One third of wild bee species in Ireland are threatened with extinction and bumblebee populations show a worrying year-on-year decline of 4.1% since 2012, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has said.

Themed “Bee engaged in pollinator-friendly agricultural production”, World Bee Day 2023 (Saturday, May 20), highlights the importance of protecting bees and other pollinators which are fundamental for the health of ecosystems and food security.

Bee and pollinator populations are under threat from changes in land use and agricultural practices which have greatly reduced their food resources and access to nesting sites, the DAFM said.

Organic suckler farm in Offaly

To mark World Bee Day, Minister of State at the DAFM with responsibility for Land Use and Biodiversity, Senator Pippa Hackett visited the farm of Ken Gill in Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly.

Ken is a full-time organic farmer operating a suckler-to-beef system on his 95ha farm and is taking part in the Pilot Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, with five visits taking place on his farm over the summer.

The scheme aims to detect status and trends of wild pollinators with monitoring at approximately 36 sites including farmland. Project outcomes will help inform policy and future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes and measures. 

The organic farm provides important habitat for pollinators, including flowering hedgerows, large mature trees and semi-natural woodland, and plenty of flowering species in the sward.

“We have plenty of wildlife habitat here on the farm and are happy to contribute to finding out more about bee and other pollinator numbers,” Ken, who is taking part in the pollinator monitoring survey, said. 

Speaking about the project, Minister Hackett said: “It is great to see the Pilot National Pollinator Monitoring Scheme now in its second year of surveys and hear about the popularity of the project with farmers.

“Monitoring of bee species and other pollinators is central to tackling declines and ensuring successful measures for their protection are in place. Ireland is leading the way in the EU by having a pollinator monitoring scheme in place.”

The visit to Ken’s pollinator-friendly farm, which is part of the scheme, provided insight into what pollinator monitoring involves on the ground and the different methods used, Minister Hackett said.

L-r: National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) pollinator monitoring officer, Michelle Larkin; farmer Ken Gill; Minister of State, Senator Pippa Hackett; NBDC farmland pollinator officer, Ruth Wilson

“The pilot study will be hugely important in providing a baseline from which we can work to achieve policy targets for reducing the declines of bees and other pollinators,” Minister Hackett said.

The project results will contribute to evidence-based agricultural actions and measures to tackle the threats to bees and other pollinators, she added.

World Bee Day

The United Nations (UN) designated May 20 as World Bee Day to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face, and their contribution to sustainable development.

Pollination is essential for the maintenance of plant biodiversity and the survival of our ecosystems, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) said.

About 75% of the world’s crops – which produce fruits and other seeds for human consumption – depend, at least in part, on pollinators, including bees, the FAO said.

Crop rotation and diversity, reduced use of pesticides, and restoring and protecting the habitat of pollinators, and the adoption of precision agriculture tools and innovation can protect bees.

Using technology and data to optimise fertiliser and irrigation practices can reduce excessive nutrients and chemicals in water, which harm pollinators and their habitats, the FAO said.

“Protecting bees and other pollinators is essential to guarantee agricultural production, food security, ecosystems restoration and at large plant health,” FAO director-general Qu Dongyu said.