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  • Writer's pictureMaggie James

Confessions of an AP2 – Danger and the Military

For approximately 15 years Maggie James was an AP2 hive inspector in Canterbury, mainly conducting exotic surveillance. These are some of her confessions…

Last month my “confessions” centred around marital strife, but I promised there was more stories to tell. Yes, my offsider Barry Sheehan and I had our fair share of laughs at some of the situations we encountered. So, here’s some more tales from the life and times of an AP2 inspector, with this month’s focus dangerous situations and encounters with the military…

Maggie James - This was used as my ID photo, until I got a new North Island, AsureQuality line manager who decided that the swan was of no relevance to beekeeping, and deleted it out of the photo with a green blob, which for many years made it look like, on my ID photo for all to see, that I had a massive clump of didymo (rock snot) on my shoulder.

Black Rage

In the early days of varroa in Canterbury there were areas that it wasn’t exhibiting. The commercial beekeeper advised that he had never treated and adamant that, because he had black bush bees, he did not have varroa. We pulled up to the site of 12 hives, and, man, were they aggressive. They could have peeled new paint off a hive!

The miticide strips and sticky boards were rapidly installed. The next day, because 38⁰C was forecast, we knew we had to get to the hives before the sun was well and truly on them, so we left home at 6am for the 70-minute drive to the apiary. Regardless, the hives were majorly aggressive, so we opened the side door of the van and as we pulled out the sticky boards we flung them over the barbed wire fence into the van, followed by the miticide strips.

We drove racing down the road, uttering superlatives, with the side door open and aggressive field bees chasing us. After a couple of kilometres, we pulled over and bagged the strips and sticky boards … black with varroa!

In our experience heavy varroa infestations made bees aggressive, and in this instance the black bush stock exacerbated the situation. We promptly rang the AP1 we were reporting to and, because we valued our lives, refused to look at any more sites belonging to this beekeeper. In our haste we had left behind a sticky board in one of the hives. We heard on the grapevine the beekeeper was surprised to discover he had varroa, and thought what happened to us hilarious!


Back to AFB surveillance and the scariest moment prize. The apiary was situated on a rolling farm of several thousand hectares in the foothills, no mobile phone reception. The farmer showed us the paddock which appeared not to contain stock. Then through the gate, which we closed, at the top of a 4WD hill, and down the hill to the apiary. It really was less an apiary and more a heap of emlocks and trampled woodware. In some of the piles there were still colonies. While we were sorting through this looking for AFB and taking photos, we heard a heavy stamping sound…

You wouldn’t expect to get up close with an airborne Italian military plane when working as an AP2 beehive inspector in Canterbury, but that is exactly what Maggie James and Barry Sheehan got.

We looked up to see a herd of cows, fronted by a massive hoof stomping, wild eyed, head shaking, loudly snorting out its impressive nostrils, large horned bull about to charge the front of the vehicle. We managed to get in the vehicle doors on the apiary side, I hurriedly climbed over the front seat to the steering wheel, quickly reversed, and drove up what seemed like a 90⁰ hill to the gate. Apparently, the cattle had walked up the riverbed from a neighbour’s property.

And One we Avoided…

In a large urban compost heap, on top of two-high bales of pea straw was an apiary of three hives. We declined this inspection!

Canterbury’s Dunkirk Moment

The first time we inspected hives in Akaroa post Christchurch earthquake, was a tedious slow journey. Akaroa Harbour is deep and can accommodate cruise ships diverted from Lyttelton. As such, it was now considered an increased biosecurity risk, but cruise ships can’t dock at the small fishing boat wharves. Therefore, all available small, motorised boats and yachts were bringing in thousands of passengers from the cruise ships. The first time witnessing this flotilla, from a hill above Akaroa, brought thoughts of “Little Ships of Dunkirk” evacuation!

A Long Way from Home

Inspecting a commercial beekeeper’s site in a massive patch of raspberries, it was noted on the surveillance form that sets of pollination hives were at the four main cardinal compass points. Scrambling around the berry patch on a hot Canterbury nor’-west day, we couldn’t find the fourth set when, suddenly, we were mesmerised!

From amidst the canes erupted a man replete in a red Swiss Army Ski Mountain Patrol heavy waterproof uniform, complete with his Victorinox Swiss Army knife dangling from the front of his uniform, looking like he had just been discharged! He delivered an assertive speech on the uselessness of honey bees – bumble bees were the future of pollination. We didn’t disagree, nor did we find the remaining hives. Out the gate, we couldn’t pull the vehicle over quickly enough to split our sides laughing.


Surreally, when inspecting a site with ‘Italian’ strain bees on the Christchurch Airport farm, a loud but sleek airborne Italian two-seater military plane suddenly appeared a few metres just above and to our right. It then flew above the path of the runway, the wheels came down, and within inches of landing, the fighter plane pointed its nose upwards and flew away.

The plane was so close, you could see the crew’s facial features, headgear, and clothing. The reason why the wheels did not hit the ground? According to the farm manager, it would have cost the Italian government thousands of dollars in landing rights if they did.


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