Facebook has taken down a fake Sir David Attenborough post encouraging people to feed a teaspoon of sugar water to help struggling bees.
Social media was abuzz about the article claiming to be from the much-loved natural history broadcaster.
“If bees were to disappear from the face of the earth, humans would have just four years to live,” it read.
“If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee.”
The post went viral and was shared across the world, but internet links to it no longer work.
In a statement, the BBC revealed it asked Facebook “to take down the page as it and posts were purporting to be from Sir David”.
NSW beekeeper Chris Wyatt had his suspicions from the start.
“I idolise him [Sir David], I think he’s a fantastic role model for young people and all of the wonders of the world, so I thought it was quite an odd suggestion for him to be putting out himself,” he said.
“Initially I just brushed it off as I guess a pretty trivial idea that probably wouldn’t have a significant impact and a teaspoon of sugar was not going going to end the world.”
But Mr Wyatt became concerned about comments on the post in which well-intentioned people came up with increasingly inventive ideas to feed bees the equivalent of “fast food”, including filling bird baths with sugar water.
In an impassioned post on his Facebook page that had been shared more than 15,000 times, the apiarist wrote “please don’t feed my bees” and asked “good Samaritans to think twice”.
He is most concerned that, against Australian biosecurity requirements, people have added honey to the mix.
“In Australia, we’re really kind of privileged in that we don’t have some of the pests that are really impacting on colonies overseas but one thing that is a problem here is American foulbrood, which is a bacterial disease that is spread through the feeding of honey,” Mr Wyatt told the ABC.
“My major concern was that while people were well meaning and wanting to help out bee colonies, that they may inadvertently spread this disease.
“The only option for beekeepers when they find it is to euthanase the hive, which is devastating for the beekeeper but can also be quite widespread devastation within a community because it can spread if not noticed and not dealt with.”
So should people feed bees sugar?
The NSW Department of Primary Industries has published a guideline for apiarists considering feeding sugar to bees as a management tool in times of stress.
On a listening tour of western Queensland, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s attention was captured by Bulloo shire mayor John “Tractor” Ferguson hand-feeding his drought-affected bees.
“In that situation there was absolutely no feed out there at all and he was feeding them pollen supplement,” Australian Honey Bee Industry Council executive director Trevor Weatherhead said.
“The nectar they collect is their source of carbohydrate and the pollen is a source of protein and they need protein to survive.”
Strict biosecurity requirements apply to feeding bees
Mr Weatherhead said it was not useful for householders to put out water and sugar for bees.
“If they saw a honey bee out on its last legs and they went to feed it some sugar and water there’s every likelihood they’ll get stung and the bee will die in any case,” he said.
“Beekeepers usually leave enough stores on the hives to survive, so whilst the intentions are good I think it’s sort of a bit misplaced.”
In North America, Europe and Asia, bee numbers have nosedived, hard hit by mysterious colony collapse, disease, pesticide use, land practices and predators.
But Australia’s European honey bee population is estimated to be the biggest it’s been in a decade.
In August last year, more than 647,000 bee hives were registered to 20,081 beekeepers, with hundreds more registering this year.
“Hive numbers and beekeeper numbers are increasing all the time, so that’s a very good sign for Australia,” Mr Weatherhead said.
In Brisbane, Bob Lutterell, who keeps stingless native bees, cooks up a special sterile sugar mix he uses to help hives he has rescued from water meters.
“Feeding is one thing that is occasionally necessary if a stingless bee hive is struggling for food,” Mr Lutterell said.
“It is a definite no-no to feed honey.”
Western Australian beekeeper Shelley Bowden said bee populations around Kendenup, north of Albany, were strong. She agreed there was a lot involved in supplement bee feeding.
“If you’re not feeding them the right ratio of sugar and water, or say brown sugar for example, you can also give bees dysentery, which obviosity makes them very sick and can kill them.”
Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiardis said there were more than 1500 species of bees and valuable pollinators in Australia and the debate over the fake Sir David Attenborough post had been valuable.
“Anything that starts to raise awareness in people in general about the importance of pollinators is a good thing, but we need to really take all the advice from entomologists and beekeepers who understand the biosecurity ramifications of sharing things that wouldn’t naturally be shared.”
Mr Georgiadis said the best thing any of us could do was to grow more plants that flower at different times of the year.
“We need to look after our bees across the year and we can do it by thinking a little bit more extensively about how plants flower seasonally.”