Bees are in decline, but what can I do? The Dos and Don’ts of pollinator conservation

It seems as if everyone is concerned about bees. With 50% of our Irish bee species in decline and 30% threatened with extinction, we are right to be concerned. A recent survey found that >90%* of Irish citizens want to protect bees & benefits they provide. And the number of news stories over the past week alone (which happened to be Biodiversity Week, incorporating World Bee Day) is testament to the fact that people are interested in bees.

But one of the most common questions I get asked is “What can I do?”.

So, here are some links to practical things you can do to help bees and other pollinators (and a few things not to do):

1. Encourage bees and other pollinators at home, in your work place, local community or school by implementing the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan guidelines. These are tailored for specific audiences and provide information on providing food and homes for bees, with practical tips and advice, written by the experts, based on evidence. All the guidelines are free to download.

herb garden.png
Herb gardens can provide lots of resources for bees and other pollinators – especially if you let them run a bit wild (like mine…)

2. Contribute to creating the evidence base by becoming a citizen scientist – you can count bees, flowers or the bees visiting the flowers. Whether you have 15 minutes or much longer to invest, there is something you can do…

3. Stop using biocides in the garden at home – ditch the bug spray, ant bait, and weed killers and use non-chemical control methods. Most insecticides are not target-specific – meaning they kill beneficial insects as well as the pests. Some pesticides are also very persistent and contaminate soils and water courses for years to come, as well as getting into the nectar and pollen of plants. So if in doubt, don’t use them. View dandelions and clover as food for bees not weeds, view aphids as food for ladybirds and blue-tits, and distract colonies of ants away from your home (they are amazing creatures with incredible societies – see here for some suggestions to non-chemical control).

 

Don’t do these things…

1. Feed bees sugar water – a drop of sugar water to revive bees on a cool spring day is ok, but they shouldn’t feed on it for long and you shouldn’t put out containers of it during smmer. It doesn’t contain all the nutrients of nectar and is like junk-food for bees.

2. Start beekeeping to “save the bees” – honey bees are not in decline, need care and attention from trained beekeepers, and poorly managed hives can contribute to disease and depletion of resources for wild bees. By all means keep them if you want to make honey, take up a new hobby and are prepared to invest. Just don’t do it thinking you are helping to conserve bees.

3. Expect a full-house in a bee hotel – only 10/77 of our native solitary bees will nest in a garden nest box. Most of the other species nest in the ground – try leaving some bare earth banks, piles of grass clippings, undisturbed vegetation instead.

Pollinator Plan Infographics_Bee Hotels
From the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan www.pollinators.ie

4. Chuck “wildflower” seed bombs around – unless you know what the seeds they contain are, and where they are from, you could be doing more harm than good to the local plant population. Non-native plants can look unnatural along road-sides, not provide the right kind of resources for native insects, and outcompete or damage native plants. Your best bet is to stop cutting/mowing and leave the native plants to flourish.

 

For more information, see www.pollinators.ie

 

*data from Pollival project – to be published soon…

 

About the author: Prof Jane Stout leads the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group in Botany, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin and is deputy chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

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