Ireland saving the bees! Plan to tackle pollinator decline

17 Sep 2015

Dozens of organisations in Ireland have united to save bees, signing off on a five-year plan to halt the decline of pollinators across the country.

It means the whole island will have a targeted approach, creating pollinator highways along transport routes, making public parks pollinator friendly and encouraging the public to accept bees into their gardens.

It’s both a tangible and intangible project, with the raising of awareness seemingly key, aiming to ensure everyone knows what bees need, and why they need it, to do their work.

The dramatic reduction in bees and wasps has been clear to see. Anecdotally, the wasp nest in the roof of my house had no re-emergence last summer for the first time in years, for example.

Bees bee populations

We’re in this together

And it’s not just an Irish problem, with countries all over the world starting to panic now that most of those stinging, buzzing little fellas are no more.

In a major study – published in Science – that looked at more than 420,000 records of different bee species over the past 110 years in both North America and Europe, researchers found that rising temperatures are too much for the little creatures to handle.

For many other species, like butterflies for example, changing temperatures see a shift in location, as they respond to the environment around them.

Bees, though, are not so adventurous. They are getting squeezed from the equator in the south but are failing to move further north to avail of the better temperatures.

Many ways to tackle this

Elsewhere, scientists are trying their best to better understand bee behaviour. Some are attaching little tracking devices to the guys to track their movements.

“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 steering group for Ireland’s latest plan.

“Bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscape provides for them.”

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, which researchers will continue to investigate.

A highway of sorts

Internationally speaking, other strategies include novel man-made aids for bees, like Norway’s ingenious bee “highway”, dedicated solely to the striped little guys.

It’s basically a network of nectar-hosting flowers planted by enthusiasts along cemeteries, rooftop gardens and balconies throughout Oslo.

“We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it,” said Agnes Lyche Melvaer, head of the Bybi, an environmental group leading the project.

“To correct that we need to return places to them to live and feed.”

Wasp butterfly

Nobody suspects the butterfly

There’s actually a similar “butterfly highway” project in the US, with plans to establish a 1,500-mile corridor of vegetation between Mexico and Minnesota for the creatures.

It looks like Ireland’s plan is to take bits and pieces from ideas from around the world, syncing it together into a national, focused plan.

“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,” said Dr Jane Stout, associate professor in botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group.

“The full implication of pollinator declines on our crop production, wild flower pollination, as well as our health and wellbeing are not well understood. Furthermore, new threats to pollinators continually arise.

“We need to understand the causes and consequences of pollinator decline in Ireland in order to minimise risk to our food supply, economy, welfare and the wider environment.”

Main and two body images via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic