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Ditchingham church is buzzing

PUBLISHED: 12:28 06 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:16 16 September 2010

THE atmosphere has been buzzing at a church in Ditchingham, but there has been no vicar in sight or congregation singing hymns.

While there is nothing unusual about bats in the belfry, bees in the tower aren't exactly what you would expect to find.

THE atmosphere has been buzzing at a church in Ditchingham, but there has been no vicar in sight or congregation singing hymns.

While there is nothing unusual about bats in the belfry, bees in the tower aren't exactly what you would expect to find.

But St Mary's Church has been a hive of activity over the past few days as a rescue operation got under way to safely remove 60,000 bees from inside the church tower.

It was a race against time for parishioners who wanted to open the tower for tours as part of the national Open Churches Week programme, which is taking place this week.

The bees had made a nest 100ft up in the tower and the logistical operation of how to get them down gave local beekeeper Bob Spruce a few sleepless nights.

Mr Spruce was called in to help after Simon Wilkin, parochial church council secretary, discovered the nest.

Mr Spruce said: “Initially he wasn't quite sure what it was up the tower, so I went and had a look. When I got to the top of the tower I saw a colony of bees had made their nest off the ceiling.

“The combs were hanging down and it was really very pretty, with 12 sheets of wax.”

At the weekend a new hive was hoisted up the outside of the tower in the pouring rain, one piece at a time, using ropes.

Then, in a complex procedure, sections were spliced into the nest, providing the bees with a new home.

The bees were left for three days to settle into their new surroundings before being lowered back down to the ground in another complicated operation.

Mr Spruce, chairman of Waveney Beekeepers Group, said that he had had nightmares about how to get the bees down.

Helped by his son Robert, Mr Spruce had to crawl through a tight space in his protective suit and the men were stung several times.

“The hive was all strapped up together so the bees couldn't escape,” said Mr Spruce. “The hardest bit was lowering them over four feet of wall. We didn't want to jar them.”

He has taken the bees to his apiary at Topcroft where he will care for them.

But the troublesome bees have given parishioners something to be pleased about. Mr Spruce said 40lbs of honey had been produced through melting the old nest.

He said he had dealt with swarms of bees before, but this had been his most unusual and challenging case.

Mr Wilkin thanked Mr Spruce for his efforts and said he was delighted the tower could now be re-opened to the public.

He said: “It was like a well-planned military operation. They had the beehive down in about 20 minutes. The main problem was getting the hive over the parapet at the top of the church.”

Visitors touring the tower will be able to sample the honey.

The tower is open today, tomorrow and Sunday from 1.30pm until 4.30pm. It costs £1 for adults and 50p for children.

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