A PROJECT to count the number and variety of bumblebees across Limerick has been awarded €36,000 under the Limerick City of Culture programme.
A separate project to bring bee hives back in to the city and to revive interest in the skills of urban beekeeping has also received funding under another City of Culture allocation.
Twenty Limerick people have now volunteered and have received training to count bumblebees across the city and county, which is due to take place shortly following the allocation of route plans to volunteers.
Their results will be fed into the database of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, and will be known at the end of the year. The volunteers will each walk a set route, once a month, and count the bees along it.
Dr Una Fitzpatrick, of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, travelled to Limerick recently to teach volunteers the method used across the country.
The data will be used by the national centre to track changes in bee populations, compare regions, and provide insights into how bumblebees are responding to factors like climate change.
Kilfinane resident Veronica Santorum, co-ordinator of the Limerick’s Buzzing project, said up until now Limerick’s bumblebee population has “been barely represented in this national picture of what is happening to bees across the country”.
“The expertise of Ireland is now at their beck and call to help with identification,” she added.
“We’ll have an idea of how bees in Limerick are faring in comparison to Cork and Dublin, and what type of land they like, and the times when numbers are going up or down or are stable.”
Ms Santorum, who undertook her PhD on the subject of wild bees in the University of Limerick, said the funding will be used to raise awareness and stimulate interest in the conservation of wild bees, which she said are a vital - if overlooked - part of the Irish economy.
She said bumblebees are key pollinators of wild plants and shrubs, as well as crops, such as the production of apples, and “are important for the survival of the economy”.
“We already know that some rare bumblebees in Limerick are at the edge of extinction. One species hasn’t been seen since 1988. Another bumblebee appears to be restricted to a very small area in west Limerick. What we don’t know is what is happening to our more common species; are their numbers stable or also decreasing as in other countries? This survey will tell us that,” she explained.
She added that the information they gather over the rest of the year “will be preserved and will in time become part of their legacy and the City of Culture’s legacy to future generations”.
Two artists are also employed by the project to promote awareness of this issue through artistic means, and talks and workshops will also be given to school children.
A bee expert from Lyon in France also gave a talk in Limerick on this issue, which was attended by over 100 people.
Alarming declines of bumblebees in the United States, Britain and many other European countries led to the establishment of a national bumblebee monitoring scheme in Ireland in 2011 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
The Limerick’s Buzzing project can be found at www.limericksbuzzing.ie, on twitter @BuzzLMK, and also on Facebook.