Monday 17 December 2018

Bees are being 'driven to the edge' as humans and climate change destroy their havens

Gerry Ryan with a tray of honey at the family farm in Dundrum, Co Tipperary. Photo: John D Kelly
Gerry Ryan with a tray of honey at the family farm in Dundrum, Co Tipperary. Photo: John D Kelly
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

A third of Irish bee species are threatened with extinction with bumblebee populations falling year-on-year due to removal of hedgerows and ditches, use of pesticides and insecticides and climate change.

Tomorrow is the first ever global World Bee Day and experts hope an EU ban on insecticides linked to declining bee populations will help prevent further deterioration of the vital pollinators here.

Local authorities and homeowners could also help by planting bee-friendly flowers including snowdrops, wallflower, lavender and crocus. Flowers like daffodils did not provide bees with a food source and were as useful in helping preserve the species as "planting plastic flowers", one said.

Professor Jane Stout, from Trinity College Dublin, who helped establish the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan to help halt the decline, said while "pretty tough", bees were under pressure.

"It's not just pesticides but fungicides and insecticides too," she said. "It's also changes in how land is managed, which impact on habitats to nest and over-winter, and there's fewer flowers to feed on.

"We also have diseases which are becoming more prolific along with changes in climate with extreme weather events.

"Bees are pretty tough, but all of these different drivers seem to be pushing them to the edge."

The Irish Universities Association has highlighted research taking place in UL, NUI Galway, Maynooth University and TCD around how to identify pressures and help boost population numbers.

They include assessing the impact fertilisers and chemicals have on bees, patterns of urban development and land use management, and pests including the varroa destructor, which is having a devastating impact on colonies.

The Campus Engage project encourages third-levels to partner with community groups and the public where citizen scientists can collect data tracking changes in population, and helping identify the cause.

About 80 volunteers take part in the All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring scheme, walking 100 sites to detect declines.

The most recent survey found Irish bumblebee populations last year had fallen by 14.2pc compared with 2012.

Of the 100 bee species here, 30pc are under threat of extinction.

Gerry Ryan, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, is president of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations, which has around 4,000 members - double that of a decade ago.

He said cutting of hedgerows, removal of ditches and use of pesticides was having an impact.

"The natural environment is the best," he said. "This time of the year you have the blackthorn in flower, and next week you'll have the whitethorn and they're very valuable for our bees. Bigger farmers and horse owners are taking out all our natural hedgerows left to us by generations of people who have gone before us.

"There is a decline, but in honeybee terms we're holding our own. I'm in a nearly organic environment, but we have members in south Tipperary, Meath and Kildare who are decimated."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Also in News