Why Leatherwood is crucial to commercial Beekeeping in Tasmania

The Facts

Leatherwood is an under story tree found in the rainforests and wet eucalypt forests of Tasmania. It produces a wonderful unique honey, which is regarded as one of the finest in the world.

Only Reliable nectar Resource

Leatherwood is the only resource in the Tasmanian forest guaranteed to flower every year.  It begins flowering around the beginning of January when the other plants in Tasmania’s flowering sequence have finished, and continues to the end of March.

No Leatherwood No Industry

Without Leatherwood, commercial beekeeping in Tasmania will be unsustainable. Beekeepers are unable to remove the crop on the hives at the beginning of January because the bees need sufficient stores to carry them through the winter to around the beginning of September.

Leatherwood a Commercial Asset

If beekeepers have Leatherwood to move onto, they can remove the first honey crop at the beginning of January. They get another two ‘takes’ of Leatherwood and the bees still have sufficient stores to enable them to survive the winter. [from end of March till beginning of September].

Land Grab

The best Leatherwood nectar resource tends to be in the most sheltered & fertile areas, hence Forestry Tasmania's predilection for clear felling & wood chipping our resource. Forestry Tasmania has clearfelled & burnt areas rich in Leatherwood that have little or no eucalypt resource, just to put them under plantation.

Where is the accessible Leatherwood ?

Most of the accessible Leatherwood,[accessible is the key word as bees need to be within 3kms of a nectar source in order to be able to harvest it economically] is on Crown Land managed by Forestry Tasmania.  Leatherwood trees need to be 70 years plus to produce a regular supply of nectar.

How much is beekeeping worth to Tasmania?

We all consider the beekeeping industry to be iconic of the states clean & green image. At the moment the beekeeping industry contributes in excess of $5M to the economy in terms of honey production. However we could contribute much more than that if the Leatherwood resource had been given equal importance with the timber industry and protected intelligently. This figure does not include the value of pollination to the agricultural, horticultural  and seed production industries which contribute in excess of $350M annually to the states economy.  This is based only on the returns to the growers and does not take into account the flow on affects to other segments of the economy.

What about the RFA?

The RFA says that Forestry Tasmania must enhance & develop the beekeeping industry. [Ref: clause 74 page 22 & clause 29 attachment 12]. Despite this, Forestry Tasmania has failed to do this & has destroyed large areas of this unique [to the world] Leatherwood resource.

What about the forest practices code?  

The forest practices code states that class4 streams should be machinery exclusion zones & that class 4 streams rich in Leatherwood must be retained. [ref page 57 forest practices code 2000] however these class4 streams have been and are still being clear felled by outdated cable harvesting methods. There is plenty of room for both industries. Forestry Tasmania and the beekeepers are now cooperating to ensure that most of the surviving Leatherwood is retained in areas where timber harvesting takes place. In one area in the Derwent District of State Forest containing substantial stands of mature Leatherwood trees this has resulted in coupe boundaries being drawn to avoid destroying this resource. This change in coupe planning and harvesting practice is an important development and should now be applied statewide without exception. However it is already too late to have much impact in the Huon District where close to 80% of the Leatherwood resource has been destroyed.

With more wisdom from Government and a more balanced approach to timber harvesting, a more equitable balance could be achieved. We all would do well to heed Albert Einstein who is reputed to have said ‘if bees were to disappear we would only have a few years to live’


Without commercial beekeepers to pollinate crops, the expanding horticultural industry [apricots, cherries, pome fruit, strawberries, raspberries etc. & seed producers- brassicas, onions, clover etc.] will suffer greatly reduced production. This will severely impact on the government’s current State of Growth Plans of 2014 to increase tenfold agricultural production by 2050.double agricultural production over the coming 5years. In fact 70% of all our Tasmanian grown food supply relies on the honey bee for production through pollination. This says nothing about the increase in honey bee pollination services required to ensure the sources of expanded agricultural and horticultural production arising from the state irrigation schemes under construction.

There is already a shortage of hives for pollination, and at time of writing [2014] only 30% of the recently planted cherry orchards are mature enough to require pollination.

A hidden consequence of the destruction of the Leatherwood resource is the age of beekeeper, many are over 60, some are in their 80’s. Without a secure resource the industry is unable to attract younger members, essential for its survival. Existing beekeepers are un willing to invest large amounts of capital to expand their business. Hence the shortage of hives available for pollination can only be exacerbated over the coming years.