The beehives buzzing quietly in the boot, I drove up the motorway. The bees thrived in the Ashdown Forest in late summer. Transplanted to East London, perhaps they would feel hemmed in by tarmac and buildings. But the next morning when I opened the hives, it took them no time to find the lime trees on London Fields and they filled the frames with a clear, sharp-tasting liquor. Later in the season, they created dark swathes of almost bitter honey (a speciality in some parts of the world) by harvesting honeydew from aphids. Londoners fill their gardens with exotic plants that flower even in winter and these plus the countless roadside cherries and crab apples keep bees in forage all year round. In cold weather they huddle in quiet, rustling balls, eating honey for heating fuel, regulating each other’s body temperature until the spring warms them and the flowers back into production. On milder winter days, they go out into the garden to crap out the indigestible matter in their food. The sight of them ambling around reassures me.
Vol. 35 No. 22 · 21 November 2013
Tristram Stuart’s piece brought back memories of my father’s beekeeping in the 1950s (LRB, 24 October). Our aunt also kept bees in her garden in West Hampstead and would drive them to Kent for the summer. Our first colony arrived in a buzzy metal mesh box courtesy of Carter Patterson. We had two swarms – one onto a pear tree in our garden in Woodford and another into a neighbour’s garden. We retrieved both and added them to our growing collection of hives. As we understood it at the time, ancient common law allowed pursuit of a swarm over private land, and no prosecution for trespass could be brought against a beekeeper keeping his swarm in sight.
Vol. 35 No. 24 · 19 December 2013
‘A swarm which has flown away from our hive is still considered ours,’ the Roman jurist Gaius wrote in the second century CE, ‘so long as it remains in sight and its pursuit is not difficult; otherwise it becomes the property of the first taker.’ This was repeated three centuries later by the Emperor Justinian in his Institutes, from which it entered the common currency of law in Europe. However Gaius also said: ‘someone entering another’s land may lawfully be prevented from entering by the owner of the land, if he sees him coming.’ I don’t think the practice of the English common law can be different despite Roger Gregory’s assumption that he could chase his bees without hindrance (Letters, 21 November).
Vol. 36 No. 2 · 23 January 2014
Roger Gregory may well refer to ancient rights of swarm collection but the Court of Appeal decided such rights in 1939 (Letters, 21 November 2013). The case can be found in Beekeeping and the Law: Swarms and Neighbours (1993) by David Frimston and David Smith. An issue before the court was to decide on the correct meaning of Blackstone’s Commentaries when discussing ferae naturae, and bees in particular. The passage stated: ‘Though a swarm lights upon my tree, I have no more property in them till I have hived them … and therefore if another hives them, he shall be their proprietor.’ Blackstone goes on to say that a swarm that flies out from my hive is mine so long as I have the power to pursue it. L.J. Goddard holds that ‘the power to pursue’ does not extend to pursuing the swarm that has rested on the land of another. The ratio of the case: ‘Bees are ferae naturae but when hived they become the qualified property of the person who hives them. The owner of a swarm of bees has no legal right to follow the bees on another man’s land. When a swarm of bees settles on another person’s land, the former owner of the bees loses his right in them, which again become ferae naturae.’