Moving bumblebee nests
We very much hope that people will only try to move nests that are in a particularly inconvenient location. Underground nests will be more difficult to move, as you'll create a considerable amount of disturbance as you dig down to the nest. However, if it's outside and underground then there should be no reason to move it.
If you do need to move it, you will either need to do this yourself or get help from someone experienced in doing so. Please note that bumblebees can sting and are more likely to do so if their nest is disturbed. If you decide to move a nest, it is done at your own risk. Some honey bee keepers will have some experience in moving bumblebee nests, but this is rare. Pest control companies will destroy the nests (although a few refuse to), so it's best to avoid using their services for bumblebees unless absolutely necessary. Please note that we do not move colonies ourselves.
To move a nest safely it is best to do it in the dark - when all of the bees will be in the nest and docile. They might buzz a bit but they won’t fly in the dark, so it's safest to do it then. They don't see red light well, so if you need to see what you're doing, put some red plastic film/acetate over a torch or use a red L.E.D. rear cycle light.
Bumblebees are less likely to sting than honeybees and wasps are. However, disturbing the nest can make them behave defensively, and precautions should be taken to prevent stings occurring. While a full bee-keepers’ suit is helpful, it is not necessary. As a minimum, a person moving a nest should wear full length rubber ‘washing up’ gloves, and a long-sleeved top, and cover any exposed skin as best they can.
It has also been found that bumblebees can become alerted to the presence of an intruder if they are breathed upon. Accordingly, it is best to try to avoid breathing on the nest.
Moving nests in bird boxes
Some bumblebees, especially the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, nest in bird boxes. To move a colony in a bird nest box, follow these instructions:
- Wear protective clothing, especially gloves.
- Take a note of where the nest is and how you will reach it when it is dark.
- Wait until all or most of the workers have returned – this is often well after dusk.
- When activity quietens down, block up the entrance hole with flexible foam (e.g. from a sponge or scouring pad).
- Seal up any holes you find around the box using tape, as bumblebees can easily use these to escape from the box when it is being moved.
- Take the box down, without tipping it over, and keep it on a flat surface until you are ready to move it.
- Carefully move the box to its new location. This should be at least 5 ft. off the ground. It should be attached to a surface that is not liable to vibration, as this can disturb the bees.
- Remove the bung the next day, and the bees will leave to explore their new area. It is best to leave it until after midday to remove the bung.
You can read more about the fascinating lives of Tree bumblebees in this article written by Clive Hill. Click here to read it (pdf, 650 kb).
Nests in other places
Bumblebees sometimes nest in places from which it is difficult to remove the nest without killing it. Porches, wall cavities, air vents, eaves and roof soffits have all been recorded. Because of the difficulty in reaching into these places, removing the nests from them cannot be done without help from someone experienced in moving bumblebees.
In these cases, it is important to remember that bumblebees don't cause any damage to homes. They do not eat wood (like wasps do), and don't leave behind a big mess. If you can put up with living with the nest nearby, it should die naturally within a few months, and the bees will all leave or die at the end. If you don't want bees nesting in the same place the following year, block up any entrances to the nest and other suitable nest spaces nearby. If the bees are being bothersome by entering and leaving the nest (e.g. in porches, where they usually fly at head height), you can try to re-route the entrance of the nest using our advice, below.
Re-routing bumblebee nest entrances
It is much easier to re-route bumblebee nest entrances to make the bees enter and leave in a different place. This is especially useful if the entrance hole brings the bees into close proximity with people. To do this, get a length of flexible tubing that is at least 2cm in diameter. The type of tubing used in sink waste pipes works perfectly. Then, attach the tubing to the nest entrance. Make the junction between these as tight as possible, to avoid having bees coming out of the wrong place. Gaps can be plugged with soil. Then place the other end of the tube wherever you want the new entrance to be. Secure it in place as best you can, and place some 'landmarks' around it. The bees use landmarks to navigate, and whenever they leave the nest they will fly around the hole to memorise what features are around it. Anything can work as a landmark, but pebbles, plant pots, etc. all work well.
Now all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the bumblebees in your garden!
"We are facing a fundamental problem with the decline of bees and other pollinators. They have an absolutely crucial role in pollinating many of our important crops - without them we will face higher food costs and potential shortages."
Professor Douglas Kell
BBSRC Chief Executive