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Newcastle beekeepers distraught as varroa mite destroys dreams

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“It has been a hard week.”

That’s how Newcastle beekeepers Kelly Lees and Anna Scobie say the final stages of June 2022 will be remembered.

The founders of artisan beekeeping enterprise Urban Hum are still reeling after the Department of Primary Industry’s Biosecurity team issued an urgent order to destroy all beehives within Newcastle on Sunday.

The warning comes after the deadly varroa mite was detected at the Port of Newcastle on Friday 24 June.

“Newcastle, it is time to say goodbye to our honeybees,” Ms Scobie told the pair’s 3,000 social media followers.

“Kelly and I started keeping bees in our backyard over ten years ago to protect honeybees as the worldwide threat to bees hit the media. 

“Our business grew organically from that first hive as we saw Newcastle share our passion for bees, with hundreds of households embracing our beehives and just as many students learning to maintain their own. 

“With the Varroa mite parasite being detected in Newcastle, we will have all our 90 hives destroyed to protect honeybees across Australia.”

Varroa mites are tiny reddish-brown parasites easily identifiable to the naked eye.

The destructive external parasite attaches itself to the body of a honeybee before sucking its fat stores, rendering it lifeless.

Ms Scobie said the pernicious mite was now threatening QLD’s bee industry.  

“Now the most powerful way to protect the Australian Honeybee industry is to say goodbye to our bees. To stop beekeeping in Newcastle. 

“All of our hives are in the 10km eradication zone. If your hive is too, it will be destroyed.

“In the coming weeks, the Department of Primary Industry’s Biosecurity emergency response team will take samples from your hive then it will be euthanised. 

“This is hard and so sad. 

“To starve the parasite, they will kill the host, our beautiful honeybee hives.

“If you are within 50km of Newcastle Port, you cannot open your hives, you cannot take honey. If you are in NSW you cannot move your bees.”

Urban Hum has been hosting beekeeping workshops at their sites in Mayfield and Cardiff since January 2021.

“If you have attended one of our workshops you know how passionate we are about biosecurity, that we teach every backyard beekeeper that they are part of an important network that is Australia’s food security. That your hobby is linked to all hives in Australia,” Ms Scobie said.

“If varroa mite leaves this area we will lose between 40% and 90% of hives Australia-wide, we have seen this around the world.

“Please be prepared that this red zone may expand if they find more mites.

“Please BEE KIND. 

“The Biosecurity response team are passionate beekeepers called up from this area doing a hard job. Many will have lost their hives too in this response. 

“When they enter your backyard, remember this.”

Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders says the emergency order will hopefully restrict the spread of the pest.

“Australia is the only major honey producing country free from varroa mite, the most serious pest to honey bees worldwide,” he said.

“We’re working with apiary industry bodies and stakeholders to ensure beekeepers are well informed and can continue to help us with this critical response”.

Varroa mites are tiny reddish-brown parasites easily identifiable to the naked eye.

Although they feed and live on adult honey bees, they can reproduce on larvae in the hive, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees as well as transmitting numerous viruses.

They are not harmful to humans or livestock but without bees the availability and diversity of fresh produce would cease to exist.

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