Last year a colony of Welsh wild black bees honoured my upland home by moving into a natural hive high up in an old oak tree. They survived the winter and multiplied, a talisman of protection and of life.
On Easter Sunday, fittingly, they swarmed. As I worked in the garden, the sound of humming started and grew to an immensity as honey-laden bees poured out of the hive and surrounded me in a fog of loud excited circling from which I had to run to escape. Watching this cloudy mass of activity from a safe distance, looking like a tornado on an American plain, I saw the bees form a loose ball in the air and then fly to a nearby hornbeam tree where they rested quietly. Many thousands of bees covered the trunk as they waited for the signal from scouts to leave for their new home.
I waited too, with them. After an hour the message came that it was time. The roar of mass buzzing began again, and simultaneously they left the tree and gathered together in a giant speckled cluster before they began their flight away into an ancient nearby wood. I followed them as far as I could, and watched with mixed emotions as they disappeared from view.
It was very quiet in my garden after that. The hive in the oak had been greatly depleted, and it took several days for the remaining bees to be as active and visible as they had been before. Part of me was sad to see the swarm go, and I wonder still if they are surviving well and finding enough food. Another part of me is happy in the knowledge that a hive only divides if it is healthy and abundant in numbers and in honey. Brother Adam, the famous monk beekeeper, said a colony which “prepares to swarm has reached an optimum in its organic development, as well as opulence in every direction. Indeed, swarming is the natural manifestation of a colony having reached the summit of affluence.”
It is reassuring that despite all the warnings about climate change and the demise of insect life, nature continues to demonstrate her strength and good health in small but important ways, but so much depends still and always on human behaviour. Bees do not need chemicals in their hives. Bees must not have pesticides in their environment, and neither should we.
There are signs of hope for the future well-being of Earth that encourage me to believe that humanity may, just in time, do what is needed to prevent a total collapse of the planetary eco-system: attitudes are shifting rapidly and publicly, and resistance to responsible living is being called out. Political leaders are being challenged to do more – or less – and it will be interesting to see, in the UK, what happens about airport expansion, fracking, HS2 and farming in view of these changing attitudes.
I am realistic that it may get worse before it gets better, but I continue to believe that all will be well for our beautiful planet. Witnessing one of nature’s great events, bees swarming, was an extraordinary privilege that was enlightening and comforting. If we allow it, nature always finds her way.