All that is known of the attack is what can be seen on CCTV camera footage, which has been released by local police.
Two male intruders trespassed onto the castle grounds and attacked hundreds of hives for no apparent reason on January 8, 2020 at around 5:15 am local time. The crime was a cruel and violent act, and was unprovoked and unnecessary. The attackers removed the lids from the hives, then kicked the hives and beat the bees inside with sticks. They wore hoods and coats in an attempt to remain anonymous and they moved fast. The quality of the castle’s CCTV footage isn’t as effective as authorities would like it to be.
Councillor Steve Tierney, chairman of the Wisbech Castle committee, described the perpetrators as ‘brain dead morons.’
The rare black bees, part of a British black bee conservation project, were clustered inside their hives during the cold winter weather. Worker bees stay warm in winter by forming a tight cluster around their queen bee. They power down, but don’t hibernate. Most of their physical exertion is to generate heat.
The bees would have been stunned and taken by surprise, therefore unlikely to have done much to protect themselves. Staff members at the castle won’t know the full extent of the damage and loss until spring, probably sometime in March. Meanwhile, they will leave the hives closed tightly to spare the surviving bees from being exposed to cold air.
The original Wisbech Castle in England is thought to have been built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. The current structure is newer, dating back to the late 1700s.
Wisbech Castle became involved with the black bee conservation project in July 2019, when three black bee beehives were introduced to the castle in an effort to conserve these rare and endangered bees that are native to Britain, also known as the dark European honeybee, or Apis mellifera mellifera. This subspecies was thought to be extinct until several colonies were spotted in 2012. A beekeeper’s club was launched for children and adults as well.
This 2:14-minute video shows some British black bees and a beekeeper at Wisbech Castle:
A 2018 study in the Journal of Apicultural Research indicated that the “importation and replacement of queens with those of other Apis subspecies” has resulted in A. m. mellifera populations being “heavily hybridized.” Preserving pure colonies is important in order to safeguard biological diversity.
Wild bees and managed honeybee hives have both been in decline in the past few decades in the U.K. for many reasons, most of which are manmade. Habitat loss, deadly pesticides, hornets, exhaustion and disease are just a few causes.
Castle staff say the vandals are lucky they weren’t caught in the act. The conservation project has suffered a serious setback as a result of the random violence and will require funding and new beehives to be acquired in the spring. Meanwhile, volunteers are cleaning up and restoring order as best they can.
This is the most tragic in a series of break-ins that have happened on the castle grounds recently. A fairy walk for children was vandalized and in a separate event gift bags were stolen from Santa’s grotto in December.
Part of the problem may be heritage laws that hinder the castle from being able to take adequate security measures. They would like to use counter-intrusion tactics such as positioning some wall spikes and using anti-climb paint. Tierney says the damage being done by vandals constantly climbing over the ancient wall far outweighs any that may be caused by crime prevention measures.
Volunteers and castle staff are both devastated and angry about what happened. An urgent meeting will be called to discuss countermeasures.
PC Kirsty Hulley of the Cambridgeshire police is investigating this cruel and violent case. If you live locally and have any information concerning the perpetrators or the incident, please call police on 101 quoting 35/1817/20 or visit www.cambs.police.uk/report. Or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or via www.crimestoppers-uk.org.