Amid mounting worries about declines in Irish bees, one hardy bumblebee is bucking the trend and has just arrived in Ireland. This month the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) was spotted in St. Stephen’s Green by Michael O’Donnell. Arriving in southern England from France in 2001, the Tree Bumblebee has rapidly spread by over 50 km per year across Britain and has now finally crossed the Irish Sea.
Michael, a wildlife enthusiast, explains how he made the exciting discovery of this addition to the Irish fauna: “I regularly walk through St. Stephen’s Green during my lunch breaks, checking the flower borders for bumblebees, butterflies and other insects. I’ve had an interest in insects all my life and I’m involved with monitoring schemes in the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Moths Ireland, so I’m always paying attention to what’s flying about. So when I saw an unfamiliar bumblebee, I knew straight away it was something different to the bees I’m used to seeing and suspected it was a Tree Bumblebee. I was aware of the significance of this sighting and the importance of it being confirmed and properly documented with the Data Centre.”
The new sighting shows how important public involvement can be in tracking and monitoring the changing fortunes of these important pollinators. Every month over 80 volunteers across the island of Ireland carry out a 1-2 km fixed route walk and record the bumblebees they see. Dr. Tomás Murray, project co-ordinator of the Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme, said: “Michael has been monitoring bumblebee populations near his home for six years now and is effectively an expert. So we were delighted when he contacted us about his discovery. Not only could we share in the excitement of knowing Ireland now has a new pollinator, but also for Michael himself as it’s brilliant to see the volunteers who support our work become experts in their own right and make these discoveries.”
The Tree Bumblebee is a common and widespread species in continental Europe, and its rapid spread throughout Britain and now into Ireland is believed to be due to its unique approach to nesting. Unlike most bumblebee species which make their nests at ground level, in long grass or in old abandoned rodent nests, Tree Bumblebees nest in holes in trees or other similar structures and are commonly found in empty bird boxes. The National Biodiversity Data Centre is encouraging everyone to look out for Tree Bumblebees to help map their progress in Ireland. The Tree Bumblebee has a black head, a fuzzy ginger-brown thorax, a black abdomen and a white tail. The public can report sightings of Tree Bumblebees here: http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/
The Tree Bumblebee’s arrival now brings the number of bumblebee species in Ireland to 21, but it’s important to remember that many of our bees have undergone substantial declines in recent decades and one third are currently threatened with extinction. To address these declines and to try create an Ireland where pollinators can survive and thrive, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan was launched in 2015. Over 80 governmental and non-governmental organisations have agreed to work on this shared plan of action which is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre www.pollinators.ie
During last week’s National Ploughing Championships, the Pollinator Plan released new guidelines on actions farmers can take to help bees. “The arrival of the Tree Bumblebee heralds a very positive start to the release of our latest guideline document to encourage bee-friendly farming. It’s a very effective pollinator, and will be particularly important to the horticultural industry as it’s known to be a first class pollinator of tree-fruit crops” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick, from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who is responsible for coordinating the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
NOTES FOR THE EDITOR
- We have 98 wild bee species in Ireland, 21 of which are bumblebees. 30% are threatened with extinction.
- Our tendency to ‘tidy up’ the landscape rather than allowing wildflowers to grow along roadsides, field margins, and in parks and gardens is playing a big part in reducing resources for bees.
- The Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) specialises on early flowering trees (Apple, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Willow).
- The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan contains actions that encourage the establishment and expansion of flowering hedgerows to support wild bees; an action that will directly benefit the Tree bumblebee.
- Stephen’s Green is managed by the Office of Public Works, who are very actively involved in the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and have taken positive actions for wild bees on many of their sites.
Dr. Tomás Murray is an Ecologist with the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Project Co-ordinator of the Irish Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme. He has been working on wild and managed bees in Ireland, Germany and Georgia for 14 years and is on the Steering Group for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
Dr. Úna FitzPatrick is an Ecologist with the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Project Coordinator and Steering Group Chair for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. She has been working on plants and pollinators for 17 years and set up the Irish Pollinator Initiative in 2008 to drive pollinator conservation through better data.
Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme
All-Ireland Pollinator Plan
About the National Biodiversity Data Centre:
The National Biodiversity Data Centre is a national organisation for the collection, collation, management, analysis and dissemination of data on Ireland’s biological diversity. Biodiversity data are a key requirement for understanding our natural surroundings, for tracking change in our environment and for gaining a greater insight on how we benefit from, and impact upon, the ecosystem goods and services provided by biological diversity; a national asset which contributes at least €2.8 billion to the Irish economy each year. The Data Centre was established by the Heritage Council in 2007 and is funded by the Heritage Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Centre is operated under a service level agreement by Compass Informatics Limited, an information and location technologies company focussed on applications in natural resources and planning.