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Ken and Carol Faulkner proudly display some of their mobile bee homes for better viewing of the solitary bees and their larvae alongside some very lifelike models of native Australian bees cleverly crafted by Browynn Lusted and Paul McEwan. Image: Emma Pritchard.

Buzzing with excitement to educate their community

Emma Pritchard

Let it bee known, Grafton couple Ken and Carol Faulkner are extremely passionate about the Clarence Valley’s native bees, and they are dedicated to educating their community, particularly children, about the important roles these humble flying insects play in the environment and how we can all help to keep their population buzzing.

After spotting a swarm of what she assumed were black flying ants in her ponytail tree a few years ago, Mrs Faulkner approached, armed with a can of fly spray, when she suddenly stopped and observed the tiny creatures, later revealed to be native stingless bees, as they worked.

The following day, Mr Faulkner attended a native bee talk hosted by Landcare, and after being deeply impressed with the knowledge and information shared, he and his wife attended several following native bee talks and workshops and “fell madly in love with our native bees.” 

In 2014, the Faulkners co-founded the Clarence Native Bee Group to help raise the profile and value of native bees and generate further community awareness of their importance.

Mrs Faulkner is especially passionate on educating children about native bees and encouraging them to take an interest in the little creatures and their significant contributions to the environment, and us.

“If we didn’t have native bees, we wouldn’t be here,” Mrs Faulkner revealed.

“They do so much work in the environment.

“If we didn’t have our bees and they didn’t pollinate flowers, the life cycles would not continue.”

Mrs Faulkner said Australia is home to 2000 species of native bees, but only a few groups make honey, including the stingless bee which is a popular native honey producer and pollinator of crops.

“The rest are all solitary bees and they’re wonderful little pollinators,” Mrs Faulkner said with a smile.

“The solitary bees actually pollinate more than the honey bees,” Mr Faulkner added.

“A lot of people don’t even realise that.”

Some of the most commonly sighted native bees in the Clarence Valley include the great carpenter bee, which is the largest bee in Australia, the metallic carpenter bee and the stingless bee. But while the backyard hive business is buzzing, the Faulkners are encouraging more people to take an interest in the solitary bee, aka the pollinator. Mr Faulkner has designed and created a mobile bee home which allows for better viewing of the solitary bees and their larvae.

Built from native timbers and untreated wood sourced from local sawmills, the mobile bee homes, or bee motels, are ingenious wooden boxes which feature internal rows of hollowed spaces drilled into the timber, to provide safe areas for the bees and their larvae to thrive in a quiet environment.  Protected by a layer of perspex, the boxes can be opened from both sides to reveal the ongoing activities of the solitary bees and their larvae without disturbing them or causing them harm.

The boxes also help protect the native bees and their larvae from predators including mites. They have proved to be extremely popular with several members of the Clarence Native Bee Group who have established the boxes around their own homes and gardens to encourage more native bees to visit.

Mr Faulkner began building the mobile bee homes for solitary bees within the past 12 months and he and his wife now have several additional residents at their Grafton home. Comfortably arranged under their front veranda are numerous mobile bee homes which house native bees including the masked bee and the resin bee, which live happily, and rent free.

“They do get out and about in the garden and they do a lot of pollinating so they’re earning their keep I’d say,” Mrs Faulkner said proudly.

“We’re very passionate about native bees and we would love for more people to take an interest in them and learn about everything they do to help people. 

“Children especially are fascinated by bees and it’s wonderful to get them involved with nature and watch them learn about the environment.

“It’s definitely something I feel very passionately about and the mobile homes and great for kids because it allows them to see and learn so much.”

The Faulkners will have an information stall set up in the T.J. Ford Pavilion at the 2021 Grafton Show, to be held on April 23 and 24.

Anyone who would like to purchase a mobile home for better viewing of the solitary bees and their larvae, or anyone interested in learning more about the native bees which call the Clarence Valley their home, will be welcome to come and say hello.

For further information about the Clarence Native Bee Group, please call 66 433 750.

Honey, get your facts right:

  • There are 2000 species of native bees which have been identified in Australia.
  • There are around 12 species on the North Coast of NSW which include the solitary and social bees.
  • Native social stingless bees are honey producers and one hive can produce upwards of 1kg of honey per year.
  • Bees absolutely love plants, and if you want to encourage more native bees to visit your garden, plant native shrubs and trees which often flower.
  • Bees loves plants including native herbs such as pigface, pennywort, pastel flower, xanthosia, yellow buttons, billy buttons, ground daisy, Christmas bells, blue bells, hibbertia and native mint.
  • Pesticides including systemic and contact insecticides are harmful to native bees.
  • Native bees utilise various habitats including trees, logs, timbers, plant stems, leaves, soil and creek banks.
  • Native stingless bees will fly in a peripheral zone of up to 500sqm if nectar or pollen sources are not available in their immediate area.
An exquisite look inside one of the mobile bee homes shows the native bee larvae up close. Image: Emma Pritchard.