Wollongong parks to become a refuge for NSW's bushfire-affected bees

Bee refuge: Wollongong's public parks could soon house bees from around the state, which have been left without food sources due to the fires.
Bee refuge: Wollongong's public parks could soon house bees from around the state, which have been left without food sources due to the fires.

Wollongong may become a refuge for the state's beekeepers, who are facing a massive shortage of nectar and pollen sources due to the summer's widespread bushfires and ongoing drought.

On Monday, councillors unanimously supported a push from Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery to investigate how the council could open up some of its public land to out-of-area bees.

This follows a call from industry groups and amateur beekeeping associations for support to feed and care for bees and the honey industry in the wake of the fires.

"I have been told it could take between five and 20 years for some flowering gums to fully recover and produce enough nectar and pollen to feed bees,'' Cr Bradbery said.

"With our many greenspaces and gardens across the city, we are in a position to be able to work with beekeeping experts and see how we can support this essential insect now and into the future.''

Cr Bradbery said he could not reveal all of the locations being considered, as the council wanted to protect any beehives from possible damage.

However, he said they would likely be areas which did not have high public use, citing green parts of Whytes Gully Resource Recovery Centre as an example.

"Our staff will work the experts to find the best locations to place beehives,'' Cr Bradbery said

"We need to ensure we're not only offering apiarists a suitable location to set up a hive and support the feeding of bees and production of honey, but also any impact on how our community members already use and enjoy the site.''

Apiarists in bushfire affected regions say it could take 20 years to recover from the fires and ongoing drought, and have already asked the NSW Government to permit the industry to access national parks over winter.

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

Honey itself is worth about $120 million to the Australian economy.

NSW Apiarists' Association president Stephen Targett told Australian Community Media last month that super-hot fires have been a disaster for the industry.

He said many trees would 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 estimated over 7000 hives may have been lost across the state, and said thousands more hives full of bees would have to be fed on limited bushland.

"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," he said.

"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."

Wollongong council said it hopes to become an example for other councils across the state, and will write to other government agencies and encourage them to follow the city's example.

This story Wollongong's bid to become a refuge for NSW's bushfire-affected bees first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.