Saving our pollinators needs to ‘bee’ an All-Ireland priority

Pollinators play a vital role in food production
The red-tailed bumblebee and the common carder bee are among dozens of bee species found in Ireland and many are suffering a decline in numbers. Picture by John Breen

THE BUZZ OF BEES is one of the most familiar sounds of summer but these busy pollinators are more than a sunshine accessory – they help put food on our table!

There is so much to love about bees! Like the name suggests, honeybees produce honey, which is delicious in all kinds of foods, but can also be medicinal. When our eldest daughter was very, very young she had a dreadful teething cough, that kept recurring, and probably left me with a few grey hairs, but once she turned one I started giving her a local honey that I’m convinced – although I don’t have the scientific evidence to prove it – helped ease the symptoms.

The honey in question is produced in Powerstown, south Tipperary, and continues to be one of my ‘go to’ products when either of our girls has a cold.

Some day I would love to keep a hive in the garden but I’m still pretty intimidated by the whole idea. So for now, it’s staying on my bucket-list.

Anyway, the reason why I’m writing just now is because this week I’ve received two interesting pieces of news for anyone interested in bees.

Ireland’s pollinators a precious resource

Firstly, on Saturday 23 April 2016, NUI Galway is hosting a public seminar entitled What Humans Can Learn From Bees, which is being presented by Robert Pickard, Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Cardiff.

Topics being addressed by Professor Pickard will include the 14-billion-year history of honeybees and humans, as well as the characteristics of queen bees, and the brains of honeybees and humans including learning, memory, decision-making and communication.  

For more information you can email pro@irishkeeping.ie or grace.mccormack@nuigalway.ie.

Honey bee hives
Honey bee hives at AFBI Loughgall

Secondly, the Bee Husbandry Survey 2015-2016 by Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has just become available for beekeepers to fill out online.

Since 2010, the survey has included questions on bee colony losses as part of a European survey while the findings are also sent to the DARD bee health inspectorate and the region’s two main beekeeping groups, the Ulster BeeKeepers Association (UBKA) and the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers.

Why we need to love our bees!

Bees aren’t just about honey. In fact, of the 101 bee species in Ireland, there is one just ONE native honeybee species! There are 19 types of bumblebees (over half of whom are in decline), and of the 81 other bee species most are solitary, ie they live alone rather than in hives or colonies (and nearly half of these are in decline).

Irish Queen Bee
An Irish Queen Bee surrounded by her workers

And we have all those bees to thank for most of the food that we eat every day. Here’s a fact you may not know – there are 100 crops that provide 90 per cent of the food consumed by humans, and 71 of these crops are pollinated by bees!

There are around 20,000 bee species across the world and all help food production by transferring between plants the pollen that is necessary for fertilisation and the growth of all kinds of crops including your favourite flowers, vegetables and fruit.

Unfortunately, a third of these bees are threatened with extinction because of loss of habitat, pesticides and diseases or pests, including the varroa mite, a parasite that can devastate a hive.

In Ireland, cross-border efforts are underway to help save our bees. Last year, 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) joined forces to agree 81 actions to make the island pollinator-friendly.

The new All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 sets out the challenges facing our bees and the actions necessary to stem the decline of threatened species, including the increased growth of wildflowers both in urban and rural areas.

Guidelines and advice for the various sectors who have a role to play in saving our bees are due to be published in the very near future (I will update accordingly).

It’s heartening that all those committed to the plan recognise the potential long-term benefits of working on a cross-border basis for the sake of the bees, and by extension farmers, gardeners, the economies of both jurisdictions, and of course, consumers.

How to Help Bees

If you feel like doing your bit for bees it’s as easy as putting some bee-friendly plants in your garden or in pots, and if you have the space, let part of your garden or land grow wild. Also, keep an eye out for honey and other bee-related products from your area rather than buying imported goods.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about how conservation efforts are benefiting from cross-border cooperation then you might like to read something I wrote on the TreeCheck app.

 

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