How employers can help to save our hard-working bees

Cathy Cronin, left, and Lisa Harlow in the Intel Ireland wildflower meadow, near the factory site in Liexlip, Co Kildare. Picture: Moya Nolan

Ireland’s threatened bee species can benefit from businesses large and small signing up for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, writes Ellie O’Byrne.

“I’m so happy to see them in my garden now, whereas years ago I’d have been swatting them away.”

Lisa Harlow is explaining how her awareness of pollinators, developed through volunteering at work, has impacted on her home life.

Ms Harlow, the external relations manager at Intel Ireland in Co Kildare, has been actively involved in supporting the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan at work, but now she says she’s bringing what she’s learned back and putting it into action in her own garden.

“I look at my garden so differently now, from all the things I’ve picked up,” she says.

“I have an insect hotel and a bird box in my garden now.”

US microchip giant Intel employs 4,500 workers at its 360-acre Kildare manufacturing facility. It’s a sizable site, and Ms Harlow is one of a number of colleagues to spend time promoting on-campus biodiversity at work.

It’s a boost that Ireland’s pollinators, in particular, could use; at least a third of Ireland’s 97 native wild bee species are now facing extinction. And the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan — founded in 2015 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre to try to reverse the fortunes of Ireland’s bees, butterflies, and hoverflies — have launched a special programme that businesses can sign up to, to help save the busiest little workers of them all.

Businesses of all sizes can sign a framework agreement and commit to carrying out pollinator-friendly actions, and report back on the actions they’ve taken, as well as getting involved in logging all-important data on numbers of different species present at their business’ location.

Since Intel signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in 2015, they’ve planted a two-acre wildflower meadow, installed insect boxes, changed their landscaping contract to include pollinator-friendly plants, held awareness-raising events for staff, and supported community biodiversity programmes in their area.

Ms Harlow says becoming more bee-friendly doesn’t necessarily need to cost a business an arm and a leg.

“The initial cost for us was planting the meadow, but we have a landscaping plan on site anyway, so we sat down with our landscaper and just asked that going forward we use biodiversity-friendly plant species,” she says. “Instead of spending the money on something different, they’ve just had a biodiversity focus in our landscaping contract.

“We also covered the cost of producing information leaflets in-house here and we’ve integrated biodiversity into the Pride of Place competition that we run. That’s a set budget, but we make sure that some of the communities list biodiversity impacts in their applications.”

As a massive multinational with a global ecological footprint of its own, and the environmental impacts of things like packaging to consider, and with a ten-year planning permission granted for further expansion that could mean the addition of up to 1,600 jobs at Intel Ireland, is a local initiative like the Pollinator Plan anything but a drop in the ocean when it comes to Intel’s ecological responsibilities?

“In terms of our products, we’re always working on things like battery life and reducing size,” says Ms Harlow. “Here in Kildare, we see ourselves as protectors of the environment that we’re in.

I’ve been for working 30 years in the company and volunteering since the beginning, in using our leadership to help the local community. If you want to link it back to corporate, corporate decide our goals and we take them and make sure we achieve them as a company here locally, and we use that information to benefit the community.

Ms Harlow’s workmate, environmental engineer Cathy Cronin, has been involved in All-Ireland Pollinator Plan actions since last August.

“A lot of my job at Intel is in compliance because we are EPA licenced, but this part of my job is completely voluntary and as an environmental engineer, it’s really enjoyable,” she says.

“We developed a biodiversity walking trail for employees, because we want to transfer all the things we’ve learned to our employees and the community so they could also do actions at home or in the community.”

The river Rye, a tributary of the Liffey, runs to the north of the Intel campus. Working alongside the Friends of the Rye community group, as well as Tidy Towns committees and schools, Intel workers have volunteered to plant butterfly-friendly beds, and this year Intel will partner with a local school in Leixlip to support them developing a pollinator garden.

The response to an in-house information stall set up in the staff canteen, Ms Cronin says, was “overwhelming and, to be honest, more than a little surprising. People were really

interested in learning about things like pollinator-friendly plants people can plant at home, and information on setting up insect hotels.”

There are “no shortage of plans” for how Intel will be expanding their All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in the future.

“We’re running bee identification workshops with the National Biodiversity Centre for World Bee Day, and we’ve helped found North Kildare Biodiversity Group, with a map of all the biodiversity features in the region,” Ms Cronin says.

“We log data from our meadow into the National Biodiversity Centre database, who collect data from all across Ireland to support information they’re collecting, to feed into the progress of the pollinator plans.

“So, at some stage, we hope to be able to measure how all this work has paid off, by seeing an increase in pollinator numbers.”

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