Decline of the bumblebee

Fall-off in pollinators seems to be met with indifference in many quarters

There was a horrible inevitability about the latest figures on Irish bumblebee populations; confirming numbers on the island of Ireland are at their lowest level since monitoring began in 2012.

The bumblee's decline over the past six years is in many ways matching the demise of the honey bee and a broader collapse in flying insects across Europe. Six of our rarer 21 bumblebee species were already know to be threatened with extinction.

Their elevated status in helping to ensure biodiversity is confirmed by their distinctive traits. Those threatened with extinction include "the charismatic great yellow bumblebee now confined to the northwest and the shrill carder bee, with its distinctive buzz, now only found in isolated populations in the west of Ireland", according to All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme co-ordinator Dr Tomás Murray of the National Biodiversity Data Centre. These findings provide an early-warning signal of how more common bumblebees are faring – it monitors more than 100 sites with the help of volunteer citizen scientists.

A combination of habitat loss; hunger due to a decline in wildflowers, disease, climate change and imported species has caused bee population decline in Ireland. But intensification of agriculture and pesticides are unquestionably factors too. Details of a new beef deal with China last week were triumphantly announced; another indicator of apparently relentless agricultural expansion. And yet the decline of pollinators seems to be met with indifference in many quarters.


That said, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan launched in 2015 is a beacon of hope. This was one of the first cross-sector attempts by any country to arrest the decline. Project co-ordinator Juanita Browne has put the issue in the right context: "If we care about our ability to produce our food, we must care about pollinating insects. And if we care about wildlife and healthy ecological systems, we must care about the maintenance of all insect populations".