Unfortunately, like most ventures, beekeeping is subject to the risks of asset loss due to theft.
While most common-thieves would avoid going anywhere near beehives, there are some people out there who know what they are doing when it comes to stealing beehives.
Can beehive theft be prevented?
Having been involved in the security industry and as beekeepers ourselves, we believe we can offer some useful advice to other beekeepers when it comes to preventing hive loss.
If you are currently a beekeeper who has hives to protect, or someone interested in becoming a beekeeper, the information in this article may help you protect your assets now and in the future.
Below are our ‘5 C’s’ of beehive security recommendations which can help prevent your beehives from being stolen.
How to prevent beehive theft:
- Choose a hive-site that is out of view from the public
- Control access to the hives
- Cameras or physical surveillance of the site
- Cover your hive equipment with your name or brand
- Covert tracking devices installed in hives
We will cover these tips in more detail a little further on, but first, let’s look at the problem of beehive theft a little more.
How common is beehive theft?
Too common. Anyone that’s been around beekeeping for long enough knows that it is just one of those annoying things that happen every year in every part of the world.
Concerningly, it is believed that the majority of hive theft is committed by other beekeepers, either trying to make a quick buck by capitalising on other beekeepers hard work or to simply mess with their competitor’s resources.
Reasons why beehive theft sucks
This seems self-explanatory, but we need to consider more than just the replacement cost of the hives themselves. The theft of beehives has a greater potential impact than just the victim beekeeper’s wallet.
The types of turds that steal hives aren’t going to be following quarantine guidelines or any basic disease prevention measures.
If they steal an AFB infected hive they won’t care, they’ll just let the disease spread.
They are the type of beekeepers who selfishly put their profits over everyone else’s livelihoods.
Often the hive-thieves will just be after honey and will simply extract any honeycomb from the hives and discard the rest.
They either just pour petrol on the boxes and light a match, or they just discard them in the bush somewhere. Either way, the bees get neglected and/or destroyed.
Insurance premiums rise
The more hive thefts there are, the more we all pay for insurance. It is in every beekeeper’s best interest to work together to prevent hives being stolen, as in the end, we all pay that bit more if there are crims out there getting away with it.
When beekeepers are repeatedly subject to the cost of hive theft, then they have to pass this cost onto the consumer.
Whatsmore, those that are stealing the hives are often adding the stolen honey to the market, making it even more difficult for the affected beekeepers to compete.
When done en mass, hive theft can have a significant effect across the industry.
Hive theft prevention tips
People don’t steal something they don’t know about. Often the hives that get stolen are those on the sides of major highways or other high traffic areas.
By reducing the number of people who see and know about your hives, the less chance they have of being stolen.
Likewise, by ensuring the location of your hives is kept close-hold or on a ‘need to know’ basis, then this limits the likelihood of them being targetted.
Hives located in areas that are difficult to access have a reduced chance of theft. This should go without saying, but it is worth considering.
For a lot of beekeepers, simply having their hives in remote localities reduces the likelihood of thieves getting to them.
Likewise, hives located on private property with controlled access in the form of fences and locked gates will be harder for thieves to target.
Unfortunately for many beekeepers with hives located on government-owned land, they can’t really restrict the public (let alone thieves) accessing their hive locations.
This is why they may need to take some of the following measures.
This can be in the form of physical surveillance or technical surveillance.
While it may be as simple as having the hives located within view of either your own or the property owners residence, being able to physically see the hives on a daily or regular basis will make it more difficult for the less brazen of thieves to target the hives.
Obviously not every beekeeper is going to be able to place their hives within view of their kitchen window. This is where a technical monitoring system comes in handy.
In it’s most simple form this may be a trail camera set up monitoring the hives.
It could be as advanced as a multi-camera CCTV system with remote live stream access, cloud storage backup and linked in with movement or sound detection system with immediate notifications send back to the owner.
Whichever type of technical surveillance a beekeeper chooses will be determined by their own risk assessment, and ultimately determined by their budget and the risk/reward of paying for the setup.
If a beekeeper feels that a cheap trail cam will suffice to cover their handful of hives, then that may be fine for them.
At least if the hives get stolen, they will be able to review the footage in a month (or whenever they get around to checking the hives) and possibly see who took them.
On the other hand, a beekeeper who relies on his hives for a living may prefer to be alerted the moment a suspicious person walks into their apiary, and have dispatched either police or his own linch-mob before even a single drop of honey has left his bees possession.
Either way, there are a number of ways in which technical means can be employed in order to prevent hives from being stolen. It’s simply up to the beekeeper to find what suits them best; both economically and from a peace of mind aspect too.
By covering your hive equipment with either your name or brand, it makes thieves less likely to target your beehives.
Marking the external parts of your hive equipment means a thief may think twice about taking your hive gear and using it as their own.
While a lot of beekeeping gear looks the same, the risk of being caught with stolen gear is increased when there is someone else’s brand clearly stamped on the hive.
Even if a thief decides to remove your hive brand, there will still generally be a sign that is has been on the equipment, thus making it possible to identify the box as being stolen.
Likewise, if you have marked all your individual frames then it will be harder for a thief to sell any of your equipment later on.
While this may seem like a bit of an extreme measure, GPS tracking devices being implanted in your equipment is not all that difficult to set up and install.
Having remotely accessible GPS data can result in the recovery of your equipment and/or the prosecution of the hive thieves.
Many GPS trackers are small enough to fit snugly inside a beehive, can last for several weeks or months before requiring a battery recharge, and can even send notifications to your phone or email as soon as the GPS tracker is disturbed or starts moving.
If you do in fact have tracking devices in your hives then we suggest that you place these as discretely as possible. If it is too easy for thieves to find and discard the tracking devices then it is pointless having them.
Even in the event that you do not catch the thief with the hives before they get discarded, the GPS data recovered from the device may help with police investigations and lead to the prevention of other beekeepers getting their hives stolen.
Our beehive theft prevention measures
Implementing the above, we take on a layered security approach to ensuring our hives do not get stolen.
By making sure that our exact hive locations are not known publically, we reduce the risk of them being targetted, to begin with.
Next, our hives that are placed out are in areas shielded from public view and in areas with restricted access. All of our hives are located on private property, and all of the landowners would guard them with their lives…
Well, maybe not that far, but we are comfortable that they restrict access adequately to the point that it would be difficult for someone to take the hives unnoticed.
As per State requirements, all of our hives are marked with our identifying brand label anyway. That said though, we go further and try to brand as much of our equipment as possible (lids, bases, frames etc).
We have invested in some tracking devices for our hives and employ these at random throughout our apiaries. We won’t disclose on here exactly where and how we hide these devices in our hives.
That said though, they are there, they work, and we are confident in the knowledge that if our hives get taken, that we will be able to monitor exactly when they move and where they end up.
As a further precaution, we also have our apiaries covered by remotely viewable camera systems. These cameras can be viewed live from wherever we are in the world and are set up to alert us of any activity that occurs in the vicinity of our hives.
Yes, we get alerted every time a feral cat happens to walk past, but we are confident in knowing that should anything suspicious occur around our hives, we’ll be sent pictures and video of it happening, as it happens.
If you are chasing ideas on what security camera and gps tracking devices are out there, or are keen to buy some for yourself, we can recommend the following Australian retailer.
The Spy Store is a great place to shop for trail cameras, gps trackers and the like.
If you value your hives and their security, it’s well worth checking out some of the kit they have available!
By having a layered security approach to your hive security, you can limit the potential for hive loss.
Regardless of hive numbers, the perceived threat to their hives, or the price they are willing to pay in order to protect their assets, we believe that every beekeeper can take away something from the tips above.
Whether you follow something basic like simply hiding your 2 hives from the view of passing motorists, or you look into a multi-layered technically enabled system to cover your multiple apiary locations, we hope that you got something out of this article.
If you enjoyed this article and feel it may help others, then feel free to share it.
Together we can make it harder for hive thieves and hopefully stem the losses that our industry and bees suffer.