“EVERY year I swear I’m not going to clip another sheep. And every year I still do.” Not me of course. John. I just wrap the fleeces and offer tea and sympathy when he flops down in the chair after relieving the sheep of their woolly coats.

When I first met John he would spend nearly three months of the year clipping sheep on various farms in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. He was “strong in the back but not in his head” he claimed to do all that work. But it brought in a good supplementary income when there were a lot of bills to pay, huge overheads from buying land and equipment and only a regular milk cheque from the dairy herd that guaranteed a monthly source of funds.

Now, with the herd sold, John has more time to indulge his passions for shooting, fishing, carving sticks and, increasingly, beekeeping. Not only did he pick up one new swarm last week, a few days later, he had news of another. Now he is fairly sure that this swarm had come from one of his other hives, but as his indulgent wife had bought him yet another hive for his recent birthday, he had plenty of homes available for the swarm to take up residence in. To capture this swarm, we took with us an old hive with an empty brood box. The swarm was clinging to a stem of oil seed rape, so John cut this off and put it in front of the hive, thus persuading the bees to walk up the stem into their new home. Later he would add extra frames to store honey, and a queen excluder, to provide a more substantial, permanent hive.

We could not leave this hive where we found the swarm though. Whilst still in an adventurous mood, the bees, well the queen, might decide that this hive was not to her satisfaction and leave to find another. The hive had to be moved to another spot, in this case a wood whose owner was happy for John to place hives there. Especially as he had a field of beans coming into flower nearby.

But in our haste to move the hive, John had not checked every opening was secure. Now I may add that he was still wearing his protective gear, and I was not. So when the bees started to crawl out of the hive and start buzzing around angrily in the Land Rover, he was not bothered, but I was.

Luckily there were no other cars around and John could quickly pull off the road. I shot out of my seat. A small gap in the corner of the hive was quickly sealed with masking tape and hopefully the escapees returned to their old hive.