Honey bees are under attack from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (Doc), which says its research shows honey bees can alter the pollination process of indigenous plants, help weeds thrive and transfer viruses.
The DoC says while honey bees can have some positive impact, the research is showing they potentially have some downsides especially in conservation areas that have special values or cultural areas that are important.
“We need to be very careful how we allocate hives to be in those areas,” commercial partnerships director Geoff Ensor says.
But while the DoC is raising danger flags about the honey bees, it admits there are gaps in its study because of a lack of scientific research in New Zealand on indigenous ecosystems.
“The effects of the introduced honey bee on natural ecosystems are still poorly understood in New Zealand,” it states.
To fill that gap it is reviewing the way it manages beekeeping opportunities on public conservation land.
It says the review is intended to safeguard conservation and cultural values in light of the increasing demand for beehives on public conservation land; develop an allocation process that gives interested parties opportunities to place beehives on public conservation land; and to manage the allocation of the resource in an efficient and effective manner.
The DoC controls about 30% of New Zealand’s land area or about 31, 000 square miles.
All of the land under its control is protected for either conservation, ecological, scenic, scientific, historic or cultural reasons.
In the last year, the number of hives on public conservation land has almost doubled to about 16,000 and the DoC says it’s processing another 16,000 hive applications.
Honey bees were first brought into New Zealand in 1839 and 6% of all managed beehives are on public conservation land.
One of DoC’s recommendations in the review is to make some public conservation lands free of honey bees, even if they have a history of commercial bees.
The review process and hearings will run until next Aug. 31.
“DOC will not accept any applications for beehive placement on public conservation land until Sept. 1, 2016 – except as part of this process,” the department says.
Existing concession rights are not affected by the review and concession applications lodged with DOC before Sept. 1 will not be affected.
A first version of proposed DoC guidelines for managing beehives associated with public conservation lands states, “Protection and enhancement of ecological integrity will be considered first and foremost in any decision making process, i.e. ahead of financial gain.”
A report prepared for the DoC, says a number of effects may be expected where honey bees are present in native ecosystems:
It cites competition with native floral visitors such as nectar feeding birds, bats and insects; altered pollination of native plants limiting or changing natural propagation thus affecting ecosystem composition and species persistence; improved pollination of weeds leading to increased spread and weed control chemicals may be toxic to bees; and a transfer of pathogens/disease.
“A notable concern exists should Myrtle rust be introduced to New Zealand, which would affect a number of our well-known native tree species,” the report says.
Federated Farmers bee industry group chairman John Hartnell tells reporters that if DoC is planning on locking up some areas to be bee-free he hopes it was done carefully.
“The key thing is to respect those beekeeping families and businesses that have been a part of that whole process with DoC for a long time and doing a good job,” Hartnell is quoted as saying. “I just hope those concessions are respected and are not lost because of some other driving factor.”