Bees and other pollinators may be dying here in Ireland, but they are more resilient than you might think. They have a tendency to bounce back if you provide the right conditions for them. One simple way is to bee-friendly patch of flowers in your own pollinator garden. Irish bees love borage, hellebore, poppies, sunflowers, foxgloves, as well as a lot of herbs you could grow for cooking like sage, rosemary and thyme. Leave your dandelions in the grass – great for lazy gardeners – it’s one of the first flowers for hungry bees to forage in spring. And don’t cut back the ivy in the autumn until it has finished flowering, it’s one of the last sources of food for bees before winter sets in.
It’s also important to try grow plants that flower at different times of the year, so crocuses and snowdrops are fantastic for the colder months when food is in short supply otherwise for the bees. However it can also be as simple as not mowing a patch of grass on your lawn and allow plants such as clover and buttercups to grow. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, launched in 2015, provides a blueprint for people and communities looking to help the bees, as well as a helpful list of pollinator-friendly plants so people know what to grow for bees to forage. We at Kinsale Mead Co. have signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and have cultivated our own pollinator-friendly space.
Celebrating World Bee Day – Why We Value Bees
We are more aware now of the importance of bees to our wildlife than ever before, and yet their lives have never been more under threat. Pesticides, colony collapse, and the clearing of hedgerows for wide open plains of fields has put a heavy toll on the livelihood of the cornerstones of our ecosystem. That is why in 2017, the United Nations proposed that May 20th would be known as World Bee Day to highlight our fuzzy buzzing friends, their importance to us, and what we can do to help them thrive.
World Bee Day was proposed by a cohort from Slovenia, a nation absolutely wild about their beekeepers. Backed by the Slovenian government, beekeepers campaigned to set World Bee Day on May 20th, the birth date of legendary Slovenian beekeeper Anton Janša, considered the father of modern beekeeping. Now the day is recognised across the world, from Ireland to USA to India to Australia.
WHY ARE THE BEES DYING — COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
Bees are absolutely central to the lives of the flowers that grow around Ireland and across the globe. It is estimated that up to 90% of wildflowers rely on pollinators such as bees, to grow and reproduce around the world, and these plants grow the fruit that support other animals, making them a cornerstone of our ecosystem. Yet the life of bees is under threat due to numerous reasons that have come together to cause beehives to die off at an alarming rate. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, beekeepers have been routinely recording that over 30% of their honeybees will die off over the winter and in some places and winters, the numbers are considerably higher.
The three main reasons behind the decline in pollinators is the increased use of pesticides, the spread of parasites and the removal of hedgerows for more open fields for bees to forage along with widespread use of herbicides resulting in a lack of biodiversity.
Pesticides, particularly Neonicotinoids, spread across flowering crops can infect the pollen the honeybees collect and poison their colony. Indeed, the EU has been slowly banning the outside use of the most toxic of pesticides as they are brought to their attention.
The problem of the decrease in wild flowers and blossoms for the bees is an area where we can help. Urbanisation and the demand for more space for field land has been reducing the foraging spaces for bees for many years. With hedgerows being trimmed back, bees lose their main sources of food and the stress of finding enough pollen and nectar for their colony becomes too much for the workers to manage. Climate change also impacts the growth of the plants the bees search for, making their work that much more difficult.
Parasites, such as the varroa mite, are tougher to deal with, as beekeepers grapple with methods to kill off the infectors without harming the bees themselves. The spread of fake honey, made with glucose or molasses, or blended honey is also harming the income of beekeepers to fund their ability to help these bees fight off invaders and parasites.
REAL HONEY VS FAKE HONEY — WHY REAL IS IMPORTANT
You can also change your shopping habits by buying food from sustainable agricultural practices where maintaining biodiversity is part of their principles. Buying raw honey from your local beekeepers can help as it keeps them in business, allowing them to keep raising bees that do the hard work of bringing colour to the Irish countryside. Ireland is the third lowest producer of honey in the EU.
Mead is an alcoholic drink made from honey so it is vitally important to us at Kinsale Mead Co. that we only use honey gathered from sustainable sources. For example, around 80% of the honey sold in Ireland is made of a blend of EU and non EU honey. And there are no regulations for the proportions; a teaspoon of European honey in a barrel of Chinese honey would be legal. Read the back label carefully. Is it even pure honey?
For our Irish Wildflower Mead, we use 100% local West Cork honey from the Chanting Bee Apiary near Clonakilty down here in the south of Ireland. This also ensures we keep the delicate flavor of the flowers and blossoms of West Cork in our mead. By buying mead from Kinsale Mead and honey from your local beekeepers, you are doing your part to save the bees and save our ecosystem.