World bees have more than enough challenges these days, from bee-killing fertilizers to colony collapse disorder and so much more.  

It is now winter in Tasmania, and the bees there are starving to death for a different reason. A drought has produced drier than usual conditions which has led to bush fires like the Gell River fire.

The drought and fires have destroyed much of the leatherwood bees love, and some of the prime bee foraging areas.

The leatherwood that hasn’t been reduced to cinders has struggled to produce flowers, but they are wilted and pollen is scarce and lacking.

Like beekeepers in New South Wales, beekeepers in Tasmania are also feeding their starving bees with sugar water.

According to the vice-president of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, leatherwood does not bounce back well from fire, and it will likely take generations to recover. Those of us alive today will not see it regenerate.

This is impacting the state’s honey harvesting. Leatherwood honey accounts for 70% of Tasmania’s honey production and is unique due to its full-bodied musky and spicy taste compared to more common lighter ‘perfume’ flavored honeys.

The Tasmanian Beekeepers Association has stated that honey producers are facing their worst season in decades, and one of the biggest producers is laying off staff since their leatherwood honey production is down 90%.

Last year saw 280 tons of honey produced, this year if 20 tons are produced it will be like a miracle.

Shirley Stephen, who has worked at R. Stephens Apiarists for a long time, says this is the worst year she’s ever seen. They keep hives in the west coast rain forests of Tasmania. The frames are usually covered in beeswax and honey when they return in December to April. This season most are coming back empty.

She reminds us that the nature of beekeeping is to always look forward and never look back.

Since beekeepers are classified as farmers, she has asked the Tasmanian government for drought relief assistance to help feed the bees.

The president of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association has called the situation a disaster for many honey producers across the state. The bush fires have destroyed hives and destroyed many leatherwood trees in places like the Florentine Valley that will take more than 100 years to regrow.

Prices are set to soar for whatever small amount of leatherwood honey makes it to market, with this being the worst year the industry has seen in 35 years. 

Many believe climate change is to blame for the disastrous drought and fires.  


The multi-million-dollar beekeeping industry is important to the local economy. The state government announced a range of actions to help restore confidence after this disastrous honey season. 

Beekeepers can expect up to 1 year of fee relief for leases and licenses for hive sites on crown land, and up to $150,000 to help with operating costs.

The 2018-2019 state budget has allotted $750,000 over three years to implement a Bee Industry Futures report into leatherwood honey.

Beekeepers have lost access to leatherwood trees around bridges and culverts, so they hope some of the funding will help identify access to new leatherwood areas for bees. Meanwhile, beekeepers are considering how to diversify.

And what of the bees, whose foraging grounds have been ravaged and laid bare? They are being fed, but are probably exhausted and thirsty from the drought. They are still expected to pollinate many other crops as usual. Not only are the bees responsible for the exclusive and iconic Tasmanian leatherwood honey, they also pollinate fruit, vegetable and grain crops in the area.

Beekeepers are looking to the future and hoping the Bee Industry Futures report helps them to make their industry more resilient moving forward.

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