Encouraging bee population growth is vital to New Zealand’s ecosystem
By Ali Frazer, September 2018.
Last year, there were nearly 800,000 registered bee hives in New Zealand, a 15% increase from 2016. This is great news for us, since bees directly contribute $271 million per year to the economy, as well as contributing over $4 billion to the dairy and horticultural industries through pollination - but on top of that, bees have a huge role in New Zealand’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, our native bee populations are under threat both from man-made pollutants and pesticides as well as disease. You can help the bees and the environment with some changes to the plants and setup of your garden.
Beekeeping: Profitable And Environmentally Sound
If you have the space in your garden and want to make some extra money (and have some fresh honey in the house), you might want to consider beekeeping. New Zealand’s honey bees are not only hugely profitable, they’re also nitrogen fixers, meaning they help combat air pollution. There are a variety of bee hives on the market, most suitable for novices, and by keeping bees, you’re helping protect them from environmental threats like disease.
For example, the Varroa mite arrived in New Zealand in 2000, and has since become too widespread to be feasibly able to eradicate - but beekeepers around the country are now capable of managing the mite and protecting their hives. Human-curated hives are also easier to protect from pesticides and other man-made threats because they are much more easily portable. And, of course, there’s the bonus for you: honey, beeswax, and some product to sell. By keeping bees, you’re not only doing yourself a favour, you’re helping out the environment.
Cultivating Native Bees: How To Plant The Right Flowers
While keeping honey bees is relatively easy, they’re not native to New Zealand - meaning that they’re in direct competition with our native bee species. None of the 28 species of bees native to the island produce honey, rendering them less profitable than the farmed honey bee, but they remain vital to New Zealand’s ecosystem. As many as 224 plant species depend on native bee species to pollinate them, but they can be disrupted by the more social and aggressive honey bee.
In order to encourage native bees, consider using your garden to cultivate indigenous plants that will attract the less social New Zealand bees: if you can identify the plants that grow wild in your area, that’s a good start. Some trees can also help the native bee populations, like the weeping willow or apple and pear trees. If you want to plant flowers, try flaxes, ngaio, and kohuhu.
Changes from the government could be coming in terms of beekeeping practices - some are advocating for the construction of bee hives on conservation land, but the Department of Conservation remains hesitant, as having bees on conservation land isn’t the best option environmentally. However, individuals can and should make their own contributions to the environment: while keeping bees can be prohibitively expensive for some, planting bee-attracting flora is a great step in helping our native bees. If you’re able, commercial or amateur beekeeping is both rewarding and reinvigorates the surrounding ecosystem.