Play your part in operation pollination

Environment Watch

Cathy Fisher, Kerry County Council

Hard to believe I know but yes the dark wet winter is nearly over. Come on spring! And if you are preparing for spring, doing garden work perhaps, can you please spare a thought for the Kerry bees! After a winter of hibernation they are getting ready to work on operation pollination.

Remember your Leaving Cert biology? Ah please don't stop reading - but pollination is needed for many of our fruits, vegetables and native flowers to grow each year. Insects account for a huge part of pollination in Ireland, especially the humble bee.

Nearly all of us are familiar with the honey bee. There is only one species in Ireland and it is commercially managed to produce honey, but there are nearly 100 other wild bees. These native pollinators help plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables get fertilised. Bees, with their little fury bodies and legs, help transfer pollen from plant to plant, and so fertilisation happens, seeds are produced along with some fruit! The cycle of life in the plant kingdom is maintained year on year.

Sadly, this cycle is breaking down. Our own native wild pollinators are in decline. In Ireland of our 99 wild bees (27 bumblebee and 77 solitary bees) one third are threatened with extinction. You might say, ah well, so what. But pollinators do so much for us - they underpin the agricultural economy, fertilising fruits like strawberries, raspberries and apples. Imagine our fields and hedgerows without our native flowers, trees and shrubs? No blackberry jam in autumn! Pollinators are estimated to be worth €53 million annually to the Irish economy. That is worth protecting.

Why are our pollinators declining? A few reasons: The rural landscape is changing; less hedgerows and wild places survive today in the countryside. Think about your own area - have you seen changes in land use over the years? Hay meadows are pretty much a thing of the past, with silage production now dominating. Grasslands are pretty much a single grass type with few native wild flowers. Have a look at your own lawn. I bet it is cut nice and short, not a 'weed' to be seen? If so, then it is a green desert. There is nothing there for our pollinators.

Put simply, the plants that pollinators need to feed on are not as common in the countryside. We overuse pesticides and sometimes insects can pick up pests and diseases. It all adds up, and our pollinators suffer.

But that can change! You can help.

What do pollinators need from us to help? They need food and a place to live. Food and shelter. Sounds simple, and it is. This spring can you plant pollinator friendly plants or maybe leave a hedgerow in place, or plant a native one or cut back on the herbicides/pesticides, or maybe just leave a patch of daisies or dandelions in your garden.

There are many small things you as an individual in your own garden can do to help. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is an amazing resource with lots of how-to-guides to help you and provide information, have a look at for many more ideas. Play your role in operation pollination.