Keeping the buzz alive Down Under

Keeping the buzz alive Down Under
Sydney resident Doug Purdie with some of the 70,000 bees he keeps. Mr Purdie, who used to work in IT marketing, took up beekeeping as a hobby five years ago after learning that the bee population has been steadily declining.

SYDNEY - Every three weeks, Sydney resident Doug Purdie dons protective clothing, climbs up a ladder onto the roof of his inner city apartment block and peeks inside a series of large boxes - very carefully. The boxes contain an unusual collection, about 70,000 bees.

He checks them for eggs and signs of disease and, in the warmer months, extracts rich, gleaming honey, which soon makes its way onto his morning toast.

"For the average person who wants to be a backyard beekeeper, it is not that hard," he told The Sunday Times. "The bees look after themselves. As the beekeeper, you just make sure they are healthy and have space."

Mr Purdie, 49, took up the hobby five years ago amid a growing national interest in keeping bees, which are facing a global population threat.

Australia is the last continent in the world to be free of the deadly Varroa mite which is believed to be a major factor in the world's "beepocalypse". The Varroa is a tiny mite which attacks bee larvae and adult bees.

In the past 15 to 20 years, the bee population around the world has dramatically declined.

In Europe and the United States alone, beekeepers have reported the sudden losses of colonies and population declines of more than 30 per cent. Asia has not been immune. China, Japan and Malaysia have reported large losses.

Experts say the losses could affect global food security because bees play a crucial role in pollinating crops. Globally, the value of bee pollination for crops has been estimated at US$220 billion (S$278 billion) a year; in Australia, the value is about A$4 billion (S$4.6 billion) to A$6 billion a year.

Scientists are at a loss to explain precisely why bees are dying out, though the Varroa parasite is understood to be a significant factor.

Professor Boris Baer, a bee expert from the University of Western Australia, said the precise cause of the global decline was unknown. Aside from the Varroa parasite, he said, pesticides were believed to be a factor. The decline has occurred in all species, not just in honeybees, he said.

"There has been a slow but steady decline and we are not recovering from it," he told The Sunday Times.

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