Green Fingers: Do your part to protect pollinators

James Vaughan


James Vaughan

Green Fingers: Do your part to protect pollinators

There is only one type or species of honey bee native to Ireland whereas there are twenty species of bumblebee

WE had some family over to our house recently for a meal. After dinner we went into the garden to enjoy the sunshine. There were comments made about the abundance of bees, especially bumble bees.

The conversation quickly turned to all the talk about protecting pollinators and to what, exactly, pollinators are. I have decided to write this week’s article on a brief introduction to all things pollinating.


Pollen is required to be exchanged between two plants in order to produce seed. Pollen can be spread by many means one being by wind. Another way for pollen to be spread is by insects or, indeed, birds or animals. Simply put, a pollinator is an insect, or an animal, that spreads pollen from one plant to another. There are over two hundred types of pollinators here in Ireland but perhaps the best known are bees.

Honey Bee

There is only one type or species of honey bee native to Ireland whereas there are twenty species of bumblebee. Honey bees, as the name suggests, make honey, and live in large social communities - up to two hundred and fifty thousand. They are the only bees in Ireland to do so. All bees in Ireland gather and transfer pollen. I have only ever seen a honey bee hive in the wild in Ireland once in my life.

I am acutely aware that honey bees can sting. I have been researching and have discovered that only female bumble bees can sting - the males cannot. It all gets bit complicated with differentiating between males and female and different species. So, as a rule of thumb, I would say to assume that all bees and wasps can sting. In this way you will avoid the painful realisation of which insects can sting and those that cannot.

Bumble Bee

Bumble bees are similar to honey bees but there are differences. Bumble bees do not live in hives, but do live in smaller groups. These groups will consist of a queen and all of her daughters with some males. They nest in places like an abandoned mouse nest or empty birds nest.

Bumble bees are perhaps the hardest working of all pollinators. If you like, bumble bees are like honey bees but they have a ‘fur coat’. This ‘fur coat’ means that they can fly about in almost all weathers. You may notice in your garden that you will see much more bumble bees than honey bees.


Hoverflies look like your ordinary house fly. There are, however, some subtle differences. Some hoverflies have the defence tool of looking like a bee. This look means that they are not attractive to birds.


Probably the most attractive of the pollinators are the butterflies. They overwinter here and emerge in the summer. Once you see butterflies, you know summer is here at last. Butterflies, apparently, were once known as flutter byes - an altogether more appropriate name.

The work rate of butterflies is known to be not as strong as bees. Butterflies only visit gardens when there is little or no wind.

For this reason, we do not see many butterflies visiting our garden.

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