Why Leatherwood is crucial to commercial Beekeeping in Tasmania

The Facts

Leatherwood is an under story tree found inthe rainforests and wet eucalypt forests of Tasmania. It produces a wonderfulunique honey, which is regarded as one of the finest in the world.

OnlyReliable nectar Resource

Leatherwood is the only resource in theTasmanian forest guaranteed to flower every year.  It begins flowering around the beginning ofJanuary when the other plants in Tasmania’s flowering sequence have finished,and continues to the end of March.

NoLeatherwood No Industry

Without Leatherwood, commercial beekeepingin Tasmania will be unsustainable. Beekeepers are unable to remove the crop onthe hives at the beginning of January because the bees need sufficient stores tocarry them through the winter to around the beginning of September.

Leatherwooda Commercial Asset

If beekeepers have Leatherwood to moveonto, they can remove the first honey crop at the beginning of January. Theyget another two ‘takes’ of Leatherwood and the bees still have sufficientstores to enable them to survive the winter. [from end of March till beginningof September].

LandGrab

The best Leatherwood nectar resource tendsto be in the most sheltered & fertile areas, hence Forestry Tasmania's predilectionfor clear felling & wood chipping our resource. Forestry Tasmania has clearfelled & burnt areas rich in Leatherwood that have little or no eucalyptresource, just to put them under plantation.

Whereis the accessible Leatherwood ?

Most of the accessible Leatherwood,[accessible is the key word as bees need to be within 3kms of a nectar sourcein order to be able to harvest it economically] is on Crown Land managed byForestry Tasmania.  Leatherwood trees needto be 70 years plus to produce a regular supply of nectar.

Howmuch is beekeeping worth to Tasmania?

We all consider the beekeeping industry tobe iconic of the states clean & green image. At the moment the beekeepingindustry contributes in excess of $5M to the economy in terms of honey production.However we could contribute much more than that if the Leatherwood resource hadbeen given equal importance with the timber industry and protectedintelligently. This figure does not include the value of pollination to theagricultural, horticultural  and seedproduction industries which contribute in excess of $350M annually to thestates economy.  This is based only onthe returns to the growers and does not take into account the flow on affectsto other segments of the economy.

Whatabout the RFA?

TheRFA says that Forestry Tasmania must enhance & develop the beekeepingindustry. [Ref: clause 74 page 22 & clause 29 attachment 12]. Despite this,Forestry Tasmania has failed to do this & has destroyed large areas of thisunique [to the world] Leatherwood resource.

Whatabout the forest practices code?  

The forest practices code states that class4 streams should be machinery exclusion zones & that class 4 streams richin Leatherwood must be retained. [ref page 57 forest practices code 2000] howeverthese class4 streams have been and are still being clear felled by outdatedcable harvesting methods. There is plenty of room for both industries. ForestryTasmania and the beekeepers are now cooperating to ensure that most of thesurviving Leatherwood is retained in areas where timber harvesting takes place.In one area in the Derwent District of State Forest containing substantialstands of mature Leatherwood trees this has resulted in coupe boundaries beingdrawn to avoid destroying this resource. This change in coupe planning andharvesting practise is an important development and should now be applied statewide without exception. However it is already too late to have much impact inthe Huon District where close to 80% of the Leatherwood resource has been destroyed.

With more wisdom from Government and a morebalanced approach to timber harvesting, a more equitable balance could beachieved. We all would do well to heed Albert Einstein who is reputed to have said‘if bees were to disappear we would only have a few years to live’

Pollination

Without commercial beekeepers to pollinatecrops, the expanding horticultural industry [apricots, cherries, pome fruit,strawberries, raspberries etc. & seed producers- brassicas, onions, cloveretc.] will suffer greatly reduced production. This will severely impact on thegovernment’s current State of Growth Plans of 2014 to increase tenfold agricultural production by 2050.double agricultural production over the coming 5years. In fact 70% of all our Tasmanian grown food supply relies onthe honey bee for production through pollination. This says nothing about theincrease in honey bee pollination services required to ensure the sources ofexpanded agricultural and horticultural production arising from the state irrigationschemes under construction.

There is already a shortage of hives forpollination, and at time of writing [2014] only 30% of the recently plantedcherry orchards are mature enough to require pollination.

A hidden consequence of the destruction ofthe Leatherwood resource is the age of beekeeper, many are over 60, some are intheir 80’s. Without a secure resource the industry is unable to attract youngermembers, essential for its survival. Existing beekeepers are un willing toinvest large amounts of capital to expand their business. Hence the shortage ofhives available for pollination can only be exacerbated over the coming years.