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Swarm on best bee-hive-iour for Dean of Durham

14 July 2021

The Dean of Durham swapped his dog collar for a beekeeping suit to welcome an unusual group of pilgrims to Durham Cathedral last week. A swarm of honey bees had settled in the Canon Michael Everitt’s garden nearby. Amateur apiarist Andrew Tremlett rekindled an old hobby to give the buzzy pilgrims a true cathedral welcome.

Whilst working from home in the historic College behind Durham Cathedral, Canon Michael suddenly heard a loud drumming noise outside. Upon further investigation a swarm of honey bees were found in the Canon Pastor’s front garden. After a short while the colony collected on the branch of a holly hedge. Honey bee swarms occur naturally, usually on warm days between May – July, and are simply looking for a new home.

Canon Michael says,

‘The sound was unmistakable, I’ve heard it first hand before because last year there was another swarm at the College. I already knew the Dean had a history of beekeeping and that he was watching out for a swarm to keep here in Durham. But the colony last year was about 20 feet up in the air and unfortunately couldn’t be captured.’

In his earlier days as a Vicar in Sussex, Andrew Tremlett, the Dean of Durham, had a half acre garden and was intrigued by the idea of keeping bees. After mentioning this to a friend, Andrew was soon gifted an empty beehive and attended a local Bee Fair where he took part in an auction for a nucleus of bees. Unfortunately when Andrew moved on to pastures new he couldn’t take the bees with him but did keep his bee keeping kit just in case. Since arriving at Durham Cathedral, Andrew has always thought it would be an ideal place to rekindle the old hobby and this week offered just the opportunity.

Following Evensong, the Dean, dressed in his bee suit and equipped with a beekeeping kit, ventured out to capture this perfect starter swarm. The process sounds simple but requires skill. Firstly, a box was placed beneath the swarm and the hedge was gently shaken. To further coax the colony inside, Andrew introduced the bees to the wax foundation, which they will use to build their honeycomb on. With this, the main clump of bees dropped down into the box, taking the queen bee with them.

A small procession formed to escort the bees to the Deanery. The swarm will be transferred into a permanent hive later this week and Andrew hopes they will stay to support the natural ecosystem around the Durham peninsula. If the bees settle into their new home successfully, the Dean plans to sell their honey in the Cathedral Shop next year. Funds raised through the sale of any honey produced will support care and conservation of the cathedral, and help serve the community through ministry and outreach work.