Bees and wasps


Bees can easily be mistaken for wasps. The body of a bee is more furry than the wasps and little yellow pollen sacs are usually visible on the hind limbs. There are many different types of bees:

Masonry/sand bees.

These burrow into soft mortar or soil and lay a single egg at the end of each hole. They do not form large colonies. They cause relatively little damage and are unlikely to sting. They can be treated chemically but can be left alone. Any damaged mortar should be re-pointed.

Bumble bees

These are relatively large (up to 30mm). A bumble bee colony only lasts for a single season. This means that all the workers die in the autumn, leaving only a few mated queens who spend the winter in hibernation. The bumble bees are usually first seen in March, flying low over the ground. These are typically the young queens, just emerged from their winter quarters and now searching for suitable places to establish new colonies.

The majority of these bees build their nests in the ground, in a deserted mouse hole or in between stones in a farm wall. An empty nest or a sparrow’s nest under the eaves may also be used.

Once the queen has selected a site, she begins to build her nest. If the space is too small, she extends it – up to about the size of a thimble, one for stores and one to lay her eggs in. The larvae, which hatch from the latter, are fed by the queen who also has to fetch pollen and nectar. When fully grown the larvae pupate and a a few days later they emerge as the first worker bees of the year.

Later on in summer, a bumblebee nest is well established with larval cells and stores alongside each other.

Honey bees are important pollinators and should not be killed unless essential for public safety. They can form large nests within cavity walls, lofts, sheds, hedges and trees,etc. A colony can have up to 40,000 bees.

Pest Status

Honey and bumble bees cause no damage to the garden. They are vital pollinators to fruit trees and other plants.  There is every reason to conserve bumble bees and they would not normally be troublesome in a house.

Bees do not normally sting unless severely provoked and perceive a threat to their colony. Once a bee has stung, it dies.

Honeybee swarms

Only honeybees swarm. This is a natural process where a queen leaves a colony and her followers mass around her. It typically occurs during very hot weather at the beginning of summer (May-June). Swarms occur where a colony of bees produces more than one queen. The colony then splits and one of the queens leaves the hive along with her workers to find a suitable site to create a new colony.

If you have a swarm of bees on your property, it is best to leave them alone. If a swarm has settled for more than a couple of hours and is in an accessible location, you can call a beekeeper who may remove the swarm for you. Beekeepers can be found in the yellow pages, phone book or on the internet.  The British Beekeepers Association also have a webpage on identifying swarms and arranging removal.

What to do if you are stung

About 3 people in every hundred are strongly allergic to bites and stings and can be very ill as a result. Most people who have an allergic reaction have been stung before without an allergic reaction. Some people never have an allergic reaction again after their first. It is almost impossible to predict when an allergic reaction will occur.

  • Remove the sting if it has been left
  • Wash the stung area with soap and water
  • Raise the part of the body that has been stung to prevent swelling
  • Use a spray or cream containing local anaesthetic or antihistamine on the area to stop the itching and swelling
  • Do not scratch the area as it may become infected

If you experience swelling or itching anywhere else on the body immediately after being stung, wheezing, headache, feeling sick, fast heart rate, feeling faint, difficulty swallowing or a swollen face or mouth, you may need emergency treatment. Call 999 for an ambulance immediately as you may be having a generalised allergic reaction.

Although itchy and sometimes painful, stings are rarely dangerous and need only anti-histamine or local anaesthetic cream from your pharmacist. Ask your pharmacist for advice. Bites can become infected by scratching.

Call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 if you require further advice about aftercare.


Wasps are a particular nuisance when a nest is found in your home or garden. Only treat a wasps nest if it poses a risk to the elderly, young or poses a public risk as wasps are beneficial to the natural ecosystem by eating insect pests.

Looking for signs of a nest

  • Large numbers of wasps entering and leaving a location
  • Cracks in roof space, garden sheds or under facia boards provide perfect locations for a nest
  • Wet patches on the outside of a wall or ceiling can indicate a nest
  • Dull buzzing noise
  • Nests can be seen as grey balls ranging in size from a small golf ball to a football or larger

Ways to prevent wasps nesting

  • Keep bagged rubbish or bins away from the house
  • If you find wasps a problem in your garden, you can buy wasp traps from supermarkets, DIY stores or garden centres
  • Inspect your loft or garden shed regularly for signs of a nest and to block any gaps or cracks to prevent entry

Self treatment

Insecticides in the forms of powers, sprays or aerosols can be bought from any garden centres, supermarkets or DIY stores. When self treating, you may find the following hints helpful:

  • Do refer to the instructions on the back of the product you are using
  • Do find the entry and exit hole into the nest
  • Do carry out any treatment at twilight as this is the time for the least activity and when the majority of the wasps are in the nest
  • Do spray the insecticide into the entry hole
  • Do wear protective clothing, including some form of face mask, when treating to avoid being stung