Long live the bees

By Te Radar

Should ratepayers pay to fund the local beekeeper? Te radar chimes in.
Should ratepayers pay to fund the local beekeeper? Te radar chimes in.

Entertainment: Forget the Wizard - should Christchurch ratepayers pay 35 cents each to fund the salary of the town beekeeper? Is he to bee or not to bee? That is the question.

Who'd be a bee? A life of unceasing toil as part of a collective that collectively cares not a jot for your individuality, unless you're the ruling female. But even the Queen's cosseted position comes at a cost, as her primary function is to lay up to 2000 a day to maintain the masses. The individual does come to the fore though when there is a threat to the hive. Regrettably the bee's defense is a kamikaze attack, which deprives it not only of its stinger, but a goodly part of its abdomen and digestive tract as well, thus causing its death. It's a similarly demoralising job for the poor old drones, the males whose sole task is to mate with the queen. It may sound glamorous, lolling about in a harem of him-bees, but the procreative act is immediately fatal, as his endophallus literally explodes from his body. If a drone fails to mate and is still unforgivably alive at the approach of winter then, along with the elderly and the infirm, he is unceremoniously ejected from the hive to perish in the cold. There's not too much focus on compassionate welfare in a beehive. This may be the primary reason for the name and style of our Parliament building.

While we wouldn't want to personally be a bee, we certainly can't do without them. Without bees, staple fruit and vegetable crops would vanish from supermarket shelves. Already in China a lack of bees in some areas forces apple farmers to tediously, and expensively, hand-pollinate with paintbrushes. Here we can barely find enough people to pick fruit let alone procreate it. I'm sure that some would argue that with so many artists supposedly on the dole painting pollen might be just the job for them.

We should all be worried, as New Zealand's bee numbers - like those in the rest of the world - are falling. This year's wet winter killed a third of Britain's honeybee colonies. In the US losses were 50%. Combined with the perplexing issue of colony collapse the future of honeybees is far from sweet. That's why I'm waxing lyrical about Christchurch City councilor Aaron Keown's proposal that the city spend the queenly sum of 35 cents per ratepayer to employ someone in the charmingly medieval-sounding post of 'town beekeeper'. Admittedly, 35 cents per ratepayer adds up to $50,000 per year but this is no ordinary beekeeper. Under Keown's rather original plan, entitled "Plan Bee", Christchurch residents would be encouraged to turn their backyards into literal hives of activity. The Beekeeper would monitor the health of these city bees, make sure they're treated to prevent the spread of disease, and promote knowledge about bees through the Council's Bee Wise education plan. They would also be responsible for looking after our native bees, who tend to live quiet, often solitary lives doing not much at all. How Kiwi. And where better than the Garden City to nurture the most essential of the garden's inhabitants? Given the price of honey, it might just be a smart investment. At 35 cents a year, one can hardly accuse bees of being a drain on ratepayers' resources. They never need a day off, going about their business like the mindless drones the business bosses would like us all to be.

Naturally there was concern expressed by the ratepaying locals not only at the cost, but also about public safety from the subsequent rise in bee numbers. However apiarist David Spice, who has teamed up with Keown, says bees are "generally fairly placid until you aggravate them." Much like ratepayers it seems.

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