Sunday 21 April 2019

Leave those dandelions alone to help give bees a proper buzz

A bumblebee gets busy with the nectar
A bumblebee gets busy with the nectar

Alan O'Keeffe

No one should feel ashamed of dandelions growing on their lawns, a leading ecologist has said.

Instead, the sight of dandelions blooming on lawns and verges should be a sign that the householder is helping the survival of Ireland's endangered bumblebees and wild solitary bees.

"People are asked to delay mowing their lawns until mid-April so that dandelions get a chance to bloom," said Dr Una FitzPatrick.

"Ireland's wild bees are in decline because they are going hungry because of a lack of food in the landscape. Dandelions are a superfood for bees," said Dr FitzPatrick, senior ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford.

"Letting dandelions grow must not be seen as a sign of neglect or laziness.

"We want it to be a conscious decision of people to let them grow to give hungry bees a chance to feed on them," she said.

Those people who worry what neighbours might think of their dandelions could explain to them that it helps bumblebees.

Dr FitzPatrick told the Sunday Independent the decisions of people to manicure and tidy their lawns in springtime, before the dandelions get a chance to bloom, is tough on bumblebees and other wild bees.

Wild bees are vital in pollinating Ireland's fruit crops and plants. There are 20 species of Irish bumblebees and 77 species of wild solitary bees in Ireland.

One third of these bee species are in danger of disappearing altogether.

"We need to change the perception that is so ingrained in people that dandelions are a weed. The presence of dandelions is very important to our wild bees that have such an important role in nature.

"At present, wild bees are emerging from hibernation and they are hungry. We hope people will choose not to mow their lawns for the next three weeks," she said.

"A queen bumblebee must visit 6,000 flowers every day when she comes out of hibernation," she said.

"Even if gardeners decided to allow dandelions grow in certain areas of their gardens or allow them grow even on one strip of grass or along the borders or on verges, it would be very helpful to wild bees," she said.

There is a 32-county All-Ireland Pollinator Plan which is in existence from 2015 to 2020 and it has achieved some successes with the enthusiastic cooperation of gardening and tidy town groups throughout the island.

Dr FitzPatrick is the project coordinator.

Even when the dandelion blooms turn to seed and become dandelion 'clocks', songbirds love to feast on the seeds of the stalks.

Bullfinches, goldfinches and other small birds will be attracted into gardens to eat the seeds from the fuzzy heads, she said.

People are being asked to consider reducing the number of times they mow their lawns to once every six weeks.

Allowing the grass to grow longer helps clover to bloom, another important food for the buzzing pollinators.

Tidy town committees in Clonmel, Co Tipperary and Geashill, Co Offaly are among community groups that are taking positive action to ensure wildflowers bloom as much-needed food for pollinators.

Farmers are encouraged to allow hedgerows to bloom whenever possible for the sake of the pollinators.

Gardeners, who decide to choose weeding instead of using pesticides on flowers and plants, are also doing bees, butterflies, and other insects, a big favour.

Other tips to help insects include: plant pollinator-friendly bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus, grape hyacinth, and single flower dahlias.

And do not use herbicide on verges beside homes and roads.

See the special supplement in today's 'Sunday Independent'

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