FAQ's

Why is the leatherwood so important to the agricultural industry in Tasmania?

In Tasmania the winters are cold and that  puts stress on the bee population. The leatherwood flowers in December and gives the bees the only good quality nutritional supplement before the winter sets in. This keeps the bees strong and healthy and enables the hives to be used for pollination.

It seems that the beekeepers are looking for government handouts and industry protection, why can't the beekeeping industry find a way forward without using these methods?

All industries in most western countries get some form ofgovernment handout - be it directly, like the wood fibre industry inTasmania which has had millions of dollars poured into it to prop it up,and/or indirectly, in the form of government provided infrastructureand development.

We believe that people should be informed about what they aresubsidising through their taxes and be able to make appropriate choices.We feel that government investment in forests for beekeeping is a worthy cause which will not be a burden on the public purse.

I heard that clear felling and burning will actually be reduced under the Community Forest Agreement. Won't that help beekeepers?

The seductive sophistry of government propaganda! The proposedreduction in clear felling and burning whilst loudly trumpeted as thesolution to all ills, is really just a switch to partial clear fellingand burning. Partial clear felling and burning (or aggregated retention)means that up to 30% of the area that used to be completely clearfelled and burnt will be left alone.

Whilst this is welcome, it should be remembered that the devil isusually in the detail and the detail is that beekeepers (along withother forest users) have no formal involvement in the forest planningsystem. This means that beekeepers have no say over what part of thelogging area will be retained and no right of appeal if their interestsare being ignored (as they have been all too often in the past).

This measure will only have some benefit if beekeepers areformally involved in both the forest planning and forest practicessystem as has been proposed in our solution: the Leatherwood ManagementCode.

We've heard that the Government is working hard with beekeepers to find new areas of Leatherwood and build access roads using money from the Community Forest Agreement. Why aren't beekeepers happy with that?

Beekeepers are always happy to find new areas of Leatherwood thattheir bees can access. However this solution, which has been proposedmany times before, ducks the really hard issue of coexistence betweenbeekeeping and wood fibre production - also known as multiple use.Multiple use has been a failure in Tasmania because the regulations andpolitical influence are always with the wood fibre industry - leavingother users like beekeepers well and truly in the lurch. Multiple usemanagement must be introduced because in southern Tasmania and someareas of the NW, there simply aren’t any significant areas ofLeatherwood to open up - so this solution isn’t a solution at all.

At present there is no chance of multiple use management becausebeekeepers and other forest users have no formal involvement in theforest planning process. This means that they cannot appeal decisionsand there are no forest practices regulations (apart from one claytonsregulation regarding class 4 streams) governing Leatherwood. What’sworse is that Forestry Tasmania, the agency charged with multiple useforest planning, has refused to consider such formal involvement.

Ive heard that there are n-times 100 000ha of leatherwood-bearing forest in reserves in Tasmania. Why can't the beekeepers use that?

Firstly, the map that these figures are based on is a prediction.It’s a map of where leatherwood might be, not necessarily where it is.(The map has major deficiencies, well known to those who like to quotesuch figures.) Secondly, leatherwood is only useful to bees if it iswithin 3km of a road that will support truck access so that thebeekeeper can bring in the hives, which weigh between 30-50kg each, andtake out the honey boxes. Most of the leatherwood in reserves cannot beaccessed in this way and might as well be on the moon for all the use itis to beekeepers.

Why cant you feed the bees sugar syrup (carbohydrates) and pollen substitutes (protein) to make up for the loss of the leatherwood nectar resources?

Sugar syrup and pollen substitutes for bees are like take-awayfood for humans. Inadequate protein and refined carbohydrates causevarious digestive problems for bees, just as they do in humans. A poordiet affects the bees' size, ability to work and decreases theirresistance to disease, again just as in humans.

Bees under quarantine conditions are kept on such diets. We askedthe very experienced quarantine beekeeper Bruce White from NSWAgriculture to comment on whether it is possible to keep bees alive forpollination on such a diet. Not surprisingly, he said that it is notpossible. Again, you'd also have to ask how sensible such a move wouldbe when you have a 'God-given' leatherwood nectar resource already inplace.

Why do beekeepers need to be involved in forestry once more

Its important for beekeepers to be able to manage the Leatherwood reserves in Tasmania so that they can provide long term sustainable resources for the bee industry in Tasmania.

If the leatherwood is so valuable, then why don't the beekeepers pay the loggers or anyone else responsible for destroying habitat not to destroy it?

In essence, the beekeeping industry is too small and theregulations and political influence of the wood fibre industry don’tallow it.

The beekeeping industry directly provides jobs and investmentunderlying around $4 million per annum honey production and supports thejobs and investment in over $200 million per annum of fruit and seedcrops through honeybee pollination. 

Unlike the wood fibre industry, which has yet to prove itssustainability beyond the second planting (or rotation), these benefitscan be delivered forever.

However the wood fibre industry says that it is delivering over$1 billion per annum to the Tasmanian economy. Despite some doubts aboutthis figure, the economic clout of the wood fibre industry is clearlymuch bigger than the beekeeping industry.

This clout has brought about a system of regulations andpolitical influence which support the wood fibre industry to thedisadvantage of industries like beekeeping.

Just how much honey does accessible Leatherwood in Tasmania's forests produce and why isn't there enough for the beekeepers and their bees?

In one study of 5 commercial sites in NW Tasmania, the yields ofLeatherwood honey ranged from 1.7 tonnes to 7 tonnes in good climaticconditions (Stephen Mallick’s PhD thesis).

However these yields were typically obtained from between 100 and 300 hectares of patchy Leatherwood forest around these sites.

You can see why beekeepers are concerned when Forestry Tasmaniaclear fell and burn areas near hive sites of up to 50 hectares at a time- especially in southern Tasmania where the Leatherwood trees are morelikely to be an understorey in eucalypts.

The yields show that the potential is there for a good return toTasmania, its beekeepers and the fruit and seed crop industries thatrely on honeybee pollination - without destroying the forest.

Why cant we simply plant leatherwoods plantation style to provide leatherwood honey and meet the demand for honeybee pollination?

Forestry Tasmania conducted research on this very question usingseed collected by the beekeepers. The results (reported in a paper byJohn Hickey and Mark Neyland in TasForests, 1990) showed thatgermination from stored seed was poor and that the seedlings neededexpensive protection from browsing animals. You'd also have to ask howsensible such a move would be when you have a ‘God-given’ leatherwoodnectar resource (with its supporting ecosystem) already in place andcrying out for real multiple-use management. Forestry Tasmania’sresearch proves that God does leatherwood plantations best.

Weve heard that European bees are not native to Tasmania and that they may compete with other nectar-eating fauna. What research has been done to prove that European bees aren't damaging the Tasmanian environment?

The European honeybee was introduced to Tasmania in the 1830s.Since that time it has spread to all areas of the island. Dr StephenMallick from the University of Tasmania recently undertook an extensivefour-year study and found that the European honeybee had little or noaffect on the numbers and habits of other species that rely on theTasmanian leatherwood for their nectar supply. If this soundsincredible, you may be interested to know that the Tasmanian leatherwoodis an extremely prolific nectar producer. Flowers have actually beenknown to drip nectar.

The main reason for this prolific production is the fickleweather conditions related to Tasmania’s position in the roaring 40s.Lots of nectar seems to be the leatherwood’s way of making sure that itcan attract pollinators and set seed, thereby ensuring its survival. TheEuropean honeybee is now the primary pollinator of the leatherwood. Itdoes not damage the leatherwood blossom and is not anti-social to otherinsects collecting the nectar.

Couldnt pollination hives be brought in from the mainland to overcome shortfalls in the number of hives available for pollination in Tasmania?

No. Mainland Australia has a hive parasite called ’small hivebeetle' that destroys combs and makes a terrible mess. We don’t have ithere in Tasmania and we obviously don’t want it either. There are alwaysquarantine risks associated with the movement of livestock betweenTasmania and mainland Australia – why should we take these risks when achange in forest policy and forest management could provide what thelocal beekeepers need to keep their hives alive?

How do beekeepers in other parts of Australia manage without leatherwood?

Beekeepers in mainland Australia rely on eucalypts for theirhoney flows. They have approximately 300 different species of eucalyptavailable and can travel long distances (often interstate) betweencommercial stands to obtain these flows. Tasmania has just 27 differentspecies of eucalypt, all of which flower unreliably (e.g. the TasmanianBlue Gum flowers once every two to four years).

Tasmania also has a distinct winter and fairly fickle weatherconditions. The best weather conditions usually occur when theleatherwood flowers (January-March). Outside that period hives have beenknown to starve because the bees cannot leave the hive to collect thenectar.

We keep hearing reports about the beekeepers and their fight to secure the remnants of the accessible leatherwood forests, is the situation really that bad?

It is dire. Most commercial beekeepers in Southern Tasmania(where the majority of pollination is required) have left the Southernforests because clear felling and burning have severely depleted theaccessible leatherwood forest. The last piece of accessible leatherwoodleft to commercial beekeepers is in an area near Lake Gordon, known asthe Wedge. Forestry Tasmania is cable-logging this area and destroyingthe leatherwood-rich forests as you read this. Over the next three yearssites for some 450 hives will be lost as a result of this logging.

How do beekeepers in other parts of Australia manage without leatherwood?

Beekeepers in mainland Australia rely on eucalypts for their honey flows. They have approximately 300 different species of eucalypt available and can travel long distances (often interstate) between commercial stands to obtain these flows. Tasmania has just 27 different species of eucalypt, all of which flower unreliably (e.g. the Tasmanian Blue Gum flowers once every two to four years).

Tasmania also has a distinct winter and fairly fickle weather conditions. The best weather conditions usually occur when the leatherwood flowers (January-March). Outside that period hives have been known to starve because the bees cannot leave the hive to collect the nectar.

How do beekeepers in other parts of Australia manage without leatherwood?

Beekeepers in mainland Australia rely on eucalypts for their honey flows. They have approximately 300 different species of eucalypt available and can travel long distances (often interstate) between commercial stands to obtain these flows. Tasmania has just 27 different species of eucalypt, all of which flower unreliably (e.g. the Tasmanian Blue Gum flowers once every two to four years).

Tasmania also has a distinct winter and fairly fickle weather conditions. The best weather conditions usually occur when the leatherwood flowers (January-March). Outside that period hives have been known to starve because the bees cannot leave the hive to collect the nectar.

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