Bee enthusiasts in regional New South Wales say they are not surprised by new findings that have marked native bee species as endangered following the 2019—2020 bushfires.

Key points:

  • A new study has marked two native bee species as endangered and nine vulnerable after the 2019–2020 bushfires
  • Regional New South Wales enthusiasts say conservation efforts have grown over the past 10 years
  • Local farming and native plant initiatives have been touted to help survival rates in the short term

The Flinders University study found between 50 to 80 per cent of some species’ habitat had been destroyed, with two native bee species moved to the endangered list and another nine marked vulnerable.

PhD candidate James Dorey said the findings were shocking. 

“This kind of stuff isn’t going to stop happening unless we actually do something about climate change.”

About 24 million hectares of Australian land was burnt over several months, with fire predicted to have killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals. 

A fire burns in bushland, with heavy smoke coming through the trees.

24 million hectares of land is believed to have burnt in the 2019–2020 bushfires.(

Supplied: Dave McGiveron

)

Coastal bee species Leioproctus nigrofulvus and Leioproctus carinatifrons were found to be endangered according to categories set by the International Union for Conservation (IUC).

However, Mr Dorey found that out of the nine vulnerable bee species most could be found in the Upper Hunter/New England areas of New South Wales. 

“Probably most of the vulnerable species could be found around areas of Tamworth and, as the fires overlap with those regions, we’ve found their habitat to have been destroyed to at least 30 per cent,” he said.

“The bees around this region are really small, and thus nest quite shallowly, meaning they can’t escape fire as easily.

Mr Dorey hoped the findings would bring urgency to climate action talks within Australia’s federal and state governments. 

map of bee vulnerability across Australia

The study found the majority of vulnerable native bee species reside in regional areas of Australia.(

Supplied: Flinders University

)

Locals take bee conservation into their own hands

A middle aged man smiles at the camera near a large swarm of bees on Tamworth's main street.

Beekeeper Tony Bradbery says the attitude towards native bees has changed from pest to active support.(

ABC New England: Caitlin Furlong

)

New South Wales’ New England area is no stranger to bees making headlines.

Tamworth beekeeper Tony Bradbery said gone were the days where the flying honey-makers were considered a pest. 

In 2018, Mr Bradbery was called to move 30,000 bees that had taken residence in Tamworth’s main street.

“People now call beekeepers to keep them safe, instead of smoking them out.

“Bee conservation is way more popular than what people might think.”

Although native bees are more difficult to keep compared with European imports, Mr Bradbery said they had not been forgotten in apiary circles. 

“Tamworth winters are difficult to keep native bees in a hive, the honey is runny, and you get a couple of kilos of honey a year out a native compared to European honey bees that produce near to 100 kilograms,” he said.

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Bees swarm in the heart of Tamworth(ABC New England: Caitlin Furlong)

More government support needed, says bee campaigner

Outspoken activist Simon Mulvany created the Save the Bees campaign in 2014 to raise awareness of native bees and honey conservation in Australia. 

Since its inception, he had noticed a shift in messaging surrounding bee conservation.

“After last year’s bushfires, we changed our logo to the native blue bandit bee and over 2,000 people approached us instantly to support it,” Mr Mulvany said. 

“I’ve also noticed on social media, when people are talking about bee conservation, it’s majority about Australian native bees.

Mr Mulvany said, despite the public attitude, more federal and state government support was needed after the 2019–2020 bushfires. 

“Unfortunately, governments are beholden to the agricultural sectors that rely on clearing or pharmaceutical products such as pesticides, which are harmful to native bees,” he said.

“Bee conservation can’t lobby as hard as cotton or barley.

“However, I have no doubt that small-scale honey farming and people thinking about native planting can save this.”

‘Shocking’ bee habitat findings give conservationists new focus on saving the insect
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