Native honey industry beekeepers say prescribed burns leave forests with less frequent flowering

07 May 2019

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AUSTRALIA – Commercial beekeepers in Western Australia say damage to honey grounds from prescribed burns is having a “profound” impact on the state’s lucrative native honey industry and will devastate bee populations if nothing changes.

Each winter the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions burns land in a bid to decrease fuel loads for the summer bushfire season.

In Western Australia, the State Government has a target to burn 200,000 hectares each year and some stakeholders want that number to increase.

But the commercial honey industry is making a desperate plea to government to reduce the prescribed-burn program as they struggle to find productive sites for honey production.

In state forest in Northcliffe, one of WA’s biggest commercial beekeepers, Mike Spurge, is at work extracting the honey from his hives.

Mr Spurge is a second-generation beekeeper, and has been in the honey industry his whole life.

He described the recent prices for Australian honey abroad as “a new golden era”, but as the price skyrockets, Mr Spurge said productivity was crumbling.

He and many other beekeepers blame prescribed burns for the forests’ less frequent and out-of-pattern flowering.

“As beekeepers we observe constantly, we live and work in the bush, and we see difference in the forest constantly,” he said.

Costing ‘hundreds of thousands’ of dollars

Demand for jarrah honey and its antimicrobial properties has pushed prices from about $5 a kilo to as much as $40, but last year 30 per cent of the jarrah honey grounds were destroyed by fires, according to beekeepers.

Mr Spurge said in recent years he has had to double his hives in order to get the same amount of honey.

“We have to have more staff employed, more vehicles, more transporting the hives to get less honey,” he said.

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