In the face of the increasing Asian honeybee threat, The Milk Moustache’s Katelin Meredith explores the world of Urban Rooftop Beekeeping. Thriving in other parts of the world like Paris, London and New York, the innovative concept has the potential to secure our nations food source, according to experts.

Follow Katelin as she explores the explosion of this phenomenon in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Judy Eslick: Hello?

Michael Harvey: Judy?

Judy Eslick: Yes.

Michael Harvey: It’s Michael Harvey from the beekeepers. How are you?

VO: Michael Harvey is the manager of the Illawarra Beekeepers Association. Armed with nothing but an empty beehive, Michael was heading to catch a feral bee swarm attached to Judy Eslick’s tree.

Judy Eslick: So, what did you say Michael, the queen’s in the middle there somewhere?

Michael Harvey: She’ll be right in the middle, sort of just up under the branch, right in the middle of all them.

Judy Eslick: So they will follow in there with her?

Michael Harvey: They will go wherever she tells them to go.

Judy Eslick: Typical female isn’t it?

VO: With a diameter the size of a soccer ball, Michael climbed up a ladder, positioning himself as close as possible to the swarm, hoping to move them into their new home carefully.

Judy Eslick: Ahhhhh, one just bit me on the head. Now what happens?

VO: Back safely at headquarters, Michael is very concerned with the growing problems our little insect friends are facing.

Michael Harvey: In the last ten years, there’s been a 30 per cent decrease in pollinating honeybees. They represent the pollination of 80 per cent of all our eaten crops, so it poses a big problem in the way of basically food production for the humans. As their numbers dwindle, so does the possibility of constantly pollinating edible crops.

VO: With more than two thirds of Australian industries relying on honeybees for their survival, catching a feral bee swarm, to someone like Michael, brings optimism.

Michael Harvey: Everyone just sort of thinks oh, a beehive is honey, but it’s not. If you start looking at cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and medications and chemical companies and things like that, if all of a sudden you start taking that away…

VO: In the face of the increasing Asian honeybee threat, beekeepers alike are worried for not only their bees, but also the effect this will have on us. Australian pollination is under threat as this Asian honeybee is a lot more aggressive than other bees, and collects a lot less pollen.

Doug Purdie is an Inner Sydney Beekeeper, and understands just how severe the threat of what’s been dubbed the ‘winged cane toad’ is to all Australians.

Doug Purdie: Australia has a new issue that has come up in the last few months, which is ‘apis cerana’, the Asian honeybee. Now it is spreading quite rapidly, and that’s a huge risk to agriculture, and a huge risk to beekeeping. In the Solomon Islands, for example, within 12 months it wiped out all the honeybee populations on the whole of the island, so it’s a huge risk for us here.

VO: In light of this issue, there may now be a way to combat the many threats to the honeybee.

Vanessa Kwaitkowski and her partner, Mat Lumalasi, have recently brought the innovative idea of rooftop beekeeping to inner city Melbourne. Thriving in other parts of the world like Paris, London and New York, rooftop beekeeping has the potential to stabilise our food chain in the face of the Asian honeybee threat.

Vanessa Kwaitkowski: My partner and I started it out as a hobby project, but basically it was one of those moments. I woke up one morning and said lets take our bees to the city; lets put hives on rooftops and cafes.

VO: According to Vanessa, one in every three mouthfuls of food has been pollinated by honeybees, and with our nations food security under threat, there’s no time for complacency.

Vanessa Kwaitkowski: There’re so many reasons why we wanted to start this, but one of the other reasons was that there was a real growing concern for where your food comes from. A lot of people out there, as crazy as it seems, don’t actually know where their food comes from.

VO: Like Vanessa and Mat, Doug has also brought rooftop beekeeping to Sydney, with hives currently all over the city.

Doug Purdie: The aim of the project is to bring bees into urban areas to help with pollination. I’ve been working on it for about 12 months, but it’s only really in the last couple of months that it’s starting to take off, where people are starting to get it, and more and more people are interested in it and understand the problems and are ringing me and saying, ‘Hey, well why don’t you put one on my roof?’

VO: Doug believes this interest has the potential to create a greater social acceptance of bees in an urban setting.

Doug Purdie: I got contacted by a pest controller last week and he said to me, the pest controller, ‘I’d much rather you come along and take them than me kill them, because we need bees’. And you know, when pest controllers are talking like that, there’s been a shift in people’s mindsets.

VO: According to Michael, rooftop beekeeping is slowly gathering momentum. It’s all about continuing to break down the stigma of keeping bees.

Michael Harvey: it’s surprising how little people know about bees. They know they shouldn’t kill them, they know that they make honey, they know they pollinate flowers, but they don’t know why and what they do and their role. So as we get that education out there, people will become more involved.

VO: While the momentum of rooftop beekeeping is increasing rapidly, Michael is still concerned for our future here in Australia.

Michael Harvey: We do need to keep this hobby going for the sake of the bees and us. They think there’s a famine now, which a lot of people are suffering from. If we’ve got no bees, even well developed countries will feel that

VO: This is Katelin Meredith for The Milk Moustache.


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