A new initiative to save Irish bees starts in your garden

14 Jul 2016

One-third of Ireland’s nearly 100 bee species is threatened with extinction. To tackle this, a new back-garden initiative has been launched around the country.

“We expect bees to be there when we need them, but in order for bees to survive they have to have enough food year round,” according to Dr Erin Jo Tiedeken, who is the project officer for an initiative that encourages the public to turn their gardens into food factories for honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.


Food sources

“Comfrey, lungwort, lavender, catmint, and heather are all great food sources for bees,” said Tiedeken, adding that the initiative’s primary hope is that we keep bee-friendly flowers in bloom between March and October.

The idea is simple. We need bees to keep pollinating, as it helps crops in more ways than you might think. Bees need an environment where they can survive and, given so many species are under threat around the world, national initiatives are cropping up everywhere.

A study in Science last year that looked at more than 420,000 records of different bee species over the past 110 years in both North America and Europe 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.

Focus and effort

Last September, dozens of organisations in Ireland got together to formulate a plan, with this latest initiative the next step.

There are guidelines on how to make gardens of various sizes and types into pollinator-friendly environments. One of the tips is to cut your grass a little less to encourage wildflower growth.

“If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the biggest challenge you have to face,” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

She added “gardens can play a crucial role by acting as pit stops for busy bees as they try to move around the landscape”.

In February, at a summit in Kuala Lumpur, delegates from almost 100 countries met to discuss the issues surrounding animal pollinators, thrashing out ways to solve an ecological crisis.

Their findings were two years in the making, with 77 scientists highlighting the implications of these species’ declines for the world’s food supply and economy.

Two-out-of-five species of invertebrate pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies etc) are headed for extinction unless something changes. A little better off are larger pollinators like birds and bats, yet, still, one-in-six species faces extinction.

Main bee image via Bobryaner/Flickr

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic