The continuing plight of bees

One issue that has been championed by the press these past few years is the state of the World’s bee population.  With such an important and emotive topic there are bound to be a lot of different theories, speculation and unfortunately misinformation surrounding bees’ woes; and when I say bees I mean honey bees, but that’s actually part of the problem.

As a beekeeper I’m a custodian of honeybees, someone who should be triumphed for helping to save the planet. But the truth is, beekeepers are terribly short sighted. We focus all our attention on just one single solitary specie of bee when there are over twenty five thousand identified species of bees in the world. We need them all and they are all under threat. Beekeepers fuss and fret over their honey bees all year round but often we do little to help all the other pollinators we so desperately need.

The problems facing bees, are the same for all species; loss of habitat (homelessness) loss of food supply (starvation), Poisoning from over use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides etc. and climate change. As we try to feed an ever growing and wasteful population, more land is converted to intensive agriculture at the expense of pollinators. This is an irony that when given some thought leads me to one conclusion. We must dramatically change our agricultural and food usage practices or face the hard consequences. I worry, as is often the case, that it’s the poorer and most vulnerable of society who’ll bear the brunt.   

In this tiny little Island of Ireland there are an astonishing 97 wild bee species and 1 managed honeybee species. The wild bees are made up of mostly social bumblebees (20 species) and solitary bees (77 species), including leafcutter bees and mining bees. Of these 97 species, 27 are threatened with extinction and a further 12 are near threatened. More than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980 and the awful truth is that we’ve already had 2 species entirely wiped out from our shores. Now is the time to act. We must protect the rest.  

So what can you and I do to help? Well the answer lies in mending, in any small way, the problems I’ve highlighted above. Grow pollinator friendly plants year round to provide food. Leave a section of lawn to grow a little wild for food and shelter, cutting it only in late spring and at the end of summer. Don’t spray herbicides; instead use a strimmer or mulch, but if you must spray, do it late in the evening. Leave earthen and sand banks in place for ground nesting bees. Let dandelions and bramble flower; cut hedges only after flowering and not during bird nesting season. Then sit back and watch. Enjoy the life around you. Smell the flowers, weeds and all, breath the air. Listen to the buzzing, try to identify the ever growing number of wild bees that will come and visit and live in your garden, your place of work, your apartment window box.

If you want to make a difference this year and improve the world around your home, then get involved. Check out the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan which has a huge amount of resources to help you get started. All the information is available at http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/projects/irish-pollinator-initiative/all-ireland-pollinator-plan/  

Here’s for a pollinator friendly 2017 !!