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Sunday 18 August 2019

Bumblebees could be wiped out within 30 years, heralding 'disastrous' future for our ecosystem

Bad buzz: Since 2012, Ireland has lost 17pc of its bumblebee population
Bad buzz: Since 2012, Ireland has lost 17pc of its bumblebee population

Lynne Kelleher

Ireland could be set to lose nearly 90pc of our bumblebees and a fifth of our butterflies by 2050 if they continue to decline at their current rate.

Bumblebees could be teetering on the verge of extinction in Ireland in another 30 years if measures aren't taken to save them from dying off.

The latest EU Grassland Butterfly Index, which has just been released from recordings on 6,200 walks across 15 different countries including Ireland, has warned that 39pc of grassland butterflies across Europe have been lost since 1990. Use of pesticides, urbanisation and climate change have all been blamed.

Simple measures like letting small patches of gardens grow wild or mowing the garden less often could help to reverse the alarming trends in the sharp decline of insect populations.

Dr Tomás Murray, senior ecologist with the National Biodiversity Data Centre who is involved in helping to gather the Irish data for the index, said declines would continue if conservation measures weren't introduced. He said: "If current rates of decline continue, we would have lost 60pc of our bumblebees and 11pc of our butterflies by 2030.

"By 2050, we would have lost 87pc of our bumblebees and 20pc of our butterflies. The greatest declines have already happened but went unmeasured in Ireland."

He said the fate of butterflies and bees were a marker of thousands of other insects which were not monitored.

"There are 11,400 species of insects in Ireland and we can't measure them all but butterflies are a very good metric.

"If you walk out onto a field and see a good diversity and an abundance of butterflies, you can be pretty certain all the other insects are doing fine. But when you see butterflies declining at that rate, it's frightening to think of how much all the other insects we can't measure are declining."

He said the knock-on effects for nature were far-reaching.

"It's all the services they provide in terms of pollination, pest control and one of the biggest ones everyone forgets is decomposition.

"Insects are nature's binmen, breaking down old plant material and old animal material and recycling those nutrients back into the soil and continuing the cycle.

"If you remove those [insects], a huge amount of nutrients are not recycling into the system and you have a huge drop-off in plant productivity. Then there is all the knock-on effects, less plants, less insects and going down into a mad spiral."

He said the fate of bumblebees in Ireland over the past year had been disastrous.

"It was an appalling year last year for bumblebees, bumblebees flying the Irish landscape were down by 24pc from the previous year. Overall, since 2012, we've lost 17pc of our bumblebee population."

Dr Murray urged the public to let their gardens grow wilder to provide havens for the flying insects.

Irish Independent

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