National Meadows Day 2022 in Northern Ireland

Saturday 2nd July 2022

…blog by Natalie Stevenson, Buglife Scotland and Northern Ireland Manager

Celebrate this year’s National Meadows Day by learning about pollinators in Northern Ireland!

Ireland has an amazing variety of bee species. Most people think of the honeybee, but we also have many wild bees – 21 bumblebee species and nearly 100 solitary bee species.

Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) © Anna Hart

Most insect pollination is carried out by bees, and in fact, most is provided by wild bees. The abundance and diversity of wild bees and other insect pollinators is very important. Unfortunately, one third of our bee species are threatened with extinction from the island of Ireland.

There is widespread concern over the status of pollinators, as many insect groups including bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies have declined dramatically in the UK and globally both in their abundance and diversity, with wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) showing among the most severe declines of any UK pollinator. In Ireland, one-third of our 99 bee species are threatened with extinction. Without pollinators it would be impossible for farmers or gardeners to affordably produce many fruits and vegetables.

There are many reasons, but the main problem facing pollinators is a lack of habitat. This is because we have drastically reduced the amount of food (wildflowers) and safe nesting sites in our landscapes. The improved grassland that makes up most of the Northern Irish landscape, has been managed to increase productivity, which unfortunately has come at a price for wildlife, in particular our pollinating invertebrates.

A loss of foraging areas and nesting sites has led to a decline in many of our pollinator species. Northern Ireland now has vast areas with low species diversity, as good species rich habitat becomes more and more fragmented. To ensure the sustainability of our pollinators it is essential that we link up existing habitat and restore habitat across Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, Buglife has been working with our partners, to deliver the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, aiming to generate data on the abundance of bees, hoverflies and other flower-visiting insects across Ireland. Allowing us to measure trends in pollinator populations and targeting conservation efforts. A component of this scheme is the Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count) which is a simple survey that involves recording the total number of insects that visit a target patch of flowers over ten minutes. Why not do a FIT count today using the FIT Count app!

White-jawed Yellow-face Bee (Hylaeus confuses) © Anna Hart

We have also worked with our partners to map the Northern Ireland B-Lines network, as part of the UK wide initiative. These are a series of ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns, along which we are restoring and creating a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones. They link existing wildlife areas together, creating a network, like a railway, that will weave across the landscape. Co-ordinated approaches such as B-Lines are essential in conserving our wild pollinators and can contribute towards the delivery of the All- Ireland Pollinator Plan.

Grow your garden with pollinators in mind. Whether you have a couple of acres or just a balcony garden, think of your space as a pit stop for pollinators and other insects. It doesn’t matter whether you have a whole allotment or a hanging basket, it can all help. Restoring lost flower-rich habitats and connecting up those that remain will help bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other wildlife to move through our landscape. Try recording pollinators such as bumblebees and hoverflies.

This year, Buglife will be starting our Belfast’s Buzzing project. The climate, geology and history of the city and in the wider landscape create a multitude of different habitats and micro-habitats which are associated with several threatened bee species. Northern Ireland Priority Habitats found in Belfast of particular importance for pollinators include open mosaic habitats on previously developed land (OMH) and parkland and wood-pasture.

The Northern Ireland Threatened Bee report indicated that the following individual sites are of particular significance for bees in Northern Ireland: Barnett’s Park, Belfast Hills, Cave Hill, Lagan Meadows, Stormont Estate, and Scrabo quarries. We can help restore and create flower-rich habitats and areas of bare, well-drained substrate for nesting at these sites.

We can stop, and reverse the declines in our pollinators, but only if everyone pulls together to do their bit. We hope you enjoy National Meadows day across Northern Ireland and that you find some time to walk outside and notice the pollinators around you today.

Here’s a short film from the National Biodiversity Data Centre about the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and how to help bees (and other pollinators) across Ireland.