How long will the bees stay in the chimney?
Imported disease appears to have had a significant impact on honey bee populations throughout Europe. Most beekeepers keep their colonies alive from year to year by medicating them. It's believed that feral colonies of bees, being unmedicated, will last only two or three years before becoming overwhelmed by disease although during this time they will have replicated several times through swarming. So it's quite possible that after a few years a feral nest of honey bees in a chimney will die out. However, the honeycomb and honey will remain. This will attract other honey bees so it's quite possible that within a few years another swarm of bees will set up home in the chimney.
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Honey bees are an important part of preserving our natural bio diversity and a vital contributor to the pollination that puts food on our tables (see here to find out more). However, they will sometimes inconveniently set up home in residential properties, one of the more common locations being an unused chimney.
Having a honey bee nest in a chimney usually raises a whole load of questions.
The European honey bee generally only stings if it feels that its nest is under attack or it feels that it itself is threatened. So honey bees left alone in an unused chimney
pose little sting risk and in actual fact will do a great deal of good in your garden. However, as the nest grows some bees may fall down the chimney into the house, so covering the chimney entrance inside the fireplace with an insect proof mesh is a wise precaution. It's inadvisable to block the chimney entirely as most chimneys need to 'breath' to avoid becoming damp.
Bear in mind that honey bees make their honey comb out of beeswax - the same thing that beeswax candles are made off. Beeswax is inflammable. So even if the honey bee nest dies out avoid lighting a fire. For one thing the chimney will most probably be blocked by the nest and unable to draw. And secondly, the beeswax will melt in the heat and possibly ignite.
Will it remain as just a single nest?
Bee nests replicate by swarming. Essentially this means that half the colony of bees in the nest will leave with a queen to set up home elsewhere. Swarming occurs once or twice a year. Swarms usually set up their new home some distance from their original nest. If your home is in a suburban area this may be a neighbour's chimney, their cavity wall, their rabbit hutch or wherever is suitable. Alternatively, if you live in a very large property it'is possible that the swam will locate to another of your unused chimneys. In situations such as this honey bees may become a nuisance.
Can the bees be removed?
If the bees have just arrived, ie in a swarm, then there is a window of two to three days during which sending lots of smoke up the chimney will drive them off to set up home elsewhere. After three days though the bees will have started to build their nest and will not be driven off by smoke.
Removing an established honey bee nest from a chimney requires the assistance of a specialist. In the UK, killing the bees by poison without removing and correctly disposing of all traces of honey and honeycomb is likely to result in prosecution and fines. So seek advice from a reputable pest control company.