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SA hobby beekeepers BEEing proactive 07 Sep 2015

One of the biggest risks when an exotic pest reaches Australia is that no-one notices, allowing it to spread and making it harder to eradicate once it is detected. 

In Adelaide, hobby beekeepers are joining forces with government and industry to take a frontline role in surveillance to keep the honey and pollination industry safe and protect our food production.

They’re becoming an integral part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP), boosting the effectiveness of efforts to detect bee pests such as Varroa mite far beyond what could be achieved through government funding alone. 

NBPSP facilitator Sam Malfroy, of Plant Health Australia (PHA), says it’s an essential partnership.

“We know that ports present a significant risk of being an entry point for bee pests and pest bees, but we simply don’t have the resources to have government apiary officers at every port conducting surveillance 24/7; and there are many other potential entry points as well,” Mr Malfroy said.

“By working with hobby (and professional) beekeepers we can cover a lot more ground, and ensure that many more hives are regularly checked for signs of unwanted visitors.

“Varroa has the potential to wipe out a significant proportion of both managed bee colonies and feral European honey bees which provide free pollination services to agriculture and horticulture, so it’s a key focus for our volunteers.”

Trials were successfully carried out in Melbourne and Geelong, where beekeepers are still providing assistance, and South Australia is the first state to sign up as the system is rolled out around the country.

The Adelaide Bee Sanctuary is amongst those involved, with convenor Sandra Ullrich and ambassador, chef Simon Bryant, recognising the importance of bees to the community and food production.

“We now have three hives as part of the surveillance program, after going through the training sessions on how to check for Varroa and other pests,” Ms Ullrich said. 

“We conduct surveillance on our hives at frequent intervals - every couple of months - and then send the information to the Department of Primary Industries about what we find.

“I’ve heard that Varroa was in New Zealand for years before it was first discovered, which made it too late for industry and government to try and eradicate the pest. I’d hate for that to happen here as we all need to understand the value of bees in both urban and rural communities, and protect them wherever we can.” 

Mr Malfroy said biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility – government, agricultural industries and the community. This program is a perfect example of a partnership approach amongst all sectors to keep exotic pests, such as Varroa, out of Australia. 

For details on the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, visit nbpsp.planthealthaustralia.com.au