A question from a nine-year-old wondering what a ‘bee-friendly’ sign on a building meant, was an eyeopener. We tried to explain simply that it’s all about providing flowers and plants from which bees can remove and spread pollen, thereby helping seeds and fruit to grow.
“Pollination helps provide food for the whole world,’’ we told him. “But bees, as pollinators, are themselves short of food. They feed on pollen and nectar from flowers and we must lay on enough flowers for them to feed on.’’
He already knew something about all that, which shows how better educated the younger generations are about such matters than those of us who grew up in a vastly different world. One of the few upsides of the pandemic is that people have more time to notice nature and become closer to it.
They’re welcoming bees into their gardens by growing flowers and plants that attract different species, to the extent that Juanita Browne, of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan group, reports they are “blown away’’ by how communities are rowing in and leading the way.
“It has been truly inspirational to witness all the pollinator-friendly actions by community volunteers, marked by All-Ireland Pollinator Plan signs in towns and villages everywhere, from reducing mowing and letting dandelions bloom, to planting native hedgerows and community orchards,’’ says Juanita.
Upwards of 80% of all 918 Tidy Towns groups have projects for pollinators. Hence, the ‘bee-friendly’ signs in many places, including the sign mentioned in the introduction in Killarney, Co Kerry.
Religious communities have also adopted the pollinator guidelines to create safe spaces for biodiversity in churchyards and graveyards.
In Belmullet, Co Mayo, people have adopted our most endangered bee, the great yellow bumblebee, while Monaghan Tidy Towns has created links between several pollinator-friendly habitats.
The plight of extinction-threatened bees has been well documented. In the past half-century, modern farming has reduced the amount of flowers with the result we now have fewer bees.
The Pollinator Plan, however, is not about returning to old ways — it’s about finding new ways to provide enough food for pollinators in the farmed landscape. Organisations like the Bride Project, in east Cork and west Waterford, are harnessing exemplary work by farmers and blazing a trail.
Old-style farming was truly pollinator-friendly because it allowed wild flowers to flourish. In the meadows, you had a range of flowers such as buttercups and daisies, more flowers in hedgerows, and people grew more of their own fruit and vegetables.
How to replace all that is the challenge in a new world.