Joint effort in attempt to preserve Irish bee species

Bee populations in Ireland and globally have declined significantly, making them endangered

Workers bees and a queen bee, yellow spot on back. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Workers bees and a queen bee, yellow spot on back. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Researchers in universities across Ireland are to embark on a networking with communities in a joint effort to help Irish bees survive and thrive.

It has been announced to coincide with the first ever World Bee Day on Sunday; a UN initiative that aims to highlight the importance of preserving bees and other pollinators, and asks people across the world to take concrete actions to preserve and protect them.

Bee populations in Ireland and across the globe have declined significantly, making them endangered. That decline has been accelerating in recent years, especially among native varieties. Of the 100 species of bees in Ireland one-third are threatened with extinction.

“There is a growing population of environmental researchers in Ireland, and across Europe, that are working with the public and community-based organisations to help collect valuable data to track cause and negative impact on bee populations,” explained Kate Morris who manages the Campus Engage Network which is co-ordinated through the Irish Universities Association.

“There is power in numbers, and growing understanding of the public that we too can take simple actions to make a change, to positively contribute to protecting the environment,” she added.

Campus Engage is a national initiative set up for university researchers and staff to mobilise partnerships with community organisations and the public to help them in finding solutions to pressing societal challenges through research.

Their bee project is informed by the 2015 All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP), an initiative of pollinator ecologist Prof Jane Stout from Trinity College and Dr Úna Fitzpatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which was developed following a study indicating half of Irish bee species were in decline.

Community engagement is central to its quest to make Ireland pollinator friendly, to raise awareness, and to support beekeepers and growers. In particular, it seeks to “create the evidence base for action” and track changes over time – by evaluating actions taken to enhance pollinators and monitoring bees across the island of Ireland using citizen scientists.

“Everyone loves bees these days so it’s great to work with others to conserve bees,” Prof Stout said. “Our work relies on the goodwill of many different people – farmers, schools and businesses – allowing us to sample or set up experiments on their land, providing us with information on how the land is managed; beekeepers providing us with honey samples to analyse; and citizen scientists helping us to count flowers for bees.”

Volunteers can log in, assess images of flowers, and contribute valuable data to help make a floral resource map of Ireland and identify hot spots for bees. “And in return, we do a lot of outreach and information sessions – with schools and the general public,” she said. For World Bee Day Prof Stout is kicking off a bee stewardship workshop series with a talk on bees and how they contribute to human wellbeing.

The AIPP group is also working with Tidy Towns organisers in running a pollinator competition.

Campus Engage and AIPP has outlined how individuals and communities can best contribute to the preservation of bees and other pollinators:

  • Plant nectar-bearing flowers for decorative purposes on balconies, terraces, and gardens;
  • Buy honey and other hive products from your nearest local beekeeper;
  • Raise awareness among young people on the importance of bees and express your support for beekeepers;
  • Set up a pollinator farm on your balcony, terrace, or garden; you can either make it yourself or buy at any home furnishings store;
  • Preserve old meadows (which feature a more diverse array of flowers) and sow nectar-bearing plants;
  • Cut grass on meadows only after the nectar-bearing plants have finished blooming;
  • Offer suitable farming locations for the temporary or permanent settlement of bees so that they have suitable pasture; as a consequence, they will pollinate our plants, which will thereby bear more fruit;
  • Use pesticides that do not harm bees, and spray them in windless weather, either early in the morning or late at night, when bees withdraw from blossoms.

Ireland has a small but highly active bee/pollinator research community which recognises the importance of collaboration and fostering the sharing of expertise, according to Dr Jim Carolan of Maynooth University Department of Biology.