‘Bee friendly’ approach urged to help save species from extinction

Pollinators essential for growth of human food crops but one third of Irish bees at risk

A honey bee on an apple blossom. Irish people are being asked to do their bit to support bees here by making their gardens ‘bee friendly’ as a third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

A honey bee on an apple blossom. Irish people are being asked to do their bit to support bees here by making their gardens ‘bee friendly’ as a third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

Ireland’s bees are slowly starving to death, and their loss puts human food crop production at risk. There is an answer to this threat, however, if everyone lends a hand.

People are being asked to do their bit to support bees here by making their gardens “bee friendly”.

“It is a pretty dire situation in Ireland with about a third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction, ” says Erin Jo Tiedeken of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

This is very bad news for all of us. Pollinators are essential for the growth of human food crops, and without them the fruit will not grow and tomato plants will not set.

“There are multiple pressures on bees but starvation is the main problem,” says Ms Tiedeken, who is project officer for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, an initiative to protect bee populations.

All bees need are pollen and nectar but changing land use is taking out the wild flowers that in the past keep bees well fed.

Hedgerows are being cleared and road verges are being kept free of any thing but grass. And home owners tend to keep their gardens well mowed and flower-free, she says.

‘Survive and thrive’

The plan points the way towards a more bee-friendly environment, with help from gardeners, farmers and county councils. “If everybody does a little bit it will help pollinators survive and thrive,” she says.

“We want people to do anything they can to protect pollinators.”

It can be as simple as letting the dandelions grow and produce flowers when they appear in the spring, giving bees a useful source of food.

If you have a garden it might be possible to leave a strip of grass unmown to encourage wild flowers to set and grow.

These provide both a source of food and a place to live and shelter, she says.

“Gardens can play a crucial role by acting as pit stops for busy bees as they try to move around the landscape,” says Dr Una FitzPatrick of the Data Centre.

It is not difficult to make a bee-friendly garden. A small change of decorative plant choices to species that are rich in nectar and pollen could give bees a boost, plants like lavender, comfrey, catmint and heather.

You could go all out and buy or make a “bee hotel” suited to solitary bee species who are also important pollinators.

Learn how you can play your part in protecting our bee populations by looking at the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

The plan is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and funded by the Heritage Council and Bord Bía.

Five tips to help Ireland’s pollinating bees:

(1) Plant window boxes and hanging baskets with nectar-rich plants such as lavender, sweet white alyssum and cosmos.

(2) Allow a metre-wide strip of lawn along a wall or hedge to go uncut to encourage the growth of wildflowers and provide bee habitat.

(3) Let those dandelions grow, at least during their peak flowering period, giving bees an early season food boost.

(4) Plant pollinator friendly bulbs to flower next spring.

(5) Share pollinator friendly plants with neighbours.