Andrena Bicolor Female Solitary Bee – Photo: John Breen.
The human race cannot survive without bees to pollinate food crops and bees need flowers, it’s a simple fact, and a crucial one, that we depend on each other to survive.
Today, May 20, is World Bee Day and the Agriculture and Food Development Authority Teagasc reminds farmers and indeed all of us, to allow space for common wildflowers to grow and flower on farms and in our gardens.
Early in the year, bees get pollen and nectar from willow, hazel and primrose. This time of the year, whitethorn, bluebells and dandelions are important, while later on blackberry, woodbine and heather will feed the bees. With its late flowers, ivy is the last source of food at the end of the year.
Bees need a diversity of common flowering plants in gardens, hedgerows, at the margins of fields, along roadways and around farms. The quest for neatness should not override ecological considerations.
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The advice from Teagasc is to allow plants to flower before cutting.
“A current cultural challenge is to get recognition that common ‘weeds’ are wildflowers which may (or may not) be growing in the wrong place” they say.
“The only plants which are universally undesirable are Invasive Alien Species such as Japanese Knotweed; while noxious weeds (ragwort, thistle, docks, male wild hop, common barberry and wild oats) must be controlled under the Noxious Weeds Act.
In Ireland, there are twenty types of bumble bees, 77 species of solitary bees and one honey bee. Unfortunately, one-third of our bees are in danger of extinction.
Bees are important because they pollinate food crops (oilseed rape, peas, beans, apples and soft fruit); they pollinate wildflowers and trees; and honey bees produce honey.
Bees are also indicators of general biodiversity, which is in decline. Ireland has become only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction.
While biodiversity has always evolved, changes in the past fifty years have been more rapid than at any time in human history. Species extinction rates over the past few hundred years have increased by as much as 1,000 times the background rates typical over the earth’s history.
Recent research by Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist, Catherine Keena, found that farmers were positive towards biodiversity, but understanding of biodiversity was relatively poor, in particular: the value of common habitats; how species decline relates to individual farms; and how the absence of a ‘silent spring’ analogy masks serious declines.
Biodiversity is one of the principal public goods to which agriculture can contribute. The All Ireland Pollinator Plan is an initiative bringing farmers, local authorities, schools, gardeners, and businesses together to try to create an Ireland where bees can survive and thrive.
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