Ireland hopes to provide a haven for bees

Northern Ireland groups are to play a major role in cross-border efforts to save the island's precious pollinators

Solitary bee, halictus rubicundus, by Steven Falk

HERE'S an interesting fact that I learned this week – 100 crops provide 90 per cent of the world's food and 71 are pollinated by bees.

This information was contained in an exciting new all-Ireland plan to save the island's 97 wild bee species, which include 20 types of bumblebee.

Now, here's a frightening fact – a third of those bee species are threatened with extinction.

Why should we care? It's simple, bees help keep us fed. Just picture a world without onions, rapeseed oil, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sunflower seeds and apples, to name a few.

All bees are pollinators, meaning they help fertilise plants by transferring pollen.

We are all directly affected by the work done by bees as pollinators – from farmers and gardeners to retailers and shoppers.

Armagh's orchard owners are very aware of the importance of bees in ensuring that pollination takes place. The pollinator service provided by bees is worth more than £7 million to the north's apple industry every year.

If the bees are affected by disease or cold/wet weather or loss of habitat then crop yields plummet.

Researchers have found that wild bees are declining because we are effectively making them hungry and homeless by removing the flower-rich meadows they need for food and by reducing the number of suitable nesting sites.

The wildflower issue is a bit of a vicious cycle because if there are no wildflowers there will be no bees and vice versa.

And so, the new All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 is a call to arms by 68 governmental and non-governmental bodies who have agreed to work towards tackling the decline of our pollinators.

The plan was devised by a steering group which was chaired by Dr Úna FitzPatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which will track progress by measuring increases in the abundance and diversity of bees.

It is geared towards making Ireland a haven where pollinators can survive and thrive – making it one of the first places in Europe to create a strategy to address the crisis.

It also involves 81 agreed actions to make the island more pollinator friendly, through proper monitoring and education.

Landowners and growers, the public, agricultural and horticultural colleges, transport bodies, schools, gardeners, environmental interests and beekeeping groups will all have a part to play in helping our bees.

Concrete actions will include the publication of ‘how-to' guides, training on disease identification and participating bodies will be asked to submit annual progress updates.

One such group, Ulster Wildlife, says it is already helping pollinators thrive by “protecting and restoring wildlife-rich meadows and roadside verges in Fermanagh and Tyrone and raising awareness of their plight”, through its Save Our Magnificent Meadows initiative.

Separately, Claire Barnett of RSPB Northern Ireland says that “by managing the landscape in a more sustainable way, creating a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats and reducing the use of chemical insecticides, everyone can play their part in helping pollinators flourish”.

RSPB NI's plans include providing data for the All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme , maintaining habitats for nesting bees and incorporating pollinators into reserve management plans where appropriate.

Meanwhile, Patrick Lundy of the Ulster Beekeepers Association (UBKA) says the umbrella body is “actively supporting” the plan, pointing out that they are already “active participants” in the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, which aims to increase stocks of pure native British/Irish (black) bees.

They are also taking part in Europe-wide research on pollen diversity and provide guidelines to members on guarding against diseases and pests that pose a threat to hives.

Finally, here's how you can help – make sure your garden has flowering flood sources from spring through to winter and resist the temptation to destroy clover and dandelions, which are vital food sources.

You should also avoid using pesticides and try not to disturb nesting or hibernating bees in area like long grass, bare soil, dead wood or walls.


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