Recovering from bushfire

In the summer of 2019, extreme bushfires raged across many parts of Australia, leaving behind damaged ecosystems and destroyed forests.

Many of our Flow Team experienced first hand the brutal nature of these fires.

After successfully banding together with local communities to save homes, we looked outwards for ways we could offer support to the many beekeepers affected, some having lost thousands of hives.

We reached out to beekeepers in New South Wales, South Australia and Kangaroo Island – their stories of loss, survival, recovery and comradery we discovered, were both tragic and inspiring. We were happy to play a small part in one of Australia’s greatest recovery efforts, by gifting 430 brood boxes to beekeepers who had lost their hives.

Michael Howes - Australia’s Manuka, NSW

Michael Howes’ step-son Simon was first on the scene after the fire went through. His family’s small business (Australia’s Manuka) were devastated to discover that they had lost hives after thinking they had moved them to safety.

“The fires were so unpredictable and reached places never seen before, some went through rainforests. There was a lightning strike then the wind was just furious and it just went straight through them...Some of the older fellas said it's the worst they had seen in 35 years...It was quite difficult for us, a devastating time.

The nectar flow didn’t really recover, we had the drought, the fires and then torrential rain. Whatever crop was being produced, got washed out. The bees didn’t really recover.

We’ve invested in a fire pump we can put on the back of the ute, and we’ll be replacing the hives we have lost with the donated Flow brood boxes.

(Now) some of the eucalyptus and heath is starting to flower, luckily we’ve got honey starting to come in - it’s looking good from the rain, the groundwater is really high, best I’ve seen in about 10 years, and the trees have put on a lot of growth. If we keep getting rain, we’ll be in for a good year.”

Danny Le Feuvre, South Australian Apiarist Association

Pictured left to right: Sarah Mitchell, Phil Marshell, Shaun Hinves, Danny Le Feuvre and Josh Kennett, all executive members of the South Australian Apiarist and KI Beekeepers Associations.

Danny Le Feuvre of the South Australian Apiarist Association was involved in the successful crowdfunding campaign and support for the beekeepers affected by the devastating Kangaroo Island and South Australian bushfires. We spoke with Danny, who also coordinated the distribution of 200 Flow brood boxes to beekeepers in need.

“About 60% of the island was burnt. I lost 40 hives myself. I’ve been visiting and it’s very devastating, it's like a moonscape. In saying that, I’m surprised at how quickly things spring back, the yakkas came into flower a few weeks after the fire and they’ve supported the bees really well.

We started getting a lot of phone calls from people wanting to help. We didn't have anywhere to direct them, so we started a Go Fund Me, to give information on what they can do, and (provide) a place to donate. It took off a bit...we’ve had about $75,000 come through.”

Danny told us about how the extra attention has brought a well-needed breath of fresh air to wildlife shelters.

“Lots of volunteers went across (to Kangaroo Island) and wildlife rescue shelters really got a lot of volunteers, and a lot of press. They can really improve what they can offer now... Prior to the fires the wildlife shelters were struggling.”

Kangaroo Island is unique when it comes to bees with only Ligurian honey bees in residence. Concentrated efforts have been applied over the years including tight biosecurity measures to make sure no foreign bees or bee materials are coming onto the island. This has sensitive implications when it comes to beekeeping recovery.

“We sent over sugar syrup and pollen supplements for the immediate recovery (as no nectar was available), and now we are running a queen bee breeding course. As you can’t import any queens, we are bringing tutors across to deliver courses for most of the KI beekeepers. To get the beekeepers back on their feet, if they can learn that skill they’ll be alright.”

Attention and support was also needed on the mainland.

“The Association split off about 200 nucleus colonies and offered these at a reduced price to the South Australian beekeepers in need. The idea being that they nurture them through winter and we give them the 200 Flow brood boxes to expand into.”

Looking forward, Danny can see the upcoming struggle, but is inspired by the new bonds and community that has been built.

“I think beekeeping will be a struggle on KI for the next two years. It certainly has united beekeepers, I’ve been keeping bees for 13 years but now I’ve met so many beekeepers I didn’t even know where keeping bees there, and formed some good relationships. There has been a lot of positives in such a disastrous events.”

Wayne Fuller, Beekeeping Services, NSW

Pictured left to right: Beekeeping Services team members Harry, Wayne, Lachlan and Mark.

Wayne Fuller is a commercial beekeeper with a community heart. He is chairperson of BQUAL Australia, and his brother is president of the Apiarist Association North Coast Branch. We reached out to Wayne after learning of the incredible loss they witnessed and experienced.

“We lost more than 1,000 hives, which will result in a 90% reduction of honey production. We are looking at bee health and bee nutrition right now (as the flowering trees are all burnt). We lost 1,300; 900 were burnt, 400 were lost (from the tonnes of water being dumped from the air to put the fire out)... (which) washed debris into the entrances and (the bees) couldn't get out. But we would have lost a lot more if it didn’t happen. Bees become very disoriented after the heat and smoke and we lost hundreds from that.”

Wayne said that the hardest part of it all was the damage to the wildlife.

“We can rebuild the bees, we can get the bees back. But the hardest part was the animals. (In the bush) normally we see a lot of happy wildlife, but when we went back in to try to clean up after the fires and we saw the amount of damaged and dead wildlife, that was by far the worse.There’s some heart wrenching stories out there, and if we hear about them (happening to other beekeepers), we give them a phone call and check in and ask if they are ok. And that has also come back to us.

Like the offer from (Flow) with the brood boxes, I’m really appreciative of that. Thank you to the Flow Hive team. They are painted and ready to go out in the new season. We are breeding bees, and then we’ll split them and make more hives.”

Wayne told us about how they are rebuilding.

Although they had dabbled in pollination services for some years, they had to pivot fairly quickly to keep the business going.

“For our business there has been a change around... we have gone from being a major honey producer 250-300 tonnes per year, to going into pollination work as there is less honey available….honey is going to be harder on a commercial scale for the next few years.

Some of the bush is recovering not too bad, but some of the sites are that badly burnt, it's not just the bees, it's the native animals, they are saying that well in excess of ½ million native animals (have been) lost. We are putting in submission to try and help get policy change in land management. We’ve got to go back to how it was managed by the traditional owners.”