Telegraph 26th Aug 2011
French Asian hornet invasion claims first victims
The death of a man stung by an Asian hornet has exacerbated fears over the invasive species that has taken France by storm and could reach Britain within three years.
Patrice Verry, 38, was stung by one of the predators on Saturday after trying to wave it away with a kitchen towel at a barbecue in Lherm, in the Haute-Garonne region of southwestern France.
He collapsed minutes later and never regained consciousness, police said. In June another man died in the Médoc region after receiving several stings.
The local mayor said the number of hornet nests had “exploded” in the area. “Our villages are powerless,” said Jean Aycaguer.
The species Vespa velutina is thought to have arrived in southwestern France from the Far East in a consignment of Chinese pottery in late 2004.
The bee-eating invaders, unmistakable due to their dark hue and yellow feet, first settled in the forests of Aquitaine, but quickly spread to surrounding areas along waterways, thriving due to a total lack of indigenous predators.
There are now thought to be 2,000 nests and the voracious insects’ battlefront has reached the shores of northern Brittany. Two nests were recently found in Spain.
According to Franck Muller of the Museum of National History in Paris, given their current rate of progress – roughly one French department per year – they will cross into Britain within “three to four years”.
“We have modelled its potential spread by cross-checking data from France and Asia, and concluded it is capable of living anywhere in Europe and certainly in Britain,” said Mr Muller.
However, experts said the hornets should not be cause for panic.
“Vespa velutina is not aggressive, at least not alone, but can potentially become dangerous and attack as a group if it feels threatened,” said Denis Thiery, from the national agricultural research institute, INRA, in Bordeaux.
Besides, its widespread presence means it is now impossible to eradicate. “This species is now part of French fauna. We’ll just have to get used to living with it,” said Claire Villemant of the Museum of National History.
Telegraph 25 August 2011
Beekeeping Diary: The honey harvest to come
Ian Douglas makes the final checks and looks for a honey surplus
t’s raining and I’m going to get a parking ticket if I don’t get a move on, so I’m not even going to smoke the bees before I open the hives.
It’s been a good season so far, and at least one of my two hives has had a lot of activity in the supers, the boxes that sit above the body of the hive, excluded from breeding activity with a grid so they only store honey. The end of August is approaching and the time to take any surplus honey is approaching fast. The bees will still be active during September but I want to make sure I can treat them for varroa, the horrible little mite that has been such a problem for British bees, before the cold weather starts to bite.
I’ve struggled down the muddy path to the hives at the allotments a couple of miles from my house laden down with spare supers in case they’re running out of room, and now I’m having a good look at my little apiary before I begin.
There are no bees flying in the cool, steady drizzle but I can see some gathered at the entrance of hive number two, a wooden Dartington, milling around and regulating the temperature inside. No signs of life at first in number one, a bright purple Beehaus, until I see a single worker tracing a sluggish line towards the entrance, making its way around the remains of a dead wasp on the landing board.
I open the Beehaus first. This docile colony, secure in its thoroughly modern plastic home, have been a bit short of stores in the last few weeks and today the supers are still empty save for a few exploratory workers. The brood nest below is a little short of activity too, with six of the eleven frames full of life but a slightly worryingly large amount of space unused. The smell of nectar and honey is unmistakable though, so with a little feeding they should be fine. I close up and move on.
I have higher hopes for the Dartington. A couple of weeks ago one of the supers was full of nectar and bees, so I’ve brought along the equipment to begin the extraction process. To avoid dealing with a box full of protective bees when you take the honey it’s best to isolate it from the rest of the hive some time before harvesting time so you can come along and remove it at your leisure. To do this you place a solid board underneath and something called a Porter bee escape above.
This ingenious little device sits in a hole in the middle of a board above the frames and acts as a bee valve, letting them out but preventing them from coming back in. It consists of a pair of strips of flexible steel that taper to a gap slightly narrower than the body of a bee, so they can push their way out easily enough but lack the strength to go the other way.
The theory says that after a few days all of the bees in a super will have made their way out and it can be safely removed. Beekeeping theory often meets a knowing sneer from beekeepers used to bee escapes becoming gummed up, trapping the bees inside so you’re met with a slightly peeved crowd of them when you finally take the lid off, but I’m keen to try it out for myself.
Unfortunately even this colony isn’t able to oblige my urge to experiment as the nectar of two weeks ago hasn’t been transformed into honey up here. Probably a lack of stores below meant that it’s been transferred to one of the frames in the brood box, but the supers are largely empty of honey. There’s a little dotted about here and there along with some more nectar, shining in tiny sweet pools, and I might be able to cut out some honeycomb when I come back with the winter food and vorroa treatments but I put my bee escapes back in my bag, unused.
It’s a little disappointing, after a hopeful year, to conclude that only a tiny amount of honey is going to be making its way home with me. The bees, however, are healthy and look very likely to make it through the winter. Beekeeping might have honey production as its ostensible goal but often the main thing, the thing most beekeepers actually spend their time working towards, is the preservation of the bee colony. As I close up the hive and hurry back through the rain to the car, I know that’s gone pretty well.
Telegraph 24th August 2011
Bees on a plane panic as two hives swarm business class cabin
The bees – sneaked on board in cardboard boxes – are understood to have become agitated in the pressurised cabin during the 10-hour Yakutia Airline flight to Moscow from Blagoveshchensk near Russia’s border with China.
The trafficker – who has not been named by the airline – claims an airport official at Blagoveshchensk had asked him to carry the boxes to Moscow where he would be met at the airport.
Official airport documents quoted a passenger as saying that the trafficker was “slightly drunk.”
Air hostesses eventually managed to seal the bees inside the wardrobe in the flight’s business section by sealing it with sticky tape.
But when the plane arrived at its next destination, Barcelona, a new crew discovered that the fumigation had not been completely successful with five bees still on the plane, Russian newspapers reported.
Now the carrier could be stung with a massive £100,000 bill for having the fumigate the Boeing 757 jet and to compensate for the delays caused to the plane’s ongoing journey to Spain.
The incident raises concerns about flight safety on Russian internal flights as well as the impunity of airport officials.
Baggage handlers in Blagoveshchensk told a Russian newspaper that a senior airport official could “carry on board anything he likes.”
A famous Russian circus act, the Zapashny brothers, asked if they could bring a caged white tiger cub into the cabin with them. The airport management did not immediately turn down the request and was still considering, Rossiskaya Gazeta reported last week.
In the 1990s, it was not unheard of for passengers to bring animals, in particular farm animals, into the cabin on internal flights when regulation was more lax than today. A famous Soviet film “Mimino” shows a helicopter pilot delivering sheep and a cow.
BBC News 19 August 2011
London offices offered bee hives to ‘boost work morale’
Businesses in central London are being offered free bee hives to see if they will enhance office morale.
InMidtown, a group representing firms in Holborn, Bloomsbury and St Giles, said it has offered hives to 560 businesses in a pilot scheme.
The scheme hopes hosting apiaries will aid team building in firms and add to the urban food production.
Five businesses who have signed up are hosting 40,000 bees in eight hives on their roofs and terraces.
Employees of the host businesses will be trained to assist professional beekeepers to care for the hives and harvest honey.
Dr Susan Parham, head of urbanism at the University of Hertfordshire, will monitor the impact of hosting hives in a working environment.
Law firm Olswang has signed up to the project and has a bee hive on its roof and another on a terrace in Holborn. It said the bees were a “very docile” variety.
“It just seemed like a great project and staff absolutely love it,” said Sam Hudson, corporate responsibility executive at the firm.
Up to 560 firms are being offered free bee hives
Once a week 20 staff members don bee suits to check on the hives with a professional, and the firm hopes to harvest its first batch of honey this autumn.
“We are going to sell it off to our staff and raise money for our charity partner Coram. Hopefully give some to our clients as well,” Ms Hudson said.
Tass Mavrogordato, chief executive of InMidtown, said the pilot scheme aimed to tap into the business benefits of hosting apiaries.
She said: “To ensure there is enough food from the off we’ve been filling five bike-lock planters with bee-friendly flowers since last autumn, with a further 20 planters installed along with the new hives.”