Mullet Peninsula protects its blonde bombshell

Outdoor Living

GOLDEN MOMENT A Great Yellow Bumblebee enjoying some nectar from wild yellow vetch.

Nature and rewilding

Pat Fahy

A big congratulations to the Belmullet Tidy Towns group on winning the Small Town, North-West and West, Pollinator Award recently. This is just reward for having made a determined long-term commitment to help pollinators by managing their public spaces in a pollinator friendly way. This included protecting and planting hedgerows, orchards, planting pollinator-friendly flowers, reducing mowing to allow wildflowers to grow and ultimately, raising public awareness of the importance of pollinators.
Local community groups are leading the way and showing what can be done to help biodiversity. This is all the more important considering that the Mullet Peninsula in north Mayo currently has the only sustainable population of Ireland’s rarest bee, the Great Yellow Bumblebee (GYB).
The first of many workshops on the GYB And Pollinators was held by Dr Karina Dingerkus in Belmullet NS last month. Mayo County Council, in partnership with Belmullet TT, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Birdwatch Ireland, students and staff at UCD, are all working together to ensure the GYB has a future.
Niamh Phelan, an MSc in Wildlife Conservation and Management student from UCD, has spent much of 2019 carrying out research on this bumblebee, supervised by Dr Dara Stanley, who catchily calls this bee the ‘Beautiful Blonde Bombshell from Belmullet’.
Up to now there has been no published studies to date in Ireland and little was known about the bees ecology in an Irish situation. Like many other species in the past, including the corncrake and our native curlew, the bee could have disappearing before our very eyes, never to be seen again.
Once widespread if never abundant across the island of Ireland, the GYB has been forced to the far west of Ireland, to the last intact flower rich sand dunes and stretches of Machair grassland.
Driven almost to extinction with the large scale replacement of hay meadow by silage, the flower rich areas this bumblebee needs have largely disappeared from the Irish landscape. In Britain, the GYB lost 80 percent of its range and is restricted to parts of north and west Scotland, where they use a sniffer dog, a Springer Spaniel, to locate the nest sites with amazing accuracy.
To me, there’s something heartening to hear that ‘man’s best friend’ is helping ‘the blonde bombshell’ and I imagine that someday the story of these two furry friends will make the Mullet Peninsula and the Great Yellow Bumblebee even more famous to come in time.
With persistence, Niamh has managed to locate four nests, all in earthen stone walls on the Termoncarragh Birdwatch Ireland reserve.
Already Niamh Phelan has had a positive reception from many farmers she has contacted in the area. They are delighted to learn that Ireland’s rarest bumblebee is on their land and needs their help, ardently keen to adjust their grass cutting regimes without further delay.
This is why it is often said that the farmer is the guardian of the countryside. Pride in one’s place in action once again.

Future actions that will help secure the future of the GYB:

  • A full habitat study of the peninsula and other nearby areas of Machair outside of the Mullet, surveyed for other potential suitable areas
  • Funding for harvesting and dissemination of ‘green hay’ and seed mixes, especially for red clover and common knapweed to create forage habitat on farmland within appropriate areas
  • Adoption of ‘Don’t mow, let it grow’ pollinator highways along roads and walking trails in priority areas
  • Local promotion to encourage the public in priority areas to make their gardens and rural lanes more pollinator friendly. Something like a small meadow where red clover and knapweed are allowed to naturally grow would be a very good action for pollinators
  • Support the collection and use of local wildflower seed in small-scale habitat restorations
  • The creation of a results based agri-environment payment scheme for farmers, which has worked wonders in the Burren to great effect

For more information see