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Lifeless lawns will obliterate our bumblebees

Lay of the Land

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'For the bumblebee that comes out of hibernation, this and next month, cannot get the nectar it desperately needs because there simply aren’t enough so-called weeds and flowering plants' (stock photo)

'For the bumblebee that comes out of hibernation, this and next month, cannot get the nectar it desperately needs because there simply aren’t enough so-called weeds and flowering plants' (stock photo)

'For the bumblebee that comes out of hibernation, this and next month, cannot get the nectar it desperately needs because there simply aren’t enough so-called weeds and flowering plants' (stock photo)

Cormorants perch on a dead tree on the floodplain and hold their huge wings out to dry in the weak winter sun, like oversized bats. Even more dramatic are the times I glance out the window of this country town cottage and see one literally up to its neck in the fast-flowing river, as if drowning, before it skilfully upends itself and disappears under the water's surface.

They're not the only things that are currently submerged, for the floods are back, seas and rivers whipped into a frenzy by a seemingly relentless series of storms. Indeed, the old saucepan that I found on the riverbank and use as a bird food station, finches and sparrows happily hopping about in it, could well belong to the two bachelors who lived here in 1947, when the floods of that fierce February washed away the lean-to.

Hard not to fantasise about a deluge sweeping away some of the nasty new builds that blight the outskirts of our towns and villages, and more appallingly, appear as unexpected eyesores deep in what should be unspoilt countryside. These colossal monuments to bad taste are typically situated within a tarmacadam island, like one final effort at keeping nature as far away as possible.

Alas, this antipathy to the natural world is taking its toll, with Dr Una FitzPatrick, who runs the bumblebee monitoring scheme for the National Biodiversity Data Centre, warning that our bumblebees are literally starving to death. "We keep tidying up nature so we have lots of grassland and parkland with no dandelions or clover, or other wild flowers, and the bumblebees die of hunger," she stated.

Maybe we have been lulled into a false sense of security by Ireland's official image as a green and fertile land. When the reality is that the plight of the bumblebee is worse here than in Europe overall, according to research recently published in the journal Science.

For the bumblebee that comes out of hibernation, this and next month, cannot get the nectar it desperately needs because there simply aren't enough so-called weeds and flowering plants.

But the solution is not mindlessly buying hanging baskets, as most of the bedding plants in garden centres "may as well be plastic for all the good they are to bumblebees", according to Dr FitzPatrick. "If we could get people to plant bidens and bacopas, it would really help."

But why isn't this government policy? And shouldn't we penalise house owners who concrete over their outdoor space, as well as McMansions that maintain lifeless lawns that are not so much gardens as mini golf courses? Certainly, there are more colours to be found on the traditional plaid trousers worn by lovers of that sport than in their ghostly grass.

Especially when you realise that if the bumblebee disappears, "maybe we can find other food sources but our birds rely on wild fruit and seeds so they would disappear too".

Leaving us up to our neck in a deadly natural disaster.

Sunday Independent