Let’s look at the Irish farming landscape through the gaze of a bee. Glossy fields of grass might look like lush rich countryside. To our bees they’re a food desert.
<p class="no_name">We have lost varied hay meadows, wildflowers, hedgerows which buzzed and fluttered with life. Instead we have blankets of perennial ryegrass, a native plant of southern Europe, Africa and Asia, heavily fertilised with nitrogen for beef and dairy herds. The loudest sounds on dairy prairies isn’t the buzzing of bees but the munching of animals.</p> <p class="no_name">UN World Bee Day was May 20th. It may sound like a celebration of the French bathroom accessory but it marks the birth of the 18th century father of beekeeping Anton Jansa. There will be lots of talk of honey and waggle dances (the method of communication a bee uses to show the other bees in the hive where to find the good stuff). But 77 of the 98 Irish bee species are solitary bees. And their habitat loss has been so catastrophic that a third of all species are threatened with extinction.</p> <p class="no_name">Paul Handrick is happy to be known as “the bee guy”. Once a sales guy he and his wife Clare-Louise Donelan had a plan 10 years ago to move to France but instead fell in love with a farm in Wicklow. It’s now the Bee Sanctuary of Ireland, “no hives, no honey”, just 31 football pitches “which we have been returning to nature”.</p> <p class="no_name">The rewilding story is both bleak and hopeful. So much has been lost that people like Paul and Clare Louise are throwing everything they have to try to claw it back. But ecosystems regenerate quickly and powerfully. Paul has seen wildflowers like cowslips and cuckoo flower throng his chemical-free fields, and has “a pond full of frogs” in the wetland areas. Flocks of finches and long-tailed tits sing so loudly they drown out phone conversations. “We leave a strip for ourselves and the rest is for nature.”</p> <p class="no_name">Their big idea is the National Meadowland scheme, asking businesses to pay farmers to put 2 per cent of farmland into meadow for insects from March to September. All the farmer needs is “a cheque for nature”. </p> <h4 class="crosshead">Subscription</h4><p class="no_name">Individuals can also become a friend of the bees. There’s a €36-a-year subscription for adults or €12 for children. Sanctuary visits can be arranged once Covid restrictions lift.</p> <p class="no_name">And in our own gardens? </p> <p class="no_name">His advice is simple: “Don’t even look at chemicals. Sow a few organic native wildflowers, sunflowers in a pot, or cosmos.” </p> <p class="no_name">And forget about elaborate bee hotels – a small pile of bare soil and sand or rocks on a south-facing sheltered spot is all they need.</p> <p class="no_name">www.thebeesanctuaryofireland.com </p>