New Zealand honey bees will be giving their beekeepers a buzz of thanks this World Bee Day on Wednesday 20th May.

World Bee Day was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the critical importance of bees, and other pollinators to the health of our planet and its people.  While in many countries, bee populations are in decline: impacted by disease, pests, climate change and intensive agricultural practices, in New Zealand our honey bee population is healthy and continuing to grow.

Recent international research, based on data from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation, found that New Zealand rated seventh in the world for bee population growth over a decade.

“It’s been encouraging to see the growth in our industry supported by an ongoing interest in beekeeping as a career with apprenticeship applications continuing to grow year on year,” says Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos.

“Having a professional apprenticeship scheme supporting up and coming beekeepers is critical to the long-term future of our industry and in ensuring a consistent best practice approach to bee health.”

Due to the arrival of the varroa mite in New Zealand in 2000, honey bee populations now depend on human help for survival.  “Without regular treatment and monitoring, our bees would be in serious trouble,” explains Ms Kos.   Beekeepers also actively monitor and treat for other bee pests and diseases like American Foulbrood (AFB), as well as ensuring bees get adequate nutrition and are safe and warm in their hives.  “They may be the world’s smallest livestock, but bees still need a lot of care,” says Ms Kos.  “Which is why beekeepers are so busy, much of the time.”

The majority of beekeepers understand their commitment is to the environment, as much as bees.  “Beekeepers know that for their bees to be healthy, they must live in a healthy environment and that is why we’ve seen such strong commitment from our industry to sustainable practices and important research done by organisations like Trees for Bees New Zealand.”

Trees for Bees New Zealand Research Trust is a non-profit organisation that promotes smart planting for healthy bees particularly on farmland.  It researches the best plants for bees and has overseen the planting of 70,000 bee-friendly plants across New Zealand.

There are many ways that New Zealanders can support honey bees and beekeepers this World Bee Day says Ms Kos.  She encourages people to plant bee-friendly plants in their gardens, especially those that bloom in autumn and early spring when bees often struggle to find food.  She also asks people to be careful with pesticides.   “If people use pesticides, they need to spray when bees are not active; in early morning or late evening and never when flowers are in bloom.”

The sweetest way to support bees is to buy New Zealand honey.  “We have many wonderful, unique types of honey that honey-lovers are only just discovering like rātā, kāmahi, South Island honeydew and rewarewa,” says Ms Kos.  “I encourage people to check their local stores or find a local beekeeper and discover what their regional honey tastes like, as it varies so much across New Zealand.”