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Experts unveil all-Ireland plan to put the buzz back into our at-risk bees

By Linda Stewart

Published 17/09/2015

A third of the island’s bee species are endangered
A third of the island’s bee species are endangered

A third of Ireland's 98 bee species is under threat of extinction.

The shocking statistic has sparked an all-island drive to reverse bees' decline, which has been caused by a loss of nesting sites and a lack of food.

The new All-Ireland Pollinator Plan published yesterday makes Ireland one of the first countries in Europe to draw up a strategy to address the problem.

It saw 68 organisations come together to draw up an agreement to deliver 81 actions to make Ireland a more friendly place for pollinators.

The recommendations include creating pollinator highways along roads, making parks pollinator-friendly and encouraging people to turn their gardens into pit-stops for insects.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan warned that a tendency to "tidy up" the landscape rather than allowing wildflowers to thrive along verges subjected pollinators to starvation.

Mr Durkan, whose department helped produce the plan, said: "I am very worried about the decline of our native species. A third of our bee population being threatened with extinction is startling.

"It is important, therefore, that my department has been involved in developing this plan. We very much support this call to action to make Ireland pollinator-friendly.

"In coming together to protect pollinators, we will also protect the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their pollinator service, as well as improving the general health of our environment. This voluntary call for action has received overwhelming support."

Steering group chair Dr Úna Fitzpatrick, from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, added: "Bees are declining because we've drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscape provides for them."

Dr Fitzpatrick also highlighted the importance of the decline of wildflowers, blaming increased use of fertilisers for the problem.

She added that the plan was 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.

Group co-chair Dr Jane Stout, associate professor in botany at Trinity College Dublin, said: "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 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."

Five ways to support our plucky pollinators

Aim to have plants that are attractive to pollinating insects in flower from early spring to late autumn. Winter flowering plants can also be of benefit. Roses, clematis, geraniums, foxgloves, lavender, chives and borage are all ideal.

Grow garden plants with flowers that attract pollinating insects. Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers. Such flowers may lack nectar and pollen, or insects may have difficulty in gaining access.

Never use pesticides on plants when they are in flower.

Wildflowers can be an attractive addition to planting schemes and may help support a wider range of pollinating insects.

Encourage bees by keeping honeybees yourself. Or nest boxes containing cardboard tubes, hollow plant stems or holes drilled in blocks of wood will provide nest sites for some species of solitary bees. Such nests are available from garden centres or you can make your own.

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