A swarm of bees colonised a tree in Green Templeton grounds in April, to the amusement of students and College officials.
Members of staff quickly intervened to rid the College of the infestation and relocated the bees to a hive owned by a Green Templeton Fellow.
Professor Jeff Burley, Emeritus Fellow and beekeeper, took the swarm home with him to replace his own bee colonies which had died out last winter.
The bees first appeared in a fir tree on 27th April at the back of the College, before settling in a cherry tree in a side quad near to student accommodation the next day. That is when Burley, with help from College IT Officer – and fellow beekeeper – Andy Roberts, removed the swarm from the tree.
Wearing protective clothing, Roberts climbed the tree and captured several bees, including the queen, in a cardboard box.
Once the queen bee was isolated, the process became much simpler, Roberts said. “We laid the box on a sheet on the ground and waited for all the bees that were left to follow the queen,” he explained.
After all the bees had landed on the sheet, Burley wrapped up the bees and transported them to their new hive.
The swarm is thought to have broken off from a colony owned by an Oxford resident. A typical colony can be made up of 50,000 bees.
Burley said: “The old queen leaves the nest or hive with 10,000 workers and a new daughter queen hatches in her former colony. The old queen takes them to a temporary site for a few hours or days while scout bees find a permanent residence such as a hollow tree, a hole in a cavity wall, or a chimney.”
Burley said that the bees’ swift capture prevented major maintenance problems that might have otherwise occurred: “It saved someone from having to remove them from a chimney later!”
Head Gardener Michael Pirie was also involved in the removal process. He pruned the cherry tree’s high branches, forcing the bees to settle nearer to the tree’s base for easier capture.
Pirie described the swarm as “alarming”, and noted that many students seemed annoyed or even frightened by the bees: “People naturally shut their windows to avoid any getting trapped inside. Some were anxious to let any out that did get trapped, while others treated them as pests.”
Mel Bunce, President of the College’s graduate common room, said the reaction from students was “overwhelmingly positive”. The large proportion of students studying environmental courses at Green Templeton were glad for the opportunity to observe the swarm close-up, “particularly as there is currently a profound and problematic shortage of bees around the world”, said Bunce.
“It’s fantastic to see English honey bees having a good time,” said Andrew Nobrega, an MSC student in Environmental Change and Management.
Jen Wilson, also studying an environmental course, said: “It’s probably because our gardens are so nice in summer – we have a really great gardener.”
Students and staff escaped being stung, as bees are least aggressive when in a swarm.
Ironically, Green Templeton recently acquired two College beehives. They will be trialled for a year in a discreet site in the grounds. The bees will supply the college with honey and increase pollination in the gardens.
Corpus Christi also keeps bees as part of a scheme to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions with sustainably-sourced products.
Honey bees generate £200 million in the UK annually through honey and wax production, and the pollination of food crops.