Pollinators come in many shapes and guises

Outdoor Living

PRETTY POLLINATOR  An Orange Tip Butterfly searching for nectar on a Cuckoo Flower, a wildflower also known as Lady’s Smock.

Nature and Rewilding
Pat Fahy

Biodiversity. Once an obscure term, it’s use is now more widely accepted and its importance more widely understood. Media of all kinds are now peppered with stories about how our wildlife and planet in big trouble.
Probably the first widespread realisation that all was not well in the natural world came way back in 2006, when something mysterious was happening to our honeybees. Beekeepers in diverse locations around the world were all reporting a baffling and troubling mystery. Seemingly healthy hives were being abandoned by the worker honeybees in their tens of thousands, never to return again. They were leaving their queens and hives full of honey behind, thereby ruling out starvation as a cause.
News stories abounded daily and punditry went into overdrive, all asking one big question. ‘Is the honeybee going to go extinct, and if so, will we be next?’. With headlines like this, you can bet it was going to get our full attention. If you didn’t realise the importance of the honeybee before, you did now.
Over 80 percent of the foods we eat need pollination by insects making the busy little honeybee a very important species indeed.
Later called ‘Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder’, the potential of this phenomenon to end in catastrophe was stark and real. The famous quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein – ‘If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live’ – was widely repeated on news channels, driving more than mild panic.
Eventually it was concluded that a number of factors were to blame, chief among them a class of insecticides that disorientates the bees called neonicotinoids, most types of which have been banned in the EU since 2018.
Problem solved? Not by a long shot!
It transpires that our wild pollinators do 60 percent of the important pollinating work to keep us healthy. Bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, hoverflies along with many other types of flies, and moths. Even wasps do some.
Really and truly, we cannot depend on the honeybee alone. There can only be as many honeybees as there are beekeepers to look after them.
Chatting to Henry Horkan, a Westport ‘keeper of bees’ as he likes to call himself, he told me that the honeybees’ welfare has been foremost in his mind for the past 37 years. He spoke of the peril they are still in, only being kept going from year to year with cocktails of ever-stronger pesticides, chemical treatments and antibiotics. Their diseases are getting stronger, with the honeybees’ resistance never really reciprocating.
“A virus from Asia, for instance, that we have never seen before could wipe them out in no time at all,” he explained to me a few years ago. Sounds eerie these days, doesn’t it?
We have to look out for our wild pollinators. Everybody is noticing there aren’t as many insects as there used to be, and instinctively we know there is something wrong with the countryside and the state that it is in. One third of these insect species have disappeared from many areas in the last ten years. Habitat loss, pesticide and chemical use and climate change all chipping away at their numbers.
At the same time, this isn’t 2006. The mystery of the disappearing honeybees has given us the fright of our lives. We know more about the needs of the honeybee and the bumblebee. We know what needs to be done. We have the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and buy-in from the public in every corner of this island.
Our politicians are hearing that the people who put them in office want to see positive changes for our planet. All we need now is action to avert the next crisis. Crisis is always a catalyst for change; there’s no reason why these changes can’t be for the better.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.