I watched this small bee as it circled round the flower, busily filling its already bulging bright yellow saddlebags. We are fond of these little bees, which were introduced to the UK (or perhaps simply spread here) quite recently and have made themselves at home. They are one of two bee species that have chosen to live inside our house. 

The location varies from year to year, but for about 3 months a year over the last few years there has been gentle bee-chatter going on in the roof-space above our bedroom, or in an old wall cavity between 2 rooms.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

This year the tree bees decamped to the roof-space above the kitchen; and a splinter colony has recently set up a buzzing plant-produce stall in a cavity above the front porch, no doubt to the surprise of the bats that hang out there.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)You may have noticed that the bee featured here is carrying a tiny passenger, a mite, that you can see in some of the images (eg the header image). There’s a small story about these photos. I own ‘beloved camera’, ‘unreliable camera’, ‘snappy camera’ and an iPhone. **

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

When I first saw this little bee, I had ‘unreliable’ with me (‘beloved’ being 125 miles away). It is a martyr to light sensitivity, with an annoying ‘satirical’ take on focus. Reader, I rattled off 20 shots. Then I deleted every one of them. Quickly throwing the camera behind a wall in disgrace, I reached for my phone in desperation to catch the bee at work in the sunshine. Here are the results, with a level of clarity that only ‘beloved camera’ could have matched.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

** There was ‘hated camera’ too, a DSLR that I never mastered and eventually sold back to the place I bought it for a fraction of the original cost. They saw me coming…

All photos © Keith Salvesen Photography


Bee box on a wall, Dorset

This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log. Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.

NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…


This honey bee was making the most of the late September sunshine. The colour of its pollen load suggests it had decided to target the dahlias. It managed to get a good all-over dusting too. 

Late honey bee and dahlia1Late honey bee and dahlia2 Late honey bee and dahlia3 Late honey bee and dahlia4 Late honey bee and dahlia6 Late honey bee and dahlia7 Late honey bee and dahlia8 Late honey bee and dahlia9


Dorset honey bee in flightDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset Honeybee on HyssopDorset Honey bee on runner bean flower


Whitchurch Canonicorum, Blandford Forum, Toller Porcorum and Bombus Lucorum – all very Dorset names.  Except the last of course. Here are a few of them, feasting on hyssop. The first one is launching himself on his way to the next stem.

White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), DorsetWhite-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), Dorset


This is a small selection of bees visiting a Dorset garden during the last month or so. The favoured flowers have been Hyssop, Lavender, Alium and Cosmos. And if anyone knows the name of the pale bee in photo #4, I’d be pleased to know – it’s a real beauty.

Summer Bees Dorset 1Summer Bees Dorset 2Summer Bees Dorset 3Summer Bees Dorset 4Summer Bees Dorset 5Summer Bees Dorset 6Summer Bees Dorset 8Summer Bees Dorset 9Summer Bees Dorset 10Summer Bees Dorset 11


Small Bees at Oxburgh 1

TREE POPPY Romneya coulteri

This plant at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk was a magnet for small bees. We watched them come and go, filling up their little saddlebags. Photos of bees in flight don’t often work well. These are no exception. Still, they do catch the general bizzyness of the proceedings. The plant was lovely, not one we knew. Another new bee plant find for the year, along with Hyssop.

Small Bees at Oxburgh 2 Small Bees at Oxburgh 3 Small Bees at Oxburgh 4 Small Bees at Oxburgh 5 Small Bees at Oxburgh 6 Small Bees at Oxburgh 7White Poppy with Bees 7


The bees are working overtime as a chill spreads over September and winter downtime looms for them. So busy are they that there is competition for individual flowers  – even though there are more than enough to go round. Bumbles were out in force yesterday, and there are still butterflies around, mainly tiny Small Coppers and Whites of different sizes.

We’ve done a quick assessment of plant popularity this spring and summer that produces this league table:

  1. Hyssop – the runaway winner for bees of many types, ditto butterflies and (new entry) moths. Planted for the first time in May, and has effortlessly thrived (throve? thriven?) to become Nectar Central.
  2. Lavender – perennial success with bees and butterflies. More planted this spring and very well visited.
  3. Cosmos – new to the garden this year, a fast and easy grower, and hugely popular with bees, especially bumbles. Also visited by honey bees and butterflies, but only on their way the the hyssop.

Bees in Dorset Summer's End 1 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 2 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 3 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 4 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 5 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 6 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 8 Bees in Dorset Summer's End 9Blurry, I know, but the intruder arrived from nowhere as I pressed the button… Why it didn’t land on one of several vacant flowers next to this one, I have no idea. Maybe fighting drunk on pollen?Bees in Dorset Summer's End 7


Camley Street Natural Park entrance


The London Wildlife Trust has several small urban nature reserves close to the centre of the city. The Camley Street Natural Park was created in the early ‘8os on the site of a derelict coal yard, sandwiched between rail tracks and a canal. The site had become naturally colonised by plants over the years, and the small strip of land was preserved as a wildlife haven near the very heart of London

IMG_4083IMG_4084URBAN BEES runs beekeeping taster courses at Camley Street. We went there last weekend to taste the taster course, which is run by Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin. Both are very experienced beekeepers, and the joint authors of 3 excellent books (two of which I already owned, but I had dimly failed to link the authors with the course leaders). More details of the books are at the end of this post. The early morning had seen inauspicious dark clouds and very heavy rain in London. Slowly it began to clear, and by mid-morning the skies were blue and the sun shone brightly.IMG_4089By 11.00, 20 of us had been welcomed to the lecture room by Brian and Alison, and we all settled down in learning mode. It quickly became clear that Brian’s relaxed yet sparky presentation would be (a) informative and (b) entertaining. And so it proved. We covered the ground quickly: bee varieties and their place in the world and in the hive; the caste system; bee anatomy; the birth and life cycles of bees; the basic hive structure; first steps to keeping bees; the pros and cons of keeping urban bees; the equipment needed and the (considerable) costs involved; and varroa.IMG_4091Brian presented the information clearly, with occasional interventions from Alison. They made an instructive double act. Time for a break and a practical demo, so we all trooped out into the fresh cold air and sunshine to visit the hives at the far end of the Park. This involved threading our way alongside the canal and past wild and picturesque ponds.IMG_4094IMG_4093IMG_4099At the ponds, youngsters (with adults!) were encouraged to use small nets to scoop out water and weed and inspect the contents. The rattle of the trains on the tracks into St Pancras barely seemed to intrude on this surprisingly pastoral strip of land.  IMG_4105Beyond the ponds were our targets – real hives with real bees. But would they be showing themselves in January? The team marched on to find out.IMG_4103And suddenly there they were. HIVES! BEES! And active, too (at least in the 3 hives actually in the sun) IMG_4115Brian was kind enough to demonstrate his own “waggle dance” (joking – he was saying “some grow this big…”)IMG_4116With the hive lid removed, we were able to view the hive through perspex. Brian showed us some winter food for the bees. I lost track a bit here – as the tallest person in the party, my head was slightly above the Park fence, and I became aware that it was on some bee ley-line direct from forage to hive… Minor avoiding action was called for (bent knees).IMG_4120 IMG_4123Under the hive was a tray designed to catch varroa mites in particular. The number on the tray is a good indication of the health of the hive. Although Varroa has only been around in the UK for about 30 years, surprisingly there are now no hives completely clear of infestation. So varroa mite control is a matter of limitation, not eradication.IMG_4124On this tray, we were clearly able to see a number of mites amongst the other debris – tiny shiny creatures capable of wiping out an entire hive if left uncheckedIMG_4125Having completed the outdoor practical stage, we wandered back to a sustaining lunch, before the afternoon sessionIMG_4110IMG_4131IMG_4095After lunch Brian dismantled a hive for us, explaining the structure and the purposes of each part. We entered the technical arena of frames, brood-boxes, supers and nukes. We learnt about identifying the queen; and swarming and how to control it (in theory). Any ‘beeks’ reading this (you perhaps, Miss Apis Mellifera?) may be chuckling at the naivety of all this.  Please smile benignly – we all have to start somewhere… By the end of the hive demonstration, interwoven with much of the bee material we had learnt about in the morning, we felt we had had a very thorough and clear introduction to the world of bees and beekeeping.Cliveden Bees 8

Brian and Alison posed some big questions. Why do you think you want to keep bees in the City? Might you be better finding a beekeeper you can help while you get some experience first? Do you believe you will make a living out of it – honey money? (Short answer – there’s no way you ever will). Are you trying to save bees from extinction? And if so, have you considered other ways to achieve this, not just for honey bees but for all bees. Planting bee-friendly flowers and plants is a good way to achieve this, or becoming involved in bee-related groups and projects locally.

Sussex - thirsty bee 6

For our part, we left feeling we had had an excellent day’s course, with information imparted thoroughly but in an easily assimilable way. And we both agreed that we will not be buying a hive, bees, a spacesuit and a smoker. Instead we will add some more bee-friendly plants to our garden, doing our bit that way – and buying local honey (very good as it happens) rather than the bland honey blends that come to us from halfway round the world. (Oh, and the mystic ingredient of Manuka honey that makes it 3 or 4 times more expensive than any other? Marketing skill, apparently…)

Bee engraving 1852

Plate 70, from Volume 2: A History Of The Earth And Animated Nature by Oliver Goldsmith, 1852

I bought the lovely original plate above 2 or 3 years ago for around £10 (there’s one on eBay now for about £11, though not in very good condition). It is featured on page 11 of one of Brian and Alison’s books. Which brings me to Brian and Alison’s joint-authored bibliography. Of the 3 books shown below, I would recommend the first for anyone looking for a well thought out and well illustrated introduction to beekeeping in all its aspects. All can be found on Amazon, ABE and other such places. Or contact the authors with this link URBAN BEES

Keeping Bees And Making Honey    Keeping Bees and Making Honey

A World Without Bees           A World Without Bees

Bees in the City: The urban beekeepers' handbook          Bees in the City

Finally, two recommended websites of active bee-keepers who describe the day-to-day reality of keeping bees, meeting the ‘twin imposters’ along the way and treating them just the same. Also included are details of the beekeepers exams, to challenge the the more experienced beekeeper.



Pride? Ambition? Frustration? What’s going on here?

Cliveden Bees 9

And is there any room for honey-based music and humour? There surely is…



BOMBUS LUCORUM (WHITE-TAILED BUMBLE BEE)Bombus Lucorum / White-tailed Bumble Bee

BOMBUS PASCUORUM (COMMON CARDER BEE)Bombus Pascuorum / Common Carder Bee