Neal McAloon – apiarist, passionate about environmental education and sustainability
Back in April, on a gorgeous blue sky Autumnal day in Arrowtown I met Neal at the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust apiary on Whitechapel Road. The bees were very calm as they began to wind down for the incoming winter season.
With a passion for outdoor education, Neal first came to Queenstown to pursue a career as an instructor and guide, with an overarching goal to drive a community focused environmental footprint to help off-set the effects of tourism in the area.
While recovering from a ski injury, Neal made the best use of his time and achieved a professional apiculture qualification, which together with his background in outdoor education made the obvious Segway into apiculture and the future protection of the environment. This qualification also gained him a teaching post at Otago Polytechnic, where apiculture classes are proving more and more popular, with students learning about the complete process of starting a hive and seeing it through from start to finish.
Neal’s driving belief behind Bee the Change is the Maori principle of kaitiakitanga, ‘guardianship’, and that in order to encourage healthy bee populations, we need to be providing environmental education and pollination initiatives. Thus began the idea of sponsorship by both individuals and corporate sponsors and strategically locating them in high profile places. You will have no doubt seen the hives in Queenstown Gardens? Ridden past them on the Arrow River Bridges Trail shortly after the Southern Discoveries bridge out to Gibbston? Or driven past them in Arthurs Point?
With around 15 local businesses sponsoring hives, as well as local community support from Wakatipu Reforestation Trust, the Queenstown Trails Trust and Queenstown Lakes District Council, Neal is able to continue advocating and growing awareness and education around the importance of bees. Each location has a super helpful information board on what Bee the Change is doing and how biodiversity is crucial to bee colonies and what you can do to help. With the colonies being so close to the trail, it brings awareness and education to people who know nothing about the problem and the amazing creatures bees are.
This was only his second summer operating Bee the Change, but boy does it take up a lot of his time. With every cent he earns going towards his longer term goal of exporting bees, it all counts. With three locations dotted around the Wakatipu Basin, he uses his ute for most of the honey collection (some trays weigh up to 30kgs plus, so I don’t blame him), but for checking on the hives and getting around to them he uses his awesome ebike and trailer set up and uses the Queenstown Trail for most of it, all the while leaving no trace. In lockdown the trail was essential for him and his family to get outside with his then 1 year old.
Now the honey has been harvested, Neal leaves the bees with some remaining honey as well as some food for the Winter, as they start to become more dormant. Honey extraction and production happens at a very top secret site in the Wakatipu Basin! At the end of every honey season, he puts together a gift basket for all the sponsors as a way of thanks for their support and it includes homemade beeswax wraps, mead and other by-products from the honey.
What’s interesting is that the honey from the different areas shows the healthiness (or unhealthiness) of the area, and in some cases it shows the need for more biodiversity and bee friendly areas with no spraying allowed. Neal has been working with council on this subject to advocate for educating about bee friendly zones, to reduce the need to mow and spray and actually let verges grow wild where they can be and improve biodiversity. A small, inexpensive means to help achieve this was through Bee friendly signs to make people aware and not to spray. These can be put up in your garden or on your land.
With future plans to export bees to countries where bee populations are extremely low, where it actually affects food production, Neal’s goal is to use New Zealand’s unique geographical advantage and stringent bio-security laws, healthy colonies would be shipped to help crisis areas around the world to help repopulate colonies.
After our chat, Neal heads off for a meeting in Arrowtown with some chefs who are interested in buying his honey. Now that the harvest is done, he needs to make a living in order to provide for his family and so his hard work is rewarded.
If you’d like to know more head to Bee the Change to read about the fantastic work that Neal is doing, and how you can get involved and possibly sponsor a hive.