Northern Ireland

Seeing is bee-lieving: Bid to save threatened bee species in Ireland

Large carder bumblebee Image copyright John Breen
Image caption A third of Ireland's 98 bee species are threatened with extinction

Fears about the future of bees, which are worth £7m to Northern Ireland's apple growers, have prompted a cross-border plan to address their decline.

A third of Ireland's 98 bee species are threatened with extinction because places where they nest and feed have been greatly reduced.

The use of fertiliser has also hit wildflower growth.

The problem is so serious that authorities have drawn up a strategy to save bees.

Pollinator

That involves ideas on how to make farms, roadsides, public parks and private gardens more bee-friendly.

Image copyright John Breen
Image caption Places where wild bees nest and feed have been greatly reduced

Among the ideas are leaving roadside verges and field boundaries uncut to encourage wildflowers and create "pollinator highways".

Sixty-eight organisations across Ireland have signed up to the strategy.

The Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland helped produce the plan.

Nests

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the statistics on the risk to bee populations were "startling".

"In coming together to protect pollinators, we will also protect the livelihoods of farmers and growers who rely on their free pollinator service, as well as improving the general health of our environment," he said.

Image copyright Steven Falk
Image caption Statistics on the risk to bee populations were "startling", the environment minister said

As well as the honeybee, Ireland has 97 wild bee species.

Twenty of them are species of bumblebee that make their nests on the ground, often in long grass, bracken or at the base of a hedgerow.

Hatch

Experts say importing more honeybees will not solve the problem because there needs to be a mix of wild and honeybees to maintain diversity and effective pollination.

It is estimated that in spring a queen bumblebee will need to visit up to 6,000 flowers a day to get enough energy to hatch her eggs.

Ireland has three rare bumblebees, all threatened with extinction.

They are the great yellow bumblebee, the shrill carder bee and the red shanked carder bee.