Can I Be Forced To Remove A Bee Nest From My Property?

Above - bumble bee nest in bird box - actually in my neighbours garden.

I'm pleased to say, most people these days are keen to help bees, and leave bee nests alone.  However, now and then there are queries with regard to nest sites for bumble bees, and whether they can legally be destroyed - in particular, whether a neighbour can force another neighbour to remove or kill bees on their property.

here is such a scenario:

Hi

Can my local council force me to remove a bumble bee nest from the bird box of our garden shed?

I don’t want to remove it, but our neighbour is a bunch of sour grapes, and wants it destroyed.  I have tried to reason with them, but they have now claimed they have an allergy.  I don’t believe her, because she finds anything and everything to complain about, and she didn’t mention it at first.

When I refused and told her we need the bees, she threatened to call the local council.  Can the council force me to destroy the nest?  What should I do? – John, UK

Funnily enough, I have just had a fairly similar query, and so have decided to add my response to help others.

However, please note, the following is not legal advice, which I cannot provide. Any decision you take is yours.

My thoughts, however, are as follows:

It is a real shame to learn about the situation with your neighbour.  However,many councils these days, take a dim view of removing nests of bumblebees, because they are temporary and pose little danger.  They will often refuse point blank to do it (in fact, even some pest control companies also refuse to move bumble bee nests!).  

However, it might be better to let the council explain that to your neighbour.
With any luck, they will draw a line under the matter, and your neighbour will not take further action! 

However, if the worst comes to the worst, this situation is actually much easier than other situations I have heard about.  For a start, if the bird box can be removed from the shed in its entirety, there is a better chance of relocating the nest, I think.  Do it at night, wear protective clothes, cover the entry holes, and try to remove it as smoothly as possible – you may hear some annoyed buzzing, but as long as all exit points are covered, you should be okay.  Place the nest box in its new home – it’s a good idea to have the new spot confirmed in advance – perhaps a neighbour a few doors away, with more tolerant people living next door?  You can read more about it here.

But  what if the council contact you?

I cannot make a comment on what your legal position would be, but I think it would be unwise to be obstructive.

However, there are a few points I might share with the council if they wish to come to remove the nest, and see what the response would be:

  • Bumblebee nests are rarely a threat to personal safety and don’t last very long.  It is therefore surely best policy, not to remove a bumblebee nest without genuine good reason, especially considering the temporary nature of nests?  
  • Would the council be happy if you were to put up a temporary ‘barrier’ instead, to encourage the bees to fly in a different direction – a tall bushy pot plant might do it, or some other kind of temporary screen (it does not need to be elaborate).  
  • Do the council think there is a real threat to the complainant versus say, a walk in the outdoors, where there may be public planting schemes, other gardens, wild verges etc, where bees might be present?  Is the threat from the bumble bee nest being exaggerated?
  • Have the council performed any checks to ensure the claim made by the complainant is genuine (i.e. the claim about the allergy is supported by a doctor).   
  • Is there evidence that the complainant takes steps to minimise risks themselves (for example, keeping flowers away from their home and garden, and remaining indoors?   If they indeed have flowering plants, shrubs or trees (that are attractive to bees) in their garden, is the complaint genuine?   Would the complainant be willing to first remove any flowering trees, plants and shrubs from their own garden,  before any bee nests are removed (to dissuade bees from nesting in the area again)?  
  • Will the council first be taking steps to ensure the bee species concerned, is not a UK BAP species (highly unlikely in the scenario here, but technically not impossible in other situations), and how will this be verified?  Would the councils decision be different if the species is indeed threatened?
  • Would it be better for the council to simply publish an advice leaflet about avoiding bee stings, and putting the ‘threat’ in perspective?  There are many excellent resources around, and some people may even be reassured that a reaction to a sting is not the same as a severe, life-threatening allergy – whilst of course, encouraging appropriate steps for those with a severe allergy to bee stings (which can be very serious indeed).

Legal Advice On Bee Nests In Gardens An Property

As I write in June 2018, bumble bee nests are not protected by law, as far as I am aware - though I have previously argued that some protection should be the case, for the sake of curbing unecessary removals - the nests are temporary, after all.

However, with regard to protected species in general, councils may take an especially dim view of disturbings nests of BAP species. The priority terrestrial invertebrate species list does include a number of bumble bee and solitary bee species as well as other pollinators.

However, it may be necessary to get legal opinion, especially with regard to the following points:

  • are you legally required to have the nest removed  - and as a side issue, do you have to pay for it?
  • Is it possible to insist on medical evidence from a doctor that the claim regarding allergy is genuine, prior to the nest being removed? 
  • If the neighbour has a flower filled garden attractive to bees, can this be taken into account?

This is about as much feedback as I can (at this time) provide.  However, I am hopeful that as awareness increases, fewer people will seek the drastic measure of removing bumble bee nests.




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