Do we ever get this right? / by Jonathan Thomson

In 1949, Aldo Leopold (one of the founders of modern conservation) compiled his essays into a book called A Sand County Almanac. One essay describes a lesson, which is hard to learn.

In the early 1900’s, Wolves were cleared from many areas of wilderness in the USA. The underlying view being that wolves predated too heavily and man could manage the deer herds more effectively, and by doing so, increase numbers for hunters. This move was predicated on a belief, that humankind knows best. The result of the intervention was catastrophic at an ecosystem level, and in time the wolves were reintroduced. From this historical episode came the key ecological concept of Trophic Cascade.

Leopold was in my mind, over the last weekend and early this week, when we tried to relocate a swarm of wild honey bees into a new wild-beehive. The entire process took 3.5 days, and with hindsight, I am really not sure this was the right thing to do. Our intervention felt so cack-handed at times and it wil be instructive to see if this swarm thrives. Throughout Matt Somerville was amazing, sharing advice and insights!

I have always believed that natural processes are best left! Why don’t we trust in nature to know best? Why are we compelled to intervene? What arrogance to think we know what is the correct course of action, when it comes to a system as complex as nature. What mistakes this arrogance leads to….

The beautiful swarm, which I found hanging from a young oak at UWNR. It had been exposed for too many days assaulted by cold winds, driving rain & cold nights - my concern was it wouldn’t survive, even in the short term.

The beautiful swarm, which I found hanging from a young oak at UWNR. It had been exposed for too many days assaulted by cold winds, driving rain & cold nights - my concern was it wouldn’t survive, even in the short term.


Chris Nicholson, Keggie and I moved the swarm to the new log hive using a borrowed skep. With Matt guiding us, we positioned the skep underneath the virgin log wild-hive. The expectation was that within a 12-36 hour window the swarm would walk up the hive to security, safety and warmth. It didn’t!

Chris Nicholson, Keggie and I moved the swarm to the new log hive using a borrowed skep. With Matt guiding us, we positioned the skep underneath the virgin log wild-hive. The expectation was that within a 12-36 hour window the swarm would walk up the hive to security, safety and warmth. It didn’t!

36 hours after moving the swarm I returned to find this! The bees had started to build comb into the skep itself and hadn’t shifted upward, as expected. It was just so wrong! Another phone call to Matt. The decision was made to slice the new comb off, so I could fit the base plate on the new hive. The thinking - exposed, the hive woud probably survive the spring and summer, but would perish in the harsh weather of the winter. With the base plate fitted the swarm would be secure and protected. But longer term??

36 hours after moving the swarm I returned to find this! The bees had started to build comb into the skep itself and hadn’t shifted upward, as expected. It was just so wrong! Another phone call to Matt. The decision was made to slice the new comb off, so I could fit the base plate on the new hive. The thinking - exposed, the hive woud probably survive the spring and summer, but would perish in the harsh weather of the winter. With the base plate fitted the swarm would be secure and protected. But longer term??