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Bushfire-affected beekeepers appeal for more access to unburnt national parks

Sarina Locke, Kelly Fuller and Jessica Clifford, Friday January 10, 2020 - 06:31 EDT
ABC image
Bees flock to one of the low level water baths Leonie Bell has set up in her Boorowa garden to help local wildlife in dry times. - ABC

Beekeepers are mounting a campaign for greater access to national parks in New South Wales after catastrophic fires destroy millions of hectares of flowering trees in regular foraging areas.

They expect it could take between five and 20 years for some flowering gums to fully recover, and to produce enough nectar and pollen to feed the bees.

Stephen Targett from the NSW Apiarists Association said thousands of hives — housing many millions of bees — had also been destroyed.

"These fires will lower NSW honey production by about 30 per cent for at least the next 10 years … and we're the largest honey-producing state in Australia," he said.

One insurer alone reported beekeepers affected by the Dunns Road fire near Tumut could have lost more than 6,000 hives.

South Australia has reported losing 3,000 hives on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills fires before Christmas.

While the beehives can be rebuilt easily, the remaining bees will be weak and hungry.

Prime forest country burnt

Mr Targett said the South Coast bushfires had a massive impact upon bees.

"Beekeepers had hives among grey ironbark [near Bermagui] when the fires came, and they worked all night to move the bees out of there to blackbutt [forests near Eden]," he said.

"Then a few nights later, they had to come and move them because that resource was getting burned as well."

Mr Targett welcomed the 60 tonnes of bee sugar that was available for apiarists in NSW to keep bees alive.

"Sugar syrup — we're supporting the Australian sugar industry — so there's a silver lining for someone," he said.

But he said more help was needed.

Almond pollination at risk

The $1 billion almond industry has joined the Honeybee Industry Council and NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall to call for access to more national parks to feed and strengthen bees for the task of pollination starting at the end of July.

"Our concern is the beekeepers who supply the pollination service and use the national parks for floral resources," Almond Board of Australia chair Neale Bennett said.

Almond growers pay more than $100 per hive for the six-week pollination and the bees need to be healthy and strong to cope with the task.

"Not only now, but any hives that are in the parks and for the future — for the regeneration of pollination sources," Mr Bennett said.

Almonds are entirely dependent on bees to do the essential cross-pollination.

The almond industry, which is now Australia's largest horticultural export, has doubled production since 2012. Last year, it produced 104,000 tonnes — worth $700 million in exports.

National picture

Honeybee Industry Council chair Peter McDonald was worried about access for bees to flowering trees nationally.

He said agriculture more broadly was reliant on honeybee pollination, which was worth $15 billion annually, with the value of honey around $120 million a year.

"In Victoria and Tasmania, access to national parks is easier with state governments recognising the important role of bees to pollination," he said.

But it is harder in NSW and Queensland.

"NSW imposes restrictions on new bee sites in national parks, while the Queensland Government has a plan afoot to remove bee sites from all national parks by 2024," Mr McDonald said.

The office of NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean has been contacted for comment.

Public appeal to gardeners

After years of drought, trees had stopped flowering in parts of the NSW South Coast.

Illawarra beekeeper David West suggested gardeners grow more flowering plants and set up bird baths for bees.

"Generally you have to fill a bowl with pebbles or sponges to make sure the bees don't drown," Mr West said.

NSW beekeepers can access free feed by calling the Agricultural and Animal Services Hotline on 1800 814 647.

And beekeepers have appealed to the public to help the best way they can.

"If people want to help us, buy Australian honey," Mr Targett said.


© ABC 2020

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