New Zealand honey bees gave their beekeepers a buzz of thanks this World Bee Day on Wednesday, and a local club thinks raising awareness is important.

World Bee Day was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the critical importance of bees and other pollinators to the health of the planet and its people.

Bee populations in many countries are in decline, hit by disease, pests, climate change and intensive agricultural practices, but New Zealand's honey bee population is healthy and continuing to grow.

Recent international research, based on data from the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation, found that New Zealand rated seventh in the world for bee population growth over a decade.

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Rotorua Honey Bee Club president Kim Poynter says awareness of bees is essential, not just for beekeepers but for everyone, because what products people use in their gardens affects bees.

She says when the club started 10 years ago there were few hives in the city.

"Now there are a lot of hives being cared for throughout Rotorua, which is great, but of course those bees are also visiting everyone's gardens.

"I think it's great to have an awareness day of bees for everyone."

She recommends those interested in having bees should join their local club as beekeepers have a number of legislation requirements and responsibilities, and there is a lot to learn being part of a club.

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos says it has been encouraging to see the growth in the industry supported by an ongoing interest in beekeeping as a career. Apprenticeship applications continue to grow year on year.

"Having a professional apprenticeship scheme is critical to the long-term future of our industry and in ensuring a consistent best practice approach to bee health."

Since the arrival of the varroa mite in New Zealand in 2000, honey bee populations now depend on human help for survival.

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"Without regular treatment and monitoring, our bees would be in serious trouble," says Kos.

Beekeepers also actively monitor and treat for other bee pests and diseases like American foulbrood (AFB), as well as ensuring bees get adequate nutrition and are safe and warm in their hives.

"They may be the world's smallest livestock, but bees still need a lot of care, which is why beekeepers are so busy, much of the time," she says.

Most beekeepers understand their commitment is to the environment, as much as the bees.

"Beekeepers know that for their bees to be healthy, they must live in a healthy environment and that is why we've seen such strong commitment from our industry to sustainable practices and important research done by organisations like Trees for Bees New Zealand."

There are many ways New Zealanders can support honey bees and beekeepers around World Bee Day this week.

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Karin encourages people to plant bee-friendly plants in their gardens, especially those that bloom in autumn and early spring when bees often struggle to find food.

She also asks people to be careful with pesticides.

"If people use pesticides, they need to spray when bees are not active - in early morning or late evening and never when flowers are in bloom."

The sweetest way to support bees is to buy New Zealand honey.

"I encourage people to check their local stores or find a local beekeeper and discover what their regional honey tastes like, as it varies so much across New Zealand."

- Rotorua Honey Bee Club: Contact Kim (021) 926 937, www.rotoruahoneybeeclub.co.nz for information and meeting dates.

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