The damage bill is rising for the shire’s honey-producers, with up to 1200 Eurobodalla beehives now confirmed hits in what has all the hallmarks of industrial sabotage.
The mass poisonings first uncovered earlier this week have targeted the hives of major players in the industry at at least 10 sites.
Apiarists now fear that whoever is responsible will strike again and beekeepers are being urged to keep a close eye on their loads.
Police are leading the investigation but had no comment to make yesterday.
Eurobodalla beekeeper Greg Roberts lost just two hives in Murramarang National Park, north of Batemans Bay, but his brother Pat lost 120 at a site on the same road.
Mr Roberts fears the culprits oppose beekeepers being allowed to use leased sites for their hives in national parks and state forests. The hives are there to take advantage of flowering plants.
Mr Roberts, a past president of the NSW Apiarists Association and former national chairman of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, said as many as eight large operators had been hit.
“I can’t work it out. It’s as though ghosts have come out in the night,” he said. “They left no footprints, no car tracks, no nothing, but the attacks must have been well planned.
“With no footprints, they must have worn special footwear or put rags over their shoes. With so many hives destroyed, it is such a
massive thing to do.”
Greg Roberts said it would require more than one or two offenders to go around so many different sites.
Although backpack chemical sprays or pumps had been discussed as the likely method to distribute the poison, Mr Roberts said aerosol sprays may have been used but this method would have required hundreds of cans.
“The attacks are similar in a way to those on logging machinery that was damaged in the past when people went in against logging,” he said.
Greg Roberts said he did not believe other beekeepers were involved in the attacks.
“There are people who don’t want us in the state forests,” he said.
“It would seem that they had maps or even inside information of where the beehives were.”
Pat Roberts lost 240 hives at two sites and quickly ruled out disease as the cause of the deaths.
“I’ve worked with bees all my life. I know when something has been sprayed (by chemical),” he said yesterday.
“Each hive has 50,000 to 70,000 bees.
“A lot of the guys didn’t have insurance. I don’t know yet how we stand.”
With the loss of so many bees, Pat Roberts said it would be a slow process to rebuild the stocks.
“We can’t do anything until spring as we have got to separate them away from other hives, then put in a new young queen. It will take 12 months at least to return to full honey production.”
The Environmental Protection Agency and DPI are testing the dead bees and hives for traces of chemical and the results are not expected until later next week.
Julian Thompson, EPA acting manager south branch, said staff sampled three beehive sites in the Batemans Bay region.
He said apiarists have dozens of beehive sites each to check and had not yet visited them all.