Life

Tony Bailie's Take On Nature: When it comes to pollinators we need a Plean Bee

Don't swat it – there are 99 species of bee in Ireland but many are in decline. Picture from TG4

THE next time you swat a bee on your window it might be worth considering the possibility that you could be contributing to the collapse of our food chain.

There are actually 99 species of bee in Ireland. We have just one type of honeybee and these are for the most part nurtured in man-made hives. However, we also have 21 species of bumblebee and 77 species of solitary bees. And while we might not see their endeavours harvested and sold in jars they all play a vital role in our biodiversity.

It is estimated that bees are worth €53 million annually to the Republic's economy. I can't find a figure for the north but they are unpaid labourers, pollinating our crops and other plant species.

Apples, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, blackcurrants, peppers, courgettes and pumpkins are reliant on bees for pollination. Bees, wasps, moths, butterflies and hoverflies are also responsible for pollinating nearly 70 per cent of Ireland's wild plants.

Yet our bee species are declining and it is estimated that one third are now endangered and under threat of extinction. The use of insecticides, pollution, climate change and disease are all blamed for killing them off and this is in turn impacts on agriculture and our environment.

Another issue is that we have destroyed, often through ignorance and lack of understanding, the habitats where bees feed and nest.

An All-Ireland Pollinator Plan has been developed to help reverse this decline, engaging farmers, local authorities, businesses, schools and gardeners.

A one-hour documentary to mark World Bee Day will be broadcast on TG4 on Wednesday highlighting how the pollinator plan is mobilising individuals and communities to

reverse pollinator decline across all of Ireland.

Plean Bee – plean being the Irish for plan – documents how our gardens, parks, hedgerows and farmland that are over maintained, or are treated with pesticides, are destroying natural habitats for pollinators, which require shelter and different food sources throughout the year.

However, its main focus is on how the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is mobilising a diverse cross section of society – gardeners, farmers, community and sports groups, councils and other land owners – to become pollinator friendly, protecting the environment and protecting the lives of future generations.

The aim of the pollinator plan, launched by Dr Úna Fitzpatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Professor Jane Stout from Trinity College Dublin in 2015, is to encourage as much of Irish society as possible to take action to protect or develop habitats and food sources.

They published action plans for every type of citizen activist, and in Plean Bee we witness how Derry City and Strabane Council has reduced the mowing of grass over the summer, to allow wildflowers to grow to support pollinators.

The documentary also visits a community glasshouse in Donegal, a school in Dublin that has implemented pollinator-friendly policies, a Mullingar farm where traditional hedge-laying helps promote biodiversity, and Buncrana Town, where the local council, the Tidy Towns committee and others have transformed how the town plants flowers and maintains its roundabouts and parkland to the advantage of bees and pollinators.

The success of the pollinator plan is attracting international attention with other countries now looking to Ireland for help in improving the situation of their own pollinators.

The documentary is also a call to action with advise on the steps we can all take to help protect our environment – even if that is just growing a few bee-friendly flowers in a window basket or leaving a small part of your garden to rewild.

:: Plean Bee will be shown on TG4 on Wednesday (May 20) at 9:30pm. For more information on the An All-Ireland Pollinator Plan visit pollinators.ie

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