A swarm of honey bees provoked a gold-rush in Addiscombe last week as keepers swooped to cash in on the valuable insects.

Thousands of bees buzzed into Bingham Road on Thursday morning before settling in a tree and forming a cone shape around their queen, while others scouted for a suitable cavity to make a hive.

A honey-producing hive can be worth up to £500, so by Friday evening three beekeepers had arrived to cash in. Two of them were pipped to the post by an opportunist installing a shower in the area.

Resident John Henthorne said: “A chap parked his van under the tree, so I shot out to warn him about the bees. He had gone to deliver a shower unit, turns out he was a beekeeper.

“He got the swarm on to the ground, set a basket for them to go to, and went to install the shower.

“When he finished his job he rounded up the stragglers, loaded up and drove off.

“Another vehicle arrived with a view to scooping up the floored bees, but drove away when he realised the bees were guarded.”

Later that evening Colin Marshall, an experienced beekeeper from the Croydon Beekeepers’ Association, arrived to collect the insects but they had already been taken.

He said: “Bees navigate by the sun so the best time to collect them is at night.

“I usually put a box under the tree and bash the branch so the cone falls into it. As long as the queen is in the box, all the other bees will gravitate to it.”

The world’s bee population has been in serious decline for years after diseases and parasitic mites infested hives, and extreme weather put the insects in danger.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has launched a campaign to protect the insects.

He is calling on Londoners to help support the capital's bee population.

Posters made by creative team LIDA use dead bees to promote the campaign across the capital.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: "I want London to boast a great quality of life making it an attractive place to live, work and visit.

"Protection of our environment is an important part of this. My 'bee-friendly' pledge as Mayor is to zealously safeguard our city's green spaces.

"Through Capital Growth, we aim to create 2012 community food growing spaces in London by 2012 which will provide nectar-rich plants for bees.

"As part of this, we are supporting the development of 50 new community bee hives across London to create sanctuaries for the urban bee." Winners of the Capital Growth bee competition will create 50 community hives.

Groups are attending bee-training sessions before being given hives, equipment and a spring bee colony next year.

For more information go to website www.capitalgrowth.org/bees/