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2024 Bee Ambassador Training Program visits Agribio

New faces sign up to support bee advocacy

Eleven new people took part in the Bee Ambassador Training Program, joining a growing number of volunteers committed to raising awareness of the importance of bees.

Now in its third year, the 2024 program was held over three days in Melbourne taking in some of Victoria’s key bee research and biosecurity facilities.

Wheen Bee Foundation CEO Fiona Chambers said the program is an opportunity to empower bee enthusiasts with a deeper understanding of Australian bee research and give them the skills they need to share their passion with others more effectively.

“The latest crop of participants are a diverse and impressive bunch and it made for a fantastic working group,” Ms Chambers said.

“We had small hobby beekeepers with a few hives, commercial apiarists with over 6000 hives and everything in between.”

This year’s program kicked off with a series of workshop sessions led by Fiona Chambers and Director of Meridian Agriculture Dr Mike Stephens. The sessions covered effective advocacy skills, understanding how to make change happen and how to manage conflict situations.

Over dinner the Outgoing President of the Oceania Regional Commission of Apimondia and Co-Founder and Director of Beechworth Honey Group, Jodie Goldsworthy presented about international perspectives on beekeeping.

Day Two was centred around effective teamwork, behaviour change and successful communication. The group heard about other Wheen Bee Foundation programs, including the Centre for Bee Education and the Bee Friendly Farming program.

A couple of Ambassadors from the 2019 program also dropped by to inspire the latest recruits and explain how the program has strengthened the impact of their bee advocacy. Dr Megan Halcroft who founded Australian Pollinator Week, talked about how the national initiative has grown since becoming an Ambassador and partnering with Wheen Bee Foundation, including launching Australian Pollinator Count and Pollinator photographic competition.

Mr Tony Wilsmore talked about his role managing the observation display at Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show for the past three years and partnering with Wheen Bee Foundation to undertake a community consultation process for a Melbourne’s shire council.

The day ended with a fireside chat with Professor Saul Cunningham, the Director of the Australian National University Fenner School of Environment and Society.

Hosted by Balliang Consulting Director Natalee Ward, Professor Cunningham discussed how to manage farmland while both preserving biodiversity and supporting agriculture production. He also explained what the agriculture industry often misunderstands about the critical crop pollination process.

On the final day of the program, the group went on a bus tour and visited key bee research and biosecurity venues including AgriBio at La Trobe University, and the Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine Facility.

At Agribio, the group heard from several leading researchers about the latest in bee biosecurity, including Dr Umar Lubanga who is currently fronting a research project into managing small hive beetles, a major pest of honey bees in Australia. He and his team are working to optimise external traps to improve functionality and reduce work for producers.

Dr Jessi Henneken has recently finished a project about integrating traceability devices and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveillance to best monitor hive health. The approach could help apiarists and growers ensure that the hives on their properties are free of pests and diseases and the bees are in good condition to pollinate their produce.

The speakers also included entomologist research scientist Mark Blacket, molecular entomologist Dr Francesco Martoni, senior project officer Kieran Murphy and Agriculture Victoria bee biosecurity officer Karyn Di Florio.

While touring Agribio the group was able to look through the extensive insect library, see a DNA sequencing machine in action and hear about the future of honey bee genomics.

Finally, the group was given exclusive access to the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foresty’s Post Entry Quarantine Facility. This world class facility is where Australia successfully imported Dutch bees resistant to varroa mite in 2021.

Dr Jody Gerdts, founder of Bee Scientifics talked the group through this landmark importation and how the team created a new standard for bee biosecurity measures and what’s next for the industry.

“It was a privilege to see this year’s cohort come together and learn more about Australian bee keeping and importantly how to advocate for change” Ms Chambers said.

“We hope participants walk away with a deeper understanding of what the Wheen Bee Foundation does and a wider range of skills that will allow them to be more effective and impactful in their local communities.”

The Wheen Bee Foundation Bee Ambassador Network brings together volunteer bee advocates to share their passion and talent to help create a better world for bees.

Learn more about the Bee Ambassador program here.

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