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Bring back the bees – How to help boost bee populations

Bees have been a focus for environmentalists for some time now, with declining numbers raising fears.

Habitat loss, pesticides and infection have all played a part in the diminishing bee population and, as a result, fruit, vegetables and flora which would normally be pollinated by bees have also suffered. With 75 per cent of food crop species needing pollination to maximise the amount of seed or fruit produced, the function of bees within the ecosystem is unarguably essential. Crops like strawberries, cocoa, coffee, tomatoes, almonds and apples are all reliant on such pollination.

There are 101 bee species in Ireland. Nineteen of these species are bumblebees, and more than half of these bumblebee species are experiencing a worrying decline. Urbanisation, aggressive agricultural practices, manicured lawns, climate change and pesticide use are all playing their part in the disappearance of our beautiful bees. Should current trends continue, it states that a third of all bee species in Ireland will be extinct by 2030.

Irish honeybee
Bees are necessary for ensuring food security and maintaining healthy ecosystems. – Image: Irish Honeybee

As bees work to pollinate flowering trees and wildflowers they, in turn, provide food and homes for other animals and improve water, air, and soil quality.

Bumble bees are the most commonly known pollinators in Ireland but birds, moths, butterflies and hoverflies also play a role. These little ones rely on nectar for energy and pollen for protein.

There are many ways in which we can make small changes to increase the availability of plants and flowers which will benefit the aforementioned species. The key to making your garden pollinator friendly is to avoid ‘hunger gaps’, these are times when there are no nectar or pollen-rich flowers in bloom.

To maximise potential in assisting the bees, try to  have something flowering in your garden year round even it is weeds! Contrary to popular belief, not all weeds are bad!

Brambles, Ivy, nettles and thistles all provide necessary food for all pollinators. Dandelions in spring provide an important first food for bees coming out of hibernation so waiting a while to mow your lawn is a good idea.

Bees My Good Planet
A useful guide to pollinators, which shows what plants works best and at which time of year.

It’s not all about the flowers, however, as native Irish trees are also perfect sources of food for pollinating insects. Trees such as hawthorn, alder, crab apple, hazel, willow, horse chestnut, rowan and most fruit trees will bring a host of benefits to any garden or patch of land. Not only will they provide necessary sustenance and shelter for insects; they will also serve as a home for squirrels, birds and other native wildlife species.

Allow an area of your garden to grow wild, as native wildflowers are an excellent food for pollinators. Even if we don’t all have the advantage of a green open space, it’s possible to make use of windowsills, balconies and rooftops of apartment blocks, with pots of lavender and hanging baskets. They look gorgeous and play a vital role; think of them as a drive-through for passing bees.

Bee home My Good Planet

The Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators was formed in Columbia at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Medellin.

Ireland joined 20 other concerned countries working together to protect pollinators and set up the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP) in 2015. This is a cross-sector initiative involving schools, communities, businesses and councils to slow the decline in pollinators.

Led by Dr Una Fitzpatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Co.Waterford, and Professor of Botany Jane Stout, Trinity College, the plan is already showing excellent results.

Dr Tomás Murray, senior ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre has, however, confirmed that “Based on a 2006 ‘red list’ , we already knew that six of our rarer 21 bumblebee species are threatened with extinction from this island,” adding that out of 98 bee species in Ireland, almost a third faced complete eradication. The ongoing study is allowing scientists and researchers to gather more information, but every citizen can get involved if they feel they want to make a difference.

In 2017, we collectively walked 883km over 490 hours, and counted 12,969 bumblebees across 14 species, making this one of the first national citizen science schemes in the world that tracks changes in wild pollinator populations,”  – Dr Tomás Murray, National Biodiversity Data Centre

A vast array of additional advice and information is available at the Pollinators website.