It’s the perfect time of year to consider helping pollinators find nesting places on your farm. Creating good nesting places is simple and inexpensive.
It is also completely safe; wild bees do not live in large colonies that need to be defended, so they’re not aggressive and pose no threat.
Benefits to your farm:
- Ensuring that wild bees and other pollinators can survive on your farm protects your ability to grow certain crops and many fruits and vegetables.
- It will also create habitats for other insects, many of which are beneficial for pest control.
- It is very low cost and could be a way of including children in activities on the farm.
Benefits to pollinators:
- Provides safe areas for wild pollinators to hibernate, nest and breed.
- No matter how many flowers grow on your farm, without suitable nest sites, bees can’t survive there. When creating nesting habitat think carefully about where to put it and ensure that there are flowers nearby, see below, Bumblebees commonly forage within 1km and solitary bees within 300m.
How to provide nests for Bumblebees
Our 21 Bumblebees nest in long or tussocky grass
- Leave long grass along the base of hedgerows, along lanes or in field margins and corners uncut from March until October.
How to provide nests for Mining Solitary bees
Our 63 species of mining solitary bees nest by making tiny burrows in bare earth (soil, sand, clay and peat). They will nest in flat well-drained areas, but generally prefer south/east facing sheltered banks.
- Where there is south or, south-east or south-west-facing exposed bare earth at the base of hedgerows, allow these areas to remain.
- In winter, create new earth banks elsewhere by scraping away top layer of soil – they just need to be stable and free draining. Avoid creating these areas anywhere that is vulnerable to soil erosion e.g., on steep sloped near watercourses.
- If you have old gravel pits, avoid levelling these out as they provide excellent nest sites for mining bees.
How to provide nests for Cavity-nesting Solitary bees
Our 15 species of cavity-nesting bees make their nests in existing cavities in south-facing walls, masonry, wooden structures or commercially available bee boxes.
- Drill south or east-facing holes in wooden fences or concrete structures.
- Alternatively, create your own bee box by drilling holes in untreated wooden blocks and attaching them to an outdoor structure. Installing a number of small boxes is better than one large one because it minimises the risk of disease and predation.
- Holes should be 10cm in depth and 4-10mm in diameter at a height of 1-2m. It is important to have holes of different sizes for different bees.
How to provide Hoverflies and other pollinators with breeding habitat
There are around 180 Hoverfly species in Ireland. Even though bees carry more pollen, because Hoverflies visit flowers frequently, they also play an important role in pollination. They are also very beneficial in pest control as many larvae feed on aphids.
Hoverfly larvae are very varied, and they have different feeding habits. Many eat aphids and other pests, others have an aquatic life in water (including stagnant), and others feed on decaying plant materials. Retain or create new habitat and features for hoverfly larvae:
- Wetland features, including ponds, ditches, seepages and watercourses can be very valuable for pollinators. As shallow water, wet mud, wet mosses, and semi-submerged woody debris are used by some pollinating Hoverflies to breed in.
- Dead trees and wood are valuable to the larvae of pollinators such as Drone flies.
- Consider creating a new pond or non-draining ditch within a wood that lacks wet features, valuable habitat for some Hoverfly larvae.
Visit the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan https://pollinators.ie/farmland/ where we have a page dedicated to farmland information and resources that can help you take the next steps, to carry out actions for pollinators on your farm.
Within the National Biodiversity Data Centre, we also have a ‘Protecting Farmland Pollinators’ research project running from 2019-2023. This project is identifying the best evidence-based actions to protect pollinators on farmland, and drives the advice we provide within the AIPP: https://biodiversityireland.ie/projects/protecting-farmland-pollinators/
Also look out for the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Festival of Farmland Biodiversity https://biodiversityireland.ie/festival-of-farmland-biodiversity/ which takes place in May.
By Ruth Wilson, Farmland Officer, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan