Waikato beekeepers plan eradication of fatal disease

Hamilton has set itself a goal to be the first New Zealand city to eradicate a disease that's killing our bees.

The Waikato Domestic Beekeepers Association (WDBA) has begun testing for the lethal American Foulbrood (AFB) - and wants beekeepers in other regions to get involved.

Honey bees are integral to our survival. Without them, humanity would struggle to survive.

They're part of the family for Hamilton beekeepers too, with one pair doing all they can to keep the fatal bacterial disease AFB out of the hives.

"All we have to do is get a sample of bees, we crush them up, we test them and we can very quickly get a result back on whether the colony they come from has American Foulbrood or not," says honeybee scientist Mark Goodwin.

He says crushing them is never easy - but the real heartbreak is when a hive is infected.

"When I was at university I got my first two beehives, I thought 'this is fun' and they both got AFB and I had to burn them and it was devastating of course," he says.

"You do get attached to them. I shouldn't, I'm a scientist. I shouldn't get attached to them but I do."

WDBA committee member Teresa Gibbison says it's a grim process that she hopes she never has to do.

"You shut the hive up and pour petrol into them so the fumes kill them. I think I would be crying through the whole thing to be honest," she says.

"Your bees actually become part of your family so you actually really do care about them."

That's why they want to make Hamilton the first city to be completely AFB free.

There are 1500 registered bee hives in Hamilton but there could be many more.

The WDBA has collected samples from about five percent so far.

"If we can test all of the hives... then as well as Hamilton being AFB free we can expand it to the Waikato and eventually, hopefully New Zealand," Ms Gibbison says.

Mr Goodwin says ten years ago there were about 300,000 hives in New Zealand. Now, there's three times that.

"Most beekeepers who are beekeeping now weren't five years ago and that's a lot of commercial beekeepers as well so that's a little bit scary," he says.

"Especially around AFB, if you're not good at identifying it then it is a risk."

The WDBA is asking anybody who owns a hive in the area to contact them, so they can secure not only the bee's future but ours as well.