Tim with the carbonaria species of Bee.
Tim with the carbonaria species of Bee.

Tim Heard's new book creates a real buzz

WHEN Brisbane author Tim Heard launched his book, he packed the house out. Guests happily queued and waited to have him sign copies of his book.

You'd think Tim had written an international best-seller, but not so. His book is about bees.

Yes, bees. It is simply titled The Australian Native Bee Book. And sales have gone through the roof.

Keeping native bees is a hot topic in Australia for commercial, environmental and recreational reasons. But there is a lot more to this surprising interest in bees.

Reports tell us that if bees are endangered, then so is the human race. It's all about the vital pollination bees provide to ensure healthy crop growing.

Tim with his beloved bees.
Tim with his beloved bees.

This all sounds frightening, and perhaps this is why The Australian Native Bee Book is so popular, or it could be Tim Heard's calm explanation of those dire predictions of world extinction.

"There has been a lot of hype and overstatement about bees,” Tim said.

"You hear statements like, 'two thirds of the crops we grow are insect pollinated and at risk if the bees go'. That is true but it gives a false picture. Most of the staple foods that provide the human diet don't need pollination. Wheat, rice, maize, all those grains are pollinated by the wind.

"Potatoes, sweet potatoes...they don't need bees. Meat and animal products also do not need bee pollination.”

That is very reassuring coming from a man who has dedicated 30 years of his life to the study of bees.

"While life would exist without bees, it would be a poorer world. Bees are important because those relatively minor crops (that bees pollinate) are enormously important.

"Without bees we wouldn't have a lot of our important vegetables that provide essential vitamins.

"Bees are under threat in many parts of the world. Those threats relate to how we modify the whole biosphere. The whole circus of our planet that provides humans with our food is being modified. We are seeing intensification of our agriculture, our landscape is being modified by humans to maximise productivity.

The Tetragonula bee.
The Tetragonula bee.

"But do we have a bee crisis in Australia? I would have thought, no.

"You have to consider there are two groups of bees: domesticated honey bees and wild bees. They are both important for pollination but under different pressures, we lump them together.”

Most of us have thought no more about bees than the delicious honey they provide, but talk to Tim Heard for just a few minutes and it is impossible not to become intrigued by the tiny bee and its important role in our society.

"Bees are part of our history,” Tim said. "Bees are social insects, they are almost like a metaphor for human society. They work together, have different roles, there are soldiers and guards.”

Tim has a large number of hives of native stingless bees in his Brisbane property which he manages intensively, and when they reach full size he profligates them and sells them to people he calls 'back-yarders' who want a hive of bees as a hobby or interest.

"There is a huge demand for knowledge about bees,” he said. "I've been giving workshops about bees for 25 years and as soon as we announce one (workshop) it is booked out immediately. There is no end to it. I can't satisfy demand.”

For details go to sugarbag.net


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