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Pollinator plan is creating a buzz - Farmers' input will be key vital in reversing the decline of bees and other pollinators



An apiarist with full equipment checking the hives in a blossoming rapeseed field

An apiarist with full equipment checking the hives in a blossoming rapeseed field

An apiarist with full equipment checking the hives in a blossoming rapeseed field

In one of his most celebrated poems, 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', WB Yeats pines for a land of buzzing bees, but in the 129 years since the poem was published, the population of bees and insects in Ireland has gone into decline.

One third of 99 bee species in Ireland are now in danger of extinction, says Dr Una Fitzpatrick of the National Biodiversity Centre. A conservation study which is currently examining Ireland's 11,422 insect species has showed they are also in steep decline.

The intensification in agricultural practises in recent years has been a major contributing factor in decimating our wildflowers which are vital for bees and insects to survive, says Dr Fitzpatrick.

"The lack of food in the form of wildflowers is the main driver behind the decline in bees and insects. Pesticides are being used when they're not needed and killing wildflowers. We're tidying up hedges and destroying the habitats of bees and insects."

Dr Fitzpatrick estimates that 14pc of butterflies and 12pc of dragonflies are in decline and that the same reasons for the decrease in bee species apply to these insects.

In 2015, the National Biodiversity Centre launched the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan to address the decline of key pollinators.

In September of this year, the Centre issued 'Farmer guidelines to help pollinators' in conjunction with Teagasc.

Teagasc countryside specialist Catherine Keena said that out of the five recommendations, those allowing for flowering hedgerows and wildflowers to grow around the farm are the most important actions farmers can take to conserve the bee population.

"When people are cutting down hedges they think they are doing a good job and tidying up their farm, but they need to think of hedges and celebrate our flowers.

"The pollinator plan has focused everyone. It's about putting bees in to the picture. You also need a variety of flowers because not every flower suits every bee.

"We also need a continuity of flowers from the willow at the start of the year to the ivy at the end. They're all important," she says.

Low-cost actions

Other low-cost actions outlined in the guidelines for farmers include: providing nesting places for bees, minimising artificial fertiliser use and reducing pesticides applied.

"Spraying on fields should either be done late in the evening or early in the morning so as not to harm bees. Making bee boxes and mounds of sand in fields are also good nesting places that farmers can create for bees," says Ms Kenna.

She adds that some of these recommendations are covered by the GLAS environmental programme.

While pollinators are needed for crops such as oilseed rape, beans and peas, she says that the most important benefit of them is that they help promote our green image of sustainable farming and food production. "It's about promoting our green image of sustainably-farmed food around the world and not just about pollinating crops."

She added that they are not asking intensive farmers to dedicate an entire field to wildflowers.

"Farmers don't realise the importance of them. They may perceive them as weeds. In commercial farms we're not asking farmers to dedicate a field to flowers, but they should grown them on the hedges or the margins of the farm," she added.

Gerry Ryan, president of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers, says that the Heritage Bill's proposal to allow farmers to cut hedges from August 1 instead of September 1 will be "detrimental" to the bee population in Ireland.

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He's already seeing situations where beekeepers are feeding sugar to their bees as there is a lack of plants for them to feed on. "Hedgecutting in August would lead to a reduction of wildflowers and be detrimental to the bee. Pollen is the protein and nectar is the carbohydrate the bee uses to build up their bodies for winter.

"Some beekeepers feed sugar to bees because there's no hedges. Bees really are so dependent on the briar and blackthorn,"he says.

He added that farmers get a 15-20pc increase in yield in oilseed rape when they have honey bees present in the field and often he is contacted by farmers to provide bees for orchards as they help increase productivity.

"It makes a huge difference to us when there's co-operation from the farmers and when they embrace it rather than spraying everything in sight and killing the bee."

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