Mayo County Council making great strides in battle to save Beautiful Blonde Bombshell from Belmullet

Posted in Connect on October 8, 2019.

The Great Yellow bumblebee is the rarest bee in Ireland and has been classified as endangered. Currently the only sustainable population left in Ireland can be found on the Mullet Peninsula in North Mayo, having formerly been widespread across the island of Ireland. Mayo County Council, in partnership with Belmullet Tidy Towns, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Birdwatch Ireland and students and staff School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin are all working together to ensure the Great Yellow Bumblebee has a future.

Recently the Belmullet Tidy Towns were awarded a regional Pollinator Award which recognises all that has been done by the town to help pollinating insects such as the Great Yellow Bumblebee. Mayo County Council also received an Excellence in Public Service Award for their work in addressing the decline of the Great Yellow Bee.

Parks Superintendent with Mayo County Council, Peter Gill, has said; “We all depend on pollinators and the important service they provide. Unfortunately, our pollinators are in decline. Of the 99 different types of bees on the island of Ireland, nearly one third are threatened with extinction. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is a strategy that addresses this problem.

“An important part of the pollinator plan is to research and collect data to inform pollinator conservation. There are some particular research gaps around some of our rarer pollinators, and what we need to do to conserve them.”

Mayo County Council has been a part of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan since signing up at a ceremony on Mayo Day, Saturday, May 4, at an event in Turlough House. Then Cathaoirleach, Cllr. Blackie Gavin and Chief Executive Peter Hynes signed a framework agreement with the Plan to formalise Mayo County Council’s long-term commitment to support pollinators in the county.

The biggest project currently being undertaken by Mayo County Council is a study of The Great Yellow Bumblebee. It is a large blonde bumblebee with a black stripe and has a characteristically low buzz in comparison to some other species.

Niamh Phelan, an MSc in Wildlife Conservation and Management student from University College Dublin, has spent much of 2019 carrying out research on this bumblebee and it’s general ecology on the peninsula, supervised by Dr Dara Stanley, at UCD. Niamh has been closely liaising with Belmullet Tidy Towns, Mayo County Council and the National Biodiversity Data Centre during her research.

Potential reasons for the decline of the Great Yellow are attributed to the intensification of agriculture, that it is a late emerging species, and it’s long tongue which has created a specialised food preference. There have been no published studies to date in Ireland on the Great Yellow, and little is known about its ecology in an Irish situation.

The aim of the study is to investigate the habitats the Great Yellow prefers on the Mullet Peninsula, as well as what plants it favours to try and build a better picture of the species in Ireland. Preliminary results suggest this species is only found in species-rich grassland habitats with a diversity of flowers and is frequently found foraging on red clover and common knapweed. Combined with data from Dave Suddaby, who walks a bumblebee monitoring scheme transect on some of the Birdwatch Ireland reserves frequented by the Great Yellow bumblebee, this data will help build up a picture of the requirements of this rare bumblebee to help implement conservation measures in the future.

Limited data describing the distribution of a species can lead to misinformed decisions about management and the misuse of resources leading to the potential failure of a conservation programme. For conservation of rare species, it is crucial to examine how habitat fragmentation and ecological barriers affects connectivity between populations.

Future studies on the Great Yellow should include a full habitat study of the peninsula to determine the area needed to support population growth of this species. The Ballycroy area in Co. Mayo contains machair which could potentially support a population of the Great Yellow. Future studies should expand outside of the Mullet area to survey other potential suitable areas.

To conserve this species, it needs a succession of forage throughout its yearly cycle and nearby suitable nesting sites. The creation of a results based agri-environment payment scheme for farmers, to support and create suitable habitats, both forage and nesting areas, is crucial.

Mr Gill concluded; “This is the last sustainable population of the Great Yellow Bumblebee in Ireland. If the bees in Belmullet are not protected, then they will soon be gone forever. Dr Dara Stanley from UCD describe the Belmullet Bee as the ‘Beautiful Blonde Bombshell from Belmullet’.

“We are on the right track but more needs to be done to protect the species. Farmers are the custodians of the land and the machair in the area. We would urge as many as possible to get involved with the results based agri-environment scheme which could prove the saving of the Great Yellow Bumblebee.”

Pictured: Cllr Sean Carey Cathaoirleach of West MD with members of Belmullet Tidy Towns Committee, Officials from Mayo County Council, staff from the National Biodiversity DATA Centre and University College Dublin launching guidance document in respect of the Great Yellow Bee

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