I am from the South Kilkenny Beekeepers Association. I started beekeeping in 1959, which is a good while ago. The Chairman asked how bad the situation has become. From that time until 2000, beekeeping was fairly steady. I had 24 stocks of bees in my apiary until 2000 and I was doing okay by them. There was plenty of food and foraging in the area. I can now only keep six stocks. That goes to show what has happened. From keeping 24 stocks, the number has gone down steadily. It is alright for me, as a beekeeper, to say this area can only cater for six stocks when it was 24 in the past. I could put the balance in my car and I might get an apiary from the Chairman or the gentleman beside him and I would spread them out. However, the bumblebee or the solitary bee cannot get into a motor car and drive 20 miles down the road where the area is good. They will be gone.
I am passionate about this issue. When I was in school in 1957, 1958 and 1959, I was taught by Mr. Doran. He was the man who founded Macra na Tuaithe, which was the forerunner to the farmers club. He gave me a project to do on bees. People with farmer's land might be asked to rear a calf and start them off. I had no land so he gave me a job counting bumblebees, which I did. I have been counting bumblebees since. Where I was getting bees on a certain hedgerow at a particular time - I have photographs - I can see that bumblebee numbers have gone down by about 70%. We are facing a serious problem.
I will tell the committee how valuable bees are and respond to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's questions on their value. In the spring of 2016, which is only three years ago, I had a phone call from a gentleman in Kilkenny by the name of Hughes who asked me if I could help him. I asked him in what way I should help and he asked me to send him some bees. I told him we had lost up to 70% of our bees because of lack of pollen at the back end of 2015, which was very cold, and the start of 2016. I asked him what his problem was. He was a farmer who had sewn 20 acres of pumpkins and he said a man had asked if he had the bees to pollinate them. He did not know pumpkins had to be pollinated. I told him I would get him a few hives of bees but that I could not get him many.
I rang him at Christmas when the season was over and asked how he got on. He said that he got on well but he had 100 acres for next year and needed some bees. He said that he had to import bumble bees from Northern Ireland and that the bumble bee was ten times better than the ordinary bee that we had for that particular job. I said that did not surprise me because the bumble bee will pollinate at a lower temperature than our bees, at around 10°C, while our bees have to have a temperature of 15°C or 16°C before they can do any pollinating. Bumble bees are crucial. Mr. Doran told me, God be good to him, in 1959, that if anything happened to the bumble bee, we would be in trouble.
The Chairman asked about Kilkenny. I went into Kilkenny County Council two years ago. I was the head of the posse. I asked the council about this pollinator plan. I asked it to do something to highlight the situation and it adopted the black and amber bumble bee as the insect for Kilkenny. I stated last year that it is all right for it to adopt the bumble bee but I want to see what the council is doing. It said it was going to put a plan in place. I waited until the local elections were over and went to a councillor to ask what the council had done about various verges along motorways and such. There is much work that could be done there. If something is not done quickly, we will lose the whole lot. We have the power to destroy and eliminate but we do not have the power to get them back. I got a bit frustrated one day when I went to Kilkenny County Council. I said to myself that I was like a drop in the ocean but that if all the drops make up the ocean, everybody could do a little, such as a person with a hanging basket or people who leave a little bit of their garden to go wild, bringing their children out to look at the bees and the butterflies. Without bees, we would have no birds or anything else.
I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak here and I hope I answered the question of how valuable those pollinators are to humans. I am heartened. I am afraid that people who are 40 or 50 are not taking it seriously, but people younger than that, including those in schools, are taking it very seriously. Certain schoolmasters come along and ask me to give various talks. I thank the committee for the opportunity.