Celebrating the buzz in May: World Bee Day and Honey Month

  • Celebrating the buzz in May: World Bee Day and Honey Month image

May is a big month for bees, where we celebrate Honey Month and World Bee Day on Monday 20 May. This month of celebration is also a call to action to safeguard and conserve the diverse species of bees crucial for the pollination of many vital Australian crops, gardens and native bush.

World Bee Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of bees and the critical role they and other pollinators play in our survival. Honey Month showcases Australian honey bees and their products while connecting with beekeepers and the essential role they play in providing Australian food.

A third of Australia’s food crops are pollinated by honey bees, resulting in faster plant growth, higher yields, and lower costs.

With over 47,900 registered beekeepers who own approximately 855,300 hives, keeping Australia’s honey bee population healthy and thriving is no easy task. Through contributions to national bee programs, pollination reliant industries, the honey bee industry, state and territory governments, the Australian government, and Plant Health Australia (PHA) aim to protect the health of Australian honey bees.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP) is an early warning system that uses a range of surveillance methods at high-risk ports throughout Australia, as these are the most likely entry points for honey bee pests and pest bees. The program is coordinated by PHA, delivered in partnership with industry and government, with funding provided by Hort Innovation, using research and development levies of 14 horticultural industries, co-investment from the Australian Honey Bee Industry Levy, Grain Producers Australia and the Australian Government, and significant in-kind contributions from state and territories.

The value and success of years of preparedness and surveillance for early detection came to fruition with two detections within sentinel hives as part of the NBPSP. In June 2022, Varroa destructor was detected in sentinel hives in Newcastle, NSW and in February 2024 a single Varroa jacobsoni mite was detected in sentinel hives in the Port of Brisbane, Queensland. This highlights years of dedicated work by government agencies and the ongoing investment by industries and government in supporting early detection projects.

“Consistent and ongoing surveillance activities are critical to ensure honey bees are safeguarded against high priority exotic pests, ensuring healthy bees are available for pollination services,” said Sarah Hilton, PHA’s Manager, Bee Biosecurity.

“Biosecurity measures ensure the honey bee industry is prepared for, and can respond to, new and emerging pest threats.”

PHA also delivers the National Bee Biosecurity Program that helps beekeepers to manage pests established pests in Australia, and to prepare them for exotic pest threats. The program supports beekeepers to comply with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice and implement best-practice biosecurity measures in their hives and apiaries. It is funded by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Levy and employs Bee Biosecurity Officers in participating jurisdictions to help beekeepers meet their biosecurity obligations and to ensure ongoing accessibility of healthy hives for pollination reliant industries.

In April this year, Australian beekeepers  participated in the second annual Bee Pest Blitz. As part of the annual campaign, all beekeepers were called on to inspect their hives for high-priority pests like varroa and tropilaelaps mites. Monitoring honey bees on a regular basis is vital to protecting them against high priority exotic pests and ensuring they are healthy to perform pollination. In doing this, beekeepers will also meet at least one of their inspection requirements, and report the results to relevant state or territory agriculture department. The focus of the campaign for 2024 was alcohol washing, with new resources such as a training video available on the campaign website.

The Bee Pest Blitz campaign aims to create awareness of exotic and established bee pests, the importance of hive inspections using nationally agreed surveillance techniques and consistent record keeping and reporting of results. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Chief Plant Biosecurity Officer, Dr Vincent Lanoiselet, said DPRID’s apiary team is busy undertaking bee pest and disease surveillance and engagement activities around Western Australia.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility, and we encourage all WA beekeepers to make their hives a sentinel hive by regularly undertaking pest specific surveillance and observations,” said Dr Lanoiselet.

If you conduct a hive inspection and suspect you have found an exotic honey bee pest or disease, save the sample, and immediately report it to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881.