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Bee initiative creates a hive of activity around environment education

Bee initiative creates a hive of activity around environment education

By Niva Chittock, RNZ

Queenstown’s Bees are the pioneers in environmental education.

Bee The Change is an initiative that allows local businesses to sponsor bees in their community, including Queenstown Botanic Garden, Queenstown Reforestation Plantation, Queenstown Golf Club, and Queenstown Botanic gardens.

The hives come with signage to educate passersby on biodiversity and local business.

Neal McAloon, the founder of the organisation, stated that the idea for it was born after a ski accident took his outdoor education career to the back burner.

“I was the founder of Queenstown’s climbing company. I was involved in a ski accident. [couldn’t guide]for a couple years, so decided on apiculture study,” he said.

“The reason I took up apiculture was that both my careers were motivated primarily by curiosity of the natural world. Bees can educate us on what’s happening in our environment.

“Some friends of mine own a local brewery and asked if we could sponsor them and buy some hives. It was a great idea!”

Bee The Change was founded in 2019 and has been thriving ever since.

McAloon claimed that bees were a great way for people to learn because everyone loves them.

“We use the honeybee to educate and engage the community about environmental issues. Everyone loves bees, and honey is easy to get people talking. [about them]He said.

Bees also reflect changes within the wider environment. The signs on the hives show how important the honeybees are to the food chain, and how closely people are to them.

“As a domesticated species we have the opportunity to see their hives and pick up any changes in the environment.

“So they’re a hare in the coal mine, and they’re giving information back to us about what’s happening in the local environment.”

McAloon described Bee The Change to be “a bit of an effect organisation”, which aims to improve the well-being of the community and the surrounding environment.

“We have these Bee-Friendly Zone signs. We give out packets of seeds and instructions to people to create their own pollinator-friendly gardens. These signs have been distributed to 20 early learning centres within the district.

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The honey from the beehives is also returned to the community, with local businesses being able to buy the honey directly from a stall at the market.

McAloon acknowledged that it was not without challenges. Queenstown had the mildest winter this year and sponsorship numbers were not increasing due Covid-19.

“On July 20, which is right in Queenstown’s deepest, darkest and coldest winter, my bees were flying high and collecting pollen from trees that were already producing it. That’s something unheard.

“It has meant that my bees have started earlier and the Varroa destructor mite (a parasitic mite) has been really bad this season. I’ve had three treatments on each hive while I normally only do two. This has increased the cost of managing the bees by thousands of dollar.

McAloon intended to expand the organisation in future, with long term goals of shipping bees abroad and making Bees For Change national.

McAloon offers free spots on some of its sites, and encourages interested businesses to get in touch.

RNZ

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