Ireland’s plan to tackle alarming decline of bees

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

That is a comment attributed to Albert Einstein and reflects why 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations are busy with a shared plan of action to tackle pollinator decline and make Ireland a place where pollinators can survive and thrive.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, published today, makes Ireland one of the first countries in Europe with a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services. The initiative has generated huge support and has culminated in agreement to deliver 81 actions to make Ireland more pollinator friendly.

The plan identifies actions that can be taken on farmland, public land and private land. These include creating pollinator highways along our transport routes, making our public parks pollinator friendly and encouraging the public to see their gardens as potential pit-stops for our busy bees.

With the support of organisations like An Taisce Green-Schools, it aims to ensure that everyone, from schoolchildren to farmers, gardeners, local authorities and businesses, knows what pollinators need and which simple cost-effective actions they can take to help. The Plan will also support bee-keepers in keeping our honeybees healthy.

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the plan steering group. “Bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest.”

Ireland’s plan to tackle alarming decline of bees

The pollinator plan is not just about protecting bees but also about protecting the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their ‘free’ pollinator service, which allows consumers to buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. This service is worth more than £7 million per annum for apples in Northern Ireland, and €3.9m for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s not just crops; about three-quarters of our wild plants also require insect pollinators. Without pollinators the Irish landscape would be a very different and much less beautiful place. The value of pollination to tourism and branding our produce abroad is enormous, but has never been assessed in a monetary sense.

Dr Jane Stout, Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group, added: “If we want pollinators to be available to pollinate our crops and wild plants for future generations we need to manage the landscape in a more sustainable way and create a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats as well as reduce our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.”

The actions in the plan are based on scientific evidence from research conducted in Ireland and elsewhere.

However, there are still gaps in our knowledge. Dr Stout’s Plant-Animal Interactions research group in Trinity College Dublin will continue to do research to understand the full implication of pollinator declines.

Bee aware

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the best ways to encourage bees of all types into your garden is by providing nectar- and pollen-rich flowers throughout the year.

  • Clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places will be more attractive than plants that are scattered or in shade. These include foxgloves, pussy willow, bluebells, honeysuckle, thyme, and summer heathers, while non-native species like sunflowers, sweet pea, and lavender will provide plenty for bees to forage on. Planting wildflower meadows will also greatly benefit bees.
  • Use pesticides sparingly. Those based on fatty acids or plant oils and extracts pose little danger to bees but will not control all pests. Do not spray open flowers.
  • Provide nest sites for bees. Some will nest in hollow stems, such as bamboo canes or herbaceous plant


Lifestyle

From Turkey to Vietnam, here’s where the chef and food writer has fallen in love with on her travellers.Sabrina Ghayour’s top 5 cities for foodies to visit

Dr Dympna Kavanagh, chief dental officer, Department of Health (University College Cork graduate)Working Life: Dr Dympna Kavanagh, chief dental officer, Department of Health

Like most Irish kids of our generation, chillies, spicy food, heat were never really big aspects of our formative eating experiences.Currabinny Cooks: Getting spicy in the kitchen

Timothy Grady is in Bantry this week to host a concert, and read from his classic book about the Irish in London, writes Don O'Mahony.Giving voice to the emigrant experience

More From The Irish Examiner