Bushfires bring bees to their knees
DESPITE having more than 70 years of experience between them, the last few months have pushed this pair of beekeeping brothers to the limit.
Since the Whiteman Creek bushfire in early August, Steve and Wayne Fuller have been up against it, moving bee hives about the region in a seemingly endless cycle.
The brothers own and operate Bee Services, a commercial beekeeping operation based in Clarenza which usually produces between 250 to 300 tonnes of honey each year.
But since the bushfires output has slowed to a trickle.
“So far (this financial year) we are up to 20 tonne and we won’t go much more,” Wayne Fuller said.
“If we were to get another 10 tonne we would be extremely lucky.”
Wayne said initially they were successful in dodging the multiple firefronts, relocating hundreds of hives around the region, before disaster struck.
“It finally caught us at Glenelgin – we lost 1000 hives,” he said.
“It has tested me, with 40 odd years of beekeeping, I have never seen a year like it; some hives have been moved seven times.
“We have trucks that would only do an average of 10,000 kms a year with 40,000 kms on them becuase they have been bees on them that many times.”
Despite the mammoth effort to protect their bees from fire, the combined effects of heat, smoke and stress had meant many of the bees had simply stopped working.
Their primary focus was now keeping what was left of their animals alive, which is where their years of experience in the industry came in handy.
The pair had created a protein supplement mix for the bees to feast on as they filled their Clarenza property up with the rescued hives.
“People think it is not costing us because we are not producing. It is actually costing us more,” Steve Fuller said
“The thing is, we haven’t been in this job five minutes and if we are having difficulties what must it be like for others.
“It is a struggle. And we scratch our heads and look at each other and go ‘what can we try?’ and we go and try something else.”
Even now the fires had been extinguished, the vast swathes of burnt out land meant there was an added pressure on the business to plan carefully for the next few years.
The pair expressed dismay at the intensity of the fire events, with both concerned their capacity to bounce back could be hampered by bushland that may never be the same.
“Most of our eucalypts can handle high temperatures but these fires are that bad now those trees are actually dead,” Steve said.
Wayne agreed. “There are whole hillsides that have not showed any sign of growth, nothing on the ground even,” he said.
“The reality is some of these places are not going to come back that quick and some of these places won’t come back in my lifetime of beekeeping.”
Of their roughly 600 set down locations 540 of them had been destroyed, meaning they would look further afield for a place to put their bees, a situation made more complicated by other apiarists and Forestry Corp competing for land.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is we are farmers without land. We use State Forests and we pay for it,” Steve said.
“But we are also competing with logging companies and they are not letting the logging companies in (to burnt forests) for six months. ”
“So now they are going onto unburnt land – where we have bees that are producing a small amount of honey to stay alive – and they are logging it.”
But they certainly did not begrudge any of their competitors, with Wayne acknowledging all industries would be struggling under the circumstance and the priority was protecting jobs in the region.
In the long term the pair were focused on doing whatever they could to ensure the survival of their bees, the company and their five full-time staff.