6 ways to make your Tidy Town bee-friendly

Here is how communities can make changes that will help save Ireland’s pollinators without sacrificing their efforts to tidy their space

  • Photo: Phillip Doyle

In this month’s issue we met the women who came up with the remarkable All Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, Dr Úna Fitzpatrick and professor Jane Stout. They came up with simple actions families, communities and businesses can take to make their outdoor spaces more bee-friendly. In case you didn’t know, Ireland’s pollinators are in danger. There is one species of honey bee in Ireland, being managed by Ireland’s thriving beekeeping community, but there are 97 wild species in Ireland. One third of those species of bees are at risk of extinction.

Dr Úna pointed out that our manicured and aesthetically focused approach to gardening is reducing the amount of food available to bees and destroying their habitats. But working with Tidy Towns, they are showing communities how to make bee-friendly changes to their communities, without sacrificing how well their town or village looks. Here are some tips on getting started.

1. THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP

Identify the spaces in your community that are good for pollinators and protect them. That could be flowering hedgerows and patches of wildflowers on waste ground that are providing bees with food or it could be areas bees find shelter such as earth banks and dry stone walls. One idea to keep these spaces safe and to raise awareness of the community’s efforts is to put up signs explaining the importance of these spaces.

2. DO LESS WORK!

Take it easy with the mower! Cutting lawns less frequently allows common wildflowers like clovers and knapweed to grow amongst long grass. It is the most cost-effective way to provide food for pollinators and other insects. If there are areas used for sports or picnics, you could designate areas of shorter grass for activities and frame them with longer grass for pollinator friendly areas. Try letting the grass on roundabouts, greens, roadside verges and school grounds grow that little bit wilder. Schools and local groups like Men’s Sheds could even get involved by making signs explaining what the town is trying to achieve. Find details here on how to create a thriving wildflower meadow.

3. RETHINK YOUR PLANTING

Your local Tidy Towns committee may have done excellent work planting annuals such as begonias, primulas and busy lizzies, but those aren’t great sources of pollen and nectar for bees. Instead of annuals, plant perennials such as catmint, verbena, heathers, comfrey or delphinium. There are too many to mention and there is an informative list available here. Interestingly bumble bees are attracted to plants that are blue or purple, so don’t be afraid to embrace colour! Trees that pollinators love include horse chestnut, sycamore and lime; herbs such as basil, lavender and rosemary will appeal to bees and fruit trees like apple, plum and cherry will benefit pollinators and the community. If you do want to plant annuals, try to plant single rather than double flowered varieties that are hardy, such as Californian poppy, annual poppy, single sunflowers, cornflower and bulbs like crocus, snowdrop and allium.

4. GIVE BEES A HOME

Nesting habitats for wild bees such as bumblebees and solitary bees are easy to create. Wild bees are not aggressive and have no interest in interacting with humans so there is no risk in establishing some shelter for them in a town or village. Hedgerows should be cut just every three years, and not all in the one year, to ensure there are always some in flower. If there is wooden fencing in public areas, consider drilling holes 10cm deep and 4-8cm in diameter inside which solitary bees can nest. If someone has carpentry skills, a bee hotel could be established, perhaps on the grounds of a school where children can observe the bees.

5. REDUCE PESTICIDES

Only use pesticides when necessary, not as a means of tidying or sanitising an area. Consider spot treatments instead of blanket sprays, and spray after sunset to avoid direct contact of pollinators with chemicals.

6. GET EVERYONE INVOLVED

Awareness is crucial and once people realise how simple and cost-effective it is to become pollinator-friendly they are likely to be supportive and even help in making the community a more bee-friendly space. Contact schools and local businesses and promote the pollinator plan, or download signage here.

Check out the full list of actions here.

Inform | Inspire | Indulge