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'We never expected to be bombarded' – Backyard bees pooing on people's homes

Bees may be known for making honey, but they are becoming infamous for making a messy by-product that’s causing a stink in urban areas.

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Once bee poo hits its target it’s nearly impossible to get off. Source: Fair Go

Bee poo is a waxy, sticky substance that gets released when bees leave their beehives and relieve themselves mid-flight. If the hives are located in a residential area, the excrement can end up landing on nearby roofs, decks, cars and people’s washing.

A group of residents in Auckland's Whangaparaoa have been battling the issue for the past seven years and say it’s only getting worse.

“It can be detrimental to your whole quality of life,” Alison Charles said.

A bee’s diet is made up of nectar, pollen, propolis and enzymes. When this is excreted, it can be extremely difficult to remove.

John and Rosemary McGregor told Fair Go they had a contract cleaner “who used a razor blade” to get the poo off “but he scratched the glass”.

Charles says as soon as she cleans her windows, the poo is “just back the next day”.

“We chose an urban area. We live in an urban area. We never expected to be bombarded with bee poo.”

The residents approached Fair Go for help. They're not upset with the bees, rather the humans keeping them without consideration for those living around them.

Backyard beekeeping has taken off in Aotearoa.

The total number of registered hives in the country has doubled in the past five years and is nearing one million.

But one beekeeping educator warns that while enthusiasts may start out with the best of intentions, mistakes can be made without the proper preparation.

“When you're a beginner beekeeper, one of the most difficult things is learning how to read the environment and learning to read your bees,” Warkworth Beekeepers Society secretary Grass Esposti explained.

This includes ensuring that the bees have the right food and water sources and following Apiculture New Zealand’s Code of Conduct which lays out best practice beekeeping expectations.

Chief Executive Karin Kos says urban beekeeping can be “hugely beneficial to community green spaces with bees actively pollinating plants ... but this must be balanced with public safety and reducing any risk of public nuisance”.

It says hives should be located “away from places frequented by the public where they are likely to cause a nuisance to people, livestock, residences, businesses or those in the vicinity”.

Local council bylaws also cover this, some even limit the number of hives people can have in an urban area.

In 2018, Whanganui District Council drew the line at six hives after one property had up to 17 at one time.  Hobby beekeepers in that region are now only allowed two.

In the past couple of years, the council has had 33 complaints about urban bees, half of them related to bee poo. Auckland Council has also seen a rise in complaints, enough to prompt them to take another look at the issue.

In Tāmaki Makaurau, it's illegal to put beehives on public reserves without a license, but some commercial beekeepers are getting around the rules by planting hives in gardens of residents who live on the edge of reserves, rich with mānuka.

It’s a practice known as boundary stacking and that’s what's been happening in Whangaparāoa.

Auckland Council compliance investigations team manager Kerri Fergusson says they’ve identified a commercial beekeeper who was dropping a couple of hives at the different properties around the area.

“When you put the whole thing together… it's far too many and that's where the nuisance came,” Fergusson said.

The beekeeper was initially warned and stopped operating for a time but resurfaced again at the end of last year.

Now he's been issued with an abatement notice and ordered to remove his hives from the area or face fines ranging from $740,000 for a one-off infringement to $300,000 if charged and convicted in court.

Fergusson says the council is going to improve how they identify beekeepers and where necessary, hold them accountable.

Auckland Council is currently reviewing its bylaws, including whether to limit the number of hives that can be kept in an urban area.

Kos told Fair Go the issue of boundary stacking is “a growing concern for our industry, not just for the poor behaviour it can result in, but also in how it can contribute to poor bee health. We do not condone this behaviour”.