Bee ambassadors of hope

Australian school students can become ambassadors for bees in readiness for World Bee Day on 20 May.

Gretchen Wheen was a bee superstar in Australia, pioneering the artificial insemination of queen bees. By the mid 1970s she had become a leading commercial supplier of queen bees for local and overseas markets and she established the Wheen Foundation.

Encouraged by the Wheen Foundation, in 2018, NSW was the first Australian state to offer secondary students a school-based traineeship in beekeeping which has since educated more than 50 young beekeepers.

There are plenty of ways for bee ambassadors to get bees into schools with projects like 100 Hives in 100 Schools, which aims to raise the profile of native bees which are not affected by the deadly Varroa mite.

Schools can host hives for shorter periods through a company like Ben’s Bees or the BeeWild project, which offers native stingless bees to schools. Most companies use flow hives which have clear sides for observation and reduce the need for smoking the bees and therefore result in fewer stings.

It is currently illegal to move bees around Australia because of the Varroa destructor mite that has seen 10,000 hives euthanised this year in NSW.

Yet Wheen bee ambassadors are not giving up hope. At schools like Lycee Condorcet the International French School of Sydney at Maroubra, they have a native beehive, bee hotels and loads of flowering plants to attract all sorts of pollinators.