The bear of very little brain who encountered the wrong bees and got stung in 100-acre wood would have envied Trinity gardener and beekeeper, Tony Harte yesterday.
Tony, and beekeeper-in-the-making, gardener Jonathan Strauss, rescued a hidden hive of wild bees from an old willow toppled by Storm Fionn – on the very day 136 years ago that A A Milne was born. Milne was a student at Trinity at the turn of the twentieth century. The small brown bear in the books Milne wrote for his son Christopher Robin, now has a celebratory day all of his own.
18 January is Winnie-the-Pooh Day and yesterday, as Cambridge woke to widespread tree damage, Trinity’s gardeners realised they had another challenge on their hands.
Head Gardener, Tom Hooijenga, explained, ‘When light improved, we noticed honeycomb visible in one of the cavities of the tree that was now lying in the water.’ As the tree surgeon tackled the fallen willow with a chainsaw, bees emerged from their hideout.
‘We realised we had to act to avoid losing the colony and stop the tree team from being stung. We called our beekeeper who happens to be a member of the Gardens team’, said Tom, ‘It’s handy to have a resident expert.’
Tony Harte looks after several hives at Trinity and produces Burrell’s Field honey. Having bees at the College helps pollination throughout Trinity’s gardens.
Yesterday passers-by stopped on Garret Hostel Bridge to watch proceedings as bees buzzed about and the gardeners, wearing protective clothing, carefully extracted the bees and several honeycombs. ‘They were really, really relaxed – nobody got stung,’ said Jonathan.
The beekeepers think the hollow trunk of the old willow was home to hundreds of bees. ‘We rescued about half of them – because they were so scared, some went further down the hollow,’ said Jonathan.
Bees don’t like disturbance or the cold, so it remains to be seen how those rescued will fare in their new home, a hive where they will not be disturbed.
‘They’ve got plenty of food and if the Queen is there, they will start producing brood,’ said Tony. And then of course, more honey.
Winnie-the-Pooh would be licking his paws.