The Bee initiative creates a hive of activity around environmental education

Bees are leading the way when it comes to educating locals about the environment in Queenstown.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham Farrelly

Bee The Change is an initiative that allows local businesses to sponsor beehives across the city, including the Queenstown Botanical Gardens, a Wakatipu reforestation plantation and the Queenstown Golf Club.

Signage is provided with the hives to make passers-by aware of biodiversity and local businesses.

Founder Neal McAloon said the idea for the organization came after a skiing accident put his career as an outdoor instructor on hold.

“I ran a climbing business in Queenstown. I had a skiing accident and [couldn’t guide] for a few years, so I decided to study beekeeping,” he said.

“The reason I chose beekeeping was that both of my careers were driven by a curiosity about our natural world and that bees tell us so much about what is happening in our local environment.

“Some friends who own a local brewery then asked if they could buy some beehives and sponsor them…and it really took off from there.”

Bee The Change became a reality in 2019 and has been buzzing ever since.

McAloon said bees were a perfect way to educate people because everyone loved them.

“We use the bee as a way to engage and educate the community on environmental issues… Everyone loves bees and you get honey and it’s really easy to engage people to talk [about them],” he said.

The bees also reflect changes in the wider environment and the panels with the beehives explain how important the bee is to the food chain and how closely people relate to them.

“As a domesticated species, we can examine their hives and detect anything that is happening in the local environment.

“So they’re a canary in the coal mine, if you will, and they give us information about what’s going on in the local environment.”

McAloon described Bee The Change as “a bit of an impact organization”, which aims for positive wellness changes in the community and environment.

“We have these Bee-Friendly Zone signs where we give a packet of seeds and instructions for people to create their own pollinator-friendly garden. And these signs have been sent to 20 early learning centers in the district.”

Honey from the beehives also returns to the community, with businesses able to buy the honey directly from a local market stall.

But McAloon said it was not without its challenges, with the mildest winter in Queenstown this year and sponsorship numbers not increasing due to Covid-19.

“On July 20, right in the middle of the deepest, darkest and coldest part of winter in Queenstown, my bees were flying and collecting pollen from trees that were already producing pollen. seen.

“What this means in the long term is that my bees started earlier and the varroa destructor mite, which is a parasitic mite, has been very bad this year and I had to do three treatments on each hive when I normally only do two. . And that drove up the cost of thousands of dollars just to manage the hives.”

McAloon hoped to expand the organization in the future, with long-term goals of shipping bees overseas and making Bees For Change a national organization.

There are free places on some of its sites and McAloon encourages all interested companies to get in touch.