Conferencing apiarists and poisoned bees

Some of you may have heard or seen reports on the recent poisoning of bees in Batemans Bay.  I heard about it the night before attending the annual meeting of the Victorian Apiarists’ Association.

Aside from my shock at such an occurrence, I worried that beekeepers I have been speaking with as part of on-going AUSCCER research might have been affected.  The research investigates human-nonhuman relations in commercial horticultural production – one part of which focuses on bees and beekeepers making honey and pollinating crops.  Last year I spent time with beekeepers who bring their bees to the Robinvale region to pollinate extensive almond orchards, and I know some of those beekeepers put their bees in the Batemans Bay area at this time of year.

At the VAA AGM I reconnected with some of those beekeepers, made new connections, and learned plenty about beekeeper concerns.  There were presentations dealing with queen breeding, disease management, biosecurity concerns with varroa mite and Asian bees, and development of web-based tools to monitor vegetation growth and toxic chemical exposures.  The presentations were informative but, as with many conferences, the most interesting conversations for me were at breaks or outside of presentations.

As people caught up with each other and discussed the coming year’s flowering patterns and activities, the situation at Batemans Bay came up frequently. Who had been affected?  Who would do such a thing?  How many hives had been lost?  It brought up stories of other bee losses – hives that had been stolen, driven over, and even shot.  As well as losses to chemicals used in orchards. When it became clear that larger beekeepers had been targeted while smaller beekeepers had been left alone, people discussed the growing difficulties of obtaining public forest sites – connecting controversies over native/exotic species, conservation mandates, and forestry management — and asymmetries in the industry.

Beekeeping is fascinating to research, particularly here in Australia, which lacks (so far at least) varroa and colony collapse disorder.  I’m looking forward to further explorations with bees and beekeepers.

My sympathies go to those beekeepers affected by the incident at Batemans Bay – one of whom I did interview last year.  It’s a deeply disturbing thing to have happened.

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