The honey bee population has dropped by almost half since the beekeepers in Australia decided to raise their taxes.
Photo: Paul Jeffers The decline in the population of the common pollinator was confirmed in a poll of honey bees in Western Australia’s north-west on Wednesday, with the numbers falling to less than 20 per cent.
The survey of more than 1,000 beekeepers from across the country revealed that more than half the bee population had left the beekeeping business since the government raised its tax on the industry in 2016.
It was the first time the bee industry had recorded a decline in its numbers since it began collecting tax from farmers and landowners.
It comes as the country’s agricultural lobby pushes for the government to re-introduce the common bee to Australia.
The tax hike is a response to a spike in the number of honey bee deaths, which peaked in February and have since fallen by almost 50 per cent since then.
The bees’ survival is under threat with the population on the brink of extinction.
But it was a poll that put the issue to rest, with nearly a third of the respondents saying they were either completely or somewhat confident the beekeeper would be successful in re-imaging the bee stock.
More than half said they would “probably” re-open a hive if the tax was raised.
In contrast, only a quarter of respondents said they were absolutely certain they would.
“I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think that if the honey bee were in the same situation as other pollinators in the country, they would probably not want to be re-managed at all,” said Andrew Jones, from the University of New South Wales.
“We are really looking at a situation where there is a real risk that we will see the honey bees fall to extinction.”
While the tax has been raised for the last three years, a study conducted in 2016 showed the number and strength of the honeybee population in the North East had dropped by 40 per cent in just four years.
The researchers said the decline was due to the removal of native habitat and habitat loss.
Photo by Andrew Jones “The most significant effect of the tax increase is the loss of native honey bees and habitat,” said Dr Jason Tovey, from Simon Fraser University.
“Honey bees are the most important pollinator of our native plants, as well as some of the most pollinated insects in the world.”
The honeybees were thought to be the key pollinators for many native plants in Australia, including those on the ground, as they pollinate a wide range of crops including tomatoes, strawberries, peppers and cabbage.
Dr Jones said the study also showed that bees were more likely to be killed than killed by pesticides.
He said that meant the pollinators were losing their habitat and the bees were suffering the same fate as other native plants.
“When a plant is cut down by a farmer, it is typically because they are doing something harmful to that plant,” he said.
“It’s a lot more likely that they’re going to be cut down because the plant is the most efficient pollinator in the area.”
“I think that’s a real concern.”
However, the government has been adamant that the honeybees will survive and thrive.
“The honey bees are essential to our food supply, their pollination is vital to the food chain and the food security of the country,” Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in 2016, adding that it was vital to maintain a healthy population.
“They are critical to our farmers and they’re important to the pollination of our crop, as it’s our main crop, it’s important to have a healthy crop,” he added.
“And so if we manage them well, they will be here to stay.”
However Dr Jones believes there are ways to reverse the decline.
“One thing we can do is to make sure that there is more honey bees out there, more pollinators out there and that we keep them here,” he told ABC News.
“This is a matter that’s really important, it affects our entire food chain, we’re talking about a billion dollars a year in agricultural revenue.”
A further study of the data also revealed the honey population in Western Australian had fallen by around 40 per per cent during the same period.
Dr Joyce said he believed the tax hike was “a good thing” because it would “help to stabilise the honey industry”.
“The tax increase will actually stabilise honey bees, because we’ve got to have that honey bee in the industry,” he explained.
“If you have enough honey bees it is a sustainable business, you have a stable business and you can attract new farmers to the industry and that is the way it has to work.”
Dr Jones is concerned that there are some farmers that do not believe that the tax will work, and may be willing to sell their crops for profit.
“There are those that are willing to go for profit and do that, so there is really