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Thief buzzes off with North Vancouver church's bees

Who steals bees? The congregation at St. Andrew's United Church would like that question answered after a sticky-fingered bandit stole their hive, bees and all
Eric Bolsch, professional apiarist with the urban beekeeping firm Alvéole, shows off a healthy hive of bees at St. Andrew’s United Church in North Vancouver. The hive was stolen on Sept. 27, 2023. | Courtesy of Judith Hardcastle

Usually, the first thing Rev. Judith Hardcastle does when she arrives at St. Andrew’s United Church in the morning is check in on her bees.

In 2021, the environmentally conscious congregation was concerned about the falling populations of pollinator species like European honeybees, so they paid to have a hive installed on the church grounds.

But, sometime on Wednesday morning or early afternoon, someone buzzed off with the hive, bees and all.

“I said, I better go have a look and, OMG, they’re gone,” Hardcastle said. “When I went and looked at it, I felt sorry for the three or four bees that were sort of going around in circles trying to find a missing hive.”

Hardcastle reported the bad beehiviour to the North Vancouver RCMP, and a constable made a bee-line for the church. The officer combed the area for surveillance images or witnesses, and did a cruise around the neighbourhood looking for a ditched hive.

Hardcastle said they’ve mostly only had positive comments and interactions with the community since the bees arrived. Understandably perplexed, Hardcastle said she doesn’t have any solid theories on who would want to steal the church’s busy bees.

“Our congregation loves the bees. I haven’t broken the news yet. It’s really funny what people get behind. Our little, gentle Italian bees were really, really very beloved here,” she said. “Why would someone take them?”

If the thief was upset about the rising cost of honey, they were too late, Hardcastle said, as the congregation had already harvested and bottled the honey so it can be sold as a church fundraiser for upkeep of the hive.

“It’s very good honey, actually,” she said.

Hardcastle said she later spoke with a manager at Alvéole, the company who provided the hive, who speculated it may have been an unscrupulous beekeeper looking to boost their own apiary

More than anything, Hardcastle said she’d like the hive back and for the congregation to keep their bees. A professional apiarist from Alvéole had been to the site the week before to start preparing the colony for their winter hibernation, but the sticky-fingered thief might not know what they’re doing, Hardcastle said.

“If someone’s just taking it for a laugh, they’re not going to know what to do with the bees and the bees are going to die, obviously,” she said. “The hive has to be insulated for the winter.”

North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson Const. Mansoor Sahak said it is “a very unusual case.”

“In my six years of policing in North Van, I’ve never really come across somebody just stealing a beehive,” he said.

“It’s quite hard to track down the perpetrator in this case when we don’t have any evidence or any leads. If anybody does have any information about the stolen beehive, they can certainly call us. Maybe we can set up a sting.”

Anyone who spots an out-of-place hive with an Alvéole logo on the side should report it to the police.

In the meantime, Hardcastle has asked Alvéole for a replacement.

“We are going to get another one, but he’s going to chain it to the railing,” she said with an exasperated laugh. “Oh dear.”

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