Beekeepers face new hardships as state burns

Bees lost in bushfires, suffering in smoke

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NEW THREATS: Bushfires have meant apiarists are now dealing with road closures, forest and national park closures, and polluted air. Photo: Simon McCarthy

NEW THREATS: Bushfires have meant apiarists are now dealing with road closures, forest and national park closures, and polluted air. Photo: Simon McCarthy

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'The fires got to his bees seven days later and burnt them all out.'

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BUSHFIRES and smoke are presenting new and sometimes devastating conditions for beekeepers on top of the worst drought some have known.

Tending to some of the world's smallest yet most vital livestock, many apiarists have already spent years dealing with shrinking sources of flower and pollen, the travel needed to relocate and visit hives in better areas, and the cost of feeding.

In recent weeks, they've also been facing road closures, adding up to several hours to trips, and being unable to get to their bees during fire-related forest or road lockouts.

NSW Apiarists Association president, Stephen Targett, said one Grafton area member had lost 800 hives after being barred from collecting them due to bushfire threat.

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"The road was closed and the beekeeper did the right thing and respected that; the fire was 60km away but they wouldn't let him get in ... he probably needed three hours," Mr Targett said.

"The fires got to his bees seven days later and burnt them all out."

The NSW Apiarists Association recently wrote to members sympthasing but warning that "police are frustrated with beekeepers ignoring road closed signs" and would "take action" if it continued.

"This is a stressful time for beekeepers who have apiaries in the potential fire path [but] emergency services including police have a duty of care to safeguard the public and that includes beekeepers."

Tamworth branch president Ray Hull said "most of the boys here got their bees out in time and fairly safe", but drought, fire and poor air quality were hitting hard.

"The drought has been biting fairly hard and if it hasn't flowered, it's been burnt to cinders; fires everywhere," he said.

The region's smoky air had made bees "a little bit crankier" and apiarists' job harder.

"It delays everything ... I tend to try not to work them when they're like this: putting queens in, taking honey off, adding supers [boxes]."

Nemingha's Tony Eden, of Australian Bush Honey, said smoke heavy in the air made it "pretty hard going".

"Some days [bees] don't come out of the hive, they're just sitting if it's hot and smoky, we've noticed that.

"But the underlying drought itself is the biggest cause for concern. If we don't have moisture, we don't have flowers, we don't have nectar, we don't have pollen."

Mr Eden said he'd been wearing a full respirator at times.

"That's pretty horrible in the heat - especially on the coast if there's high humidity - [but] I think you've got to protect yourself as best you can."

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