about whether it is humane. I’m not sure this is something I want to investigate further, so for now I will close with those thoughts, and hope not to have to return to the subject again.

Next episode…

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