Beekeepers, Australia's "forgotten farmers", ask for national park access to tackle worst ever season

RUINS: Forests around Glen Innes and across the New England have been burned out in an unprecedented horror fire season. Picture: Tony Grant.
RUINS: Forests around Glen Innes and across the New England have been burned out in an unprecedented horror fire season. Picture: Tony Grant.

Local beekeepers have been hit so hard by bushfires the industry could take two decades to fully recover, according to the head of the industry association.

And the state's apiarists are so concerned about the loss of trees to repeated deadly bushfires, they're asking the state government to permit the industry to access national parks over winter.

Thirty year veteran beekeeper Robert Seagrave has never seen a season like it.

"It's not only been the bushfires that's been the problem, it's the ongoing drought," he said.

"Put the combination together and it's absolutely devastating.

"Some of them fires have done twenty years of damage.

"Some of that country that's been burnt, and particularly some of that heavy eucalypt country, that is predominantly national park country, some of that could not come back in our lifetime to be where it was before it started."

READ MORE:

He said the bushfires could have cost him tens of thousands of dollars in lost production.

"There was six weeks there where we shifted 60 loads of bees away from fires," said Robert Seagrave.

"Every time we'd unload them, the area we'd put them in then would catch on fire so we'd have to remove them and do them again."

Beekeepers are often "the forgotten farmers", missed during drought in the shadow of other more visible ag industries like beef cattle and sheep, he said.

But pollination is worth $14 billion to the national economy, a vital element in dozens of associated regional industries including the billion-dollar almond industry, Australia's largest horticultural export.

And the Glen Innes region is one of Australia's most significant and largest beeping regions. The industry employs probably hundreds in the New England in both direct jobs and indirectly in associated sectors. Honey itself is worth about $120 million to the Australian economy.

MORE NEWS:

NSW Apiarists' Association presidentStephen Targett said the region's super-hot fires have been a disaster for the industry. Australian trees tend to be adapted to cold burns; Mr Targett is convinced many trees will have been completely killed by the intense blazes, with fire-affected forests unlikely to produce nectar and pollen for years or even decades to come.

He estimates that over around 7000 hives have been lost across the state, with 2500 lost in the New England region alone. But that still leaves thousands more hives full of bees that will have to be fed.

"It's important that we keep alive the remaining hives until we can find alternative nectar and pollen sources for our bees which is not easy in this drought.

"That will be one of our major challenges with over four million hectares of mostly forest country burnt out that there will be minimal food sources that we can move to."

He said the choice was stark:

"Historically we haven't been allowed in national parks, but that needs to change for the beekeeping industry to survive.

"We're not being selfish here by asking for this - it's better than giving us money, because it maintains our business as viable."

Beekeepers have access to national parks in Victoria and Tasmania, but less access in Queensland and NSW.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the state government would support apiarists through the bushfire crisis. The state government has supplied more than 60 tonnes of bee sugar.

Minister for Environment Matt Kean said in a statement they appreciated the concerns raised by the Apiarists' Association.

The Parks and Wildlife Service will meet with them this week to discuss possible solutions that take into account the needs of native wildlife, which may rely on the same food sources, he said.