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Save the Gay Leatherwood Honey Bees!

leatherwood blossum
...or maybe that should read "Honey I shrunk the forest". The Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey industry is under serious threat from logging. Leatherwood - which is of little timber value - grows alongside the eucalypts, which the loggers want. As the resource has been clear-felled and burned it has forced beekeepers out to the edges of the State Forests and now they are forced to use leatherwood that is much less reliable.

The leatherwood tree is only found in Tasmania's unpolluted wilderness areas - rainforests in the southern and western areas of the island.

These slow-maturing trees flower at between 10 and 20 years of age, but don't produce commercial amounts of honey nectar until they're in their 70s. The flowering habits of the Leatherwood are highly variable both from year to year. Many factors influence the amount of flowers present in any one year. Many apiarists believe that a wet Autumn and Spring leads to heavy flowering in summer. Light intensity also affects whether a tree flowers, even though Leatherwood is a shade-tolerant species it doesn't tend to flower as profusely in a shady position as it will if it forms part of the canopy or grows in a canopy break. The nectar yield of Leatherwood trees is correlated to the age of the tree and research by the Forests and Forest Industry Council has substantiated a common conception among Tasmanian apiarists that young Leatherwood trees are a poor nectar source.

Research has shown that trees under 75 generally don't flower at all and the most prolific flowering trees are those that are 175 to 210 years old!. Age-correlated flowering means that even though regrowth eucalypt forest may be rich in Leatherwood seedlings or young trees it would be worthless as a nectar resource.

Much of the Leatherwood apiary industry in Tasmania is reliant upon old growth forest as these areas contain the richest concentrations of high-yielding Leatherwood trees.

The old growth forests of Tasmania are renowned throughout the world as the home of the tallest flowering plants, Eucalyptus regnans(commonly known as Swamp gum or Mountain ash). The Tasmanian West Coast wilderness areas are considered so valuable and unspoilt that they have been classified as a World Heritage Area.

The spectacular Tasmanian wilderness has helped to create an image of a green unspoilt island. Other natural resource industries which benefit from this image are farming and dairy(products such as King Island cheeses and creams, wineries such as Morilla Estate), seafood(abalone, salmon and scallops) and the apiary industry based on Leatherwood honey. That makes Tasmania a very unique place.

Leatherwood is the single most important nectar plant in Tasmania accounting for about 70% of all honey produced.

Pure(unblended) Leatherwood Honey is analagous to single malt scotch whisky. The distinctive spicy flavour has made Leatherwood honey a reputation as a fine gourmet product. Leatherwood's worth nearly twice as much as other honey. It accounts for three quarters of Tasmania's production. BUT...Logging of the tree has left beekeepers fearful their industry is on the way out. They say that within the state forest there is only about 10 years of commercial honey production left. The problem is that the beekeepers only produce $2 million for the state annually in honey harvesting against a background of Forestry producing about $1.3 billion. Money talks.

Clear-felling of Tasmania’s old growth forest may stop in 2010 but by then it may be too late for the Leatherwood Honey industry.

If you want to know more or offer support or donate to a fighting fund, go here - saveyourleatherwoodhoney.com

Leatherwood Honey should be part of the World Heritage. Don't you think? But without viable stands of old leatherwood trees the industry is doomed.

Postscript: Media Release from the Office of the Australian Prime Minister

"A Way Forward for Tasmanian Forests" (13 May 2005)

Special Species and Honey Producers

As part of the joint package, the Tasmanian Government will invest $11.4 million to support the special species timber and the leatherwood honey industries.
This assistance will include improved access to resources, and support for sawmills in the west and north-west affected by the reservation of substantial special species resources."

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Reader Comments (1)

nice juicy fish
August 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhelo

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