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Rotarians for Bees

BACKGROUND

It started with a David Attenborough program highlighting the decline in bee population and the impact a decline in bees and other pollinators would have on our food production and security, and consequently, our economy.  John McCaskill, Rotary Club of Canterbury in Australia, identified Rotary as a perfect organisation to highlight the issue and take it forward.  John engaged an enthusiastic group of Rotarians, beekeepers, and others in a committee under the banner: ‘Rotarians for Bees’ (RFB).

THE PROBLEM:

The Problem is multi-faceted:
a. Climate change is having an enormous effect, leading to a decline in pollinators and honey production world-wide.
 
b. Disease: the varroa mite carries a disease that destroys hives and bees.  In the US varroa mite resulted in a loss of ~50% hives.  In Australia 50% of pollinators are wild bees.  The mite has not yet reached Australia, but its almost inevitable arrival will cause a loss of up to 75% of Australian pollinators.  The impact will include loss of pollinators, impacting on both food production and the economy; and use of pesticides in hives, thus adulterating honey. It will take up to 10 years to rebuild bee numbers and restore the balance.
 
The varroa mite is developing an immunity to the chemicals that are our only current weapon.  Another possibility is to develop ‘hygienic bees’ that are resistant to varroa. This will require a significant amount of research at a high cost.
 
c. Use of pesticides in agriculture, by local councils and in gardens.  High-strength Round-Up type chemicals are banned in Europe, but not Australia.  Not only do they kill detrimental insects, but also the ‘good’ ones.
 
d. Fragmentation within the industry.  There are both commercial and hobby beekeepers.  In Victoria alone there are around 9,000 beekeepers, all of whom are registered with the government, but only ~2,000 of whom belong to Apiary clubs.  Privacy issues preclude identification outside the government of non-club apiarists. Whilst each state has a local association, there is little communication between them.
 
e. Education:  It is not known how well educated the majority of beekeepers is, particularly in regard to the varroa threat.  The Victorian Apiarists Association is hoping to train a number of members to Certificate III level, with a view to their training other members.
 
f. Adulterated honey with sugar-based additives.  Currently, there is no testing facility in Australia to identify adulterated honey.
 

OTHER FACTORS/DISCUSSION:

1. Rotary’s Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) aims to integrate environment and sustainability into everything we do.  It is building membership through regional chapters, including one Australia, which will focus on 2 key issues: bees and plastics.  Hence, Rotarians for Bees is a perfect fit with ESRAG.
 
2. ESRAG has a partnership with the UN and is setting up project teams, e.g. climate change, pollinators; investigating the possibility of an Enviro club award; and developing a Database on environmental projects in Rotary. Rotarian for Bees members have agreed to join ESRAG.
 
3. While Rotarians raise funds for a multitude of projects, Rotary is not a bank with unlimited funds.  Its key strength is in networking, lobbying/influencing, and mobilizing its members.
 
4. Rotary cannot (nor should it try to) solve all of the issues relating to pollinator decline.  Many of them are the responsibility of the industry and/or government.

GOING FORWARD:

1. The Rotarians for Bees (RFB) Committee has:
a. Articulated a vision for RFB:  Rotary is a catalyst for building a sustainable bee population in Australia.  
b. Developed a logo for RFB.
c. Developed an information sheet for distribution at Rotary events.
d. Purchased a banner for RFB.  Rotary clubs are encouraged to display the banner at club meetings to generate discussion of the issue.
 
e. Made contact with the WHEEN Foundation, a not for profit organisation promoting the importance of bees, and Earthwatch.
f. Initiated a database of Rotarians and others interested in the project, principally through expressions of interest at the recent Multi-District conference.  A strategy will be developed to maintain contact with interested parties.
 
2. The Rotarians for Bees Committee is preparing:
a. A strategic action plan that will include:
i. Making contact with other bodies with interest in bee promotion; and government departments with interest in related areas, e.g. apiary, agriculture.
ii. Developing a promotional plan, including appropriate messages for the community in regard to R4B using social media, contact with clubs, articles in RDU, a speakers’ bank, etc., 
iii. Developing an R4B page on the ESRAG website.
iv. Developing a plan for contacting unregistered beekeepers and investigating training for unregistered beekeepers.
 
 
Project Category: 
Sustainable economies
Biodiversity
Ecosystems
Education