A pensioner had 90,000 bees stolen by raiders who built a bridge to reach his hives.
They carried them half-a-mile across muddy fields to a getaway vehicle after blocking entrances to save getting stung by the swarm.
Owner Ken Gillman, 83, said: “They knew what they were doing and may have a customer lined up for the hives. This was a professional job and has never happened to me before.
“If you don’t know how to block them in, they would get upset by the movement and would start stinging you. There’s an awful lot to know about bee-keeping.
“If people are setting up hives or offering them for sale, the police need to know about it.”
The thieves cut a hole in barbed wire fencing and lay corrugated sheeting over a brook to take three hives at Smalley. The bridge was left in place and Mr Gillman fears they plan to return for the remaining eight hives.
Each hive contained about 30,000 worker bees and one queen. Honey was left inside for them to eat during the winter before the first crocus break out of the ground and provide pollen.
The hives cannot be seen from nearby roads but Mr Gillman said all UK hives can be located using Google. A friend carried out tests and Mr Gillman’s remaining hives could be seen on an internet map. He checked the hives just before Christmas and returned to find the theft last week.
Grandfather Mr Gillman, who has followed the hobby for 43 years, takes the hives to the Peak District for eight weeks every summer. This enables the worker bees to collect honey from heather across the the moors.
“I tried to teach my grandson all about it but the bees began to swarm around him and he never came back,” said Mr Gillman, who lives in Oakwood, Derby. He is a leading beekeeper and supplies honey to shops and friends.
He used to be in charge of drains owned by Derby city council.
Derbyshire police said: “We are keen to be told about anyone offering hives for sale. These are unusual objects to steal.” Anyone with information is asked to call the force by dialling 101. Free and anonymous calls can be made to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.