Threats to Native Bee Population: Discussion

Today we will discuss the threat of extinction of one third of the native bee population and related matters. I am pleased to welcome from the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations Mr. Ken Norton, public relations officer; Mr. Paul O'Brien, president; and Mr. Peter Walsh, one of its beekeepers.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I advise them that their opening statements and any other document they have submitted to the committee may be published on its website after the meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I thank the Chairman for allowing us to speak. During the 1960s and 1970s Ireland was known throughout the world as the land of milk and honey. We still produce milk today but not as much honey. During the years many of our uplands and hedgerows have disappeared and we now seldom see wildflower meadows. All of these changes have resulted in a reduction in the number of wild native bees at a time when we should be ensuring greater protection for vulnerable insects. Ireland prides itself on being a green island with wild tourism and green agriculture, but we should be more protective of nature. Wildlife, including bees, needs all of the help it can get. It is time for us all to sit down together to discuss concerns about managing uplands and hedgerows. We must come up with positive solutions to minimise the conflict with nature.

I will speak from the heart. We have a major problem with the decline of habitats, flora and fauna, bees, birds and other wildlife. As citizens of Ireland and the world, we were given the land by way of a loan from our ancestors and must hand it over to the next generation in the condition in which we got it, without destroying it further. Ireland prides itself on its green image, yet habitats are disappearing. Elderly beekeepers all over the country have told me that in the past it was possible to keep 60 or 70 beehives, but it is no longer possible to do so because there is no food available. Hedgerows are protected, but there is no stipulation on how they are to be cut. In Ireland it has become habitual for them to be cut right down to the roots and then for mechanical diggers to be used to split the roots, which does not allow the hedgerows to grow back. Teagasc has been very supportive of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations. Together, we produced a very good document last year on how to manage and cut hedgerows, but as there is no legislation in place, mechanical diggers are being used to remove them and they are not growing back. If we lose the insects, we will lose the birds and our green image. Canaries were brought down mines years ago and if they died, miners knew that they had to get out. Bees are now dying. They are telling us something, but if we do not listen to what it is, we will let down future generations.

I will now invite committee members to ask questions.

I thank the delegates for coming. We have a copy of the federation's How To guide in front of us. The points made by Mr. O'Brien are accepted in terms of biodiversity, the fact that we are custodians of the land and have a responsibility to hand it on in good condition to the next generation. Bees are a significant part of that biodiversity. Apart from what we can do as individuals in our gardens, in preserving meadows and not cutting grass and hedges, what can the committee do to assist the federation in its efforts to protect bees?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I thank the Deputy for her question. There is an Act that deals with hedgerows and how they are to be cut and managed. We ask committee members to work to bring forward legislation to provide that hedgerows cannot be cut to within an inch of their lives. There should be guidelines and documentation, if not law, to ensure hedgerows cannot be cut right down to the roots, which means that they have no chance of growing again. We need criteria governing how they are to be cut. Cutting should not be allowed that does not meet the criteria as hedgerows are being destroyed.

We also ask the committee to curtail the use of pesticides. They are being used by gardeners who might only have a couple of dandelions in their gardens. They are using what they think is the best chemical in the world, namely, Roundup or other neonicocides, but the damage they cause is unbelievable. We have a good working relationship with the farming community and ask them to notify beekeepers in their area when they are about to undertake spraying. We know and accept that they have to spray their crops, but if they tell us when they are about to do it, we can keep bees in on that day. We can close the door and not let them out. In that way, they will not come in contact with pesticides and die. However, under legislation there is no onus on the farming community to tell us.

These are little things, but they can make a big difference. We know that farmers and landowners have to make money. In the next round of CAP payments it could be stipulated that hedgerows must be protected according to certain criteria and that spraying is notifiable to beekeepers in an area. There are 63 beekeeper associations in the country and it would take only one e-mail to tell beekeepers in an area that Mr. Browne or Mrs. Browne is going to spray tomorrow morning. In that way, beekeepers in the locality could protect their bees. These are simple measures, but farmers will not do them on their own. They will need a gentle push or encouragement, whichever is the more effective.

It is about opening lines of communication locally to explain to farmers that they are also custodians of bees.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Yes, but they need an incentive. It could be a financial incentive or a carrot and stick approach could be used. We ask committee members, as legislators, to provide either a carrot or a stick. These are small measures that would be simple to execute. A pamphlet could be produced to explain that hedgerows cannot be cut below a certain limit or size and ask farmers to notify beekeepers when they are spraying. A small incentive is needed in that regard.

Mr. Ken Norton

We also need the all-Ireland pollinator plan to be adopted by as many local authorities as possible. Louth County Council adopted it recently and all of the roundabouts in the county have been converted into wildflower meadows. That is helping pollinators and an excellent idea. Tidy Towns committees should also be encouraged to become more involved in the all-Ireland pollinator plan. As the committee knows, 75% of what we consume must be pollinated, either by bees or another pollinator. If all pollinators were to die tomorrow, we would not necessarily die, but we would be left with only 25% of foodstuffs that do not need to be pollinated and our diet would be very limited.

We would die rather more quickly because we would be left with a limited diet meaning we would get sick more often and so on. We need to protect the 75% we are talking about.

Before Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell comments, I ask the witnesses to explain what the all-Ireland pollinator plan is.

Mr. Ken Norton

The all-Ireland pollinator plan was drafted in 2015 and runs to 2020. It was drawn up with the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations is one of the signatories to the plan, as are Bord Bia, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Heritage Council. Various other Government-funded organisations are involved. They attend various events, as we do, explaining hedgerows for pollinators, how to create and manage a wildflower meadow and how to create wild pollinator nesting habitats. They also try to get the farming community involved in planting more plants and flowers on farmland. The plan is intended to encourage everybody to get involved. The initiative has also been rolled out in schools and colleges. There are various versions, including a junior version, and a website, www.pollinators.ie. Most of the material is free. Users can download it and print it out or get a hard copy as they wish.

Our main issue is to try to promote the pollinator plan more. When the plan first appeared it featured every day in newspapers, on television and so on. As with everything, however, funding ran out and only pops up now every now and again. The plan needs to be in the public's face so that people can see what to do, for example, they should not cut their grass every two minutes, as a lawn is not a football pitch, and they should let weeds grow as they benefit insects.

The all-Ireland pollinator plan is a five-year plan.

Mr. Ken Norton

It is, yes.

We are coming to the end of it. Have there been any tangible deliverables?

Mr. Ken Norton

There have been, yes. There has been a lot of uptake. It would be of huge benefit if county councils would pick up on it.

Does Mr. Norton have the sense that they have not been doing so?

Mr. Ken Norton

A very limited number of councils have picked up on it. We need as many as possible to do so.

I will ask a few questions. Witnesses will forgive me if they come across as remedial. I wish to get to the root of some of this. How bad are we in Ireland in on the issues the witnesses are talking about? How do we fare? That is the first question. Perhaps the witnesses could answer them one by one because they are quite disparate. How bad are we compared with other countries? Are we at the bottom of the pile or in the middle when it comes to the preservation of our land and environment?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

We probably have the best hedgerows still in existence but the rate of destruction, for want of a better word-----

Who is responsible for that?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Teagasc has worked tirelessly with the farming community and with us on the all-Ireland pollinator plan to produce a booklet on how to manage hedgerows correctly. The trouble is that, with the best will in the world, farmers are using the opportunity to cut the hedges right down. Hedgerows cannot recover from that. Farmers are concerned with profitability and using as much land as possible for pasture to get the dairy industry growing. They want to use every square inch of it. There must be an incentive to restore hedgerows, perhaps as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, or something like that. We had a discussion outside about a 1,000 acre farm in the countryside. If the farmer were to give back the linear acre, that is, the hedgerows, he would lose two, three or maybe ten acres out of his 1,000. The farmer could not do it. He said it was not profitable enough for him to do that. This is what we are up against. Very few county councils have taken the pollination plan on board and have-----

Mr. O'Brien mentioned County Louth. Some of the councils have been very slow.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Some of them have been very slow and have ignored the matter totally. There is no planting-----

Surely that is the place to start. The county councils are concerned with their locale. Members of the Oireachtas deal with many issues, including legislation. Are county councils ignoring beekeepers or are they just being lazy?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

They are being lazy. They have all received this information and heard presentations about the pollination plan. I do not disregard the fact that Oireachtas Members are the public face. People hear and see them quite often. They are legislators. They can provide encouragement and pass down the message. We have tried to work from the bottom up. To get people involved we need the top-down approach as well.

What does Mr. O'Brien think I should do as a legislator?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I would like to see guidelines on the management of hedgerows and the prevention of their total destruction, with either a carrot or a stick attached. This is a huge problem throughout the country.

Did this come up at the doorsteps during the local elections? The Green Party was everywhere, so at least there was a-----

Mr. Paul O'Brien

That is true. Let us be honest. Everywhere one looks one reads about the humble bumblebee and honey bee. We have got the message into the press but there is only so much we can do by publicising the issue.

That is my first question. What will happen if we have no bees or if they continue to decrease?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It is very simple. In any local supermarket every single fruit and vegetable with a colour is pollinated by a pollinator. Bees are dedicated. Imagine a field of oilseed rape. Bees will come out of their hive, spot the oilseed rape and identify a lovely source of food. Every single bee will repeatedly go back to those flowers until their nectar has been fully exhausted. They are dedicated pollinators. A bumblebee will come along and say hello to a flower before going to the next field. Honey bees go back to the same food source until it is exhausted. That is why they are the primary pollinators. Let us return to the supermarket. If there are no bees, all the coloured fruit and vegetables will be gone.

When Mr. O'Brien says "pollinator", what exactly does he mean?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I refer to bumblebees, wasps and honey bees.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

They go from one flower to the next, bringing pollen and fertilising the plants.

Sometimes people use this language but they do not understand the breadth of what the bee does-----

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I appreciate that.

-----allowing us to come along and eat it.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

The reward for the bee is nectar. Nectar is a very fine sugar solution dissolved in about 80% water. When bees bring it back to the hive they dehydrate until it is 20% water, which provides the honey in which we all delight.

The witnesses referred to a figure of 75%.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

That figure refers to 75% of the food we eat in supermarkets.

Give me another example.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Oranges, bananas, tomatoes and strawberries would all be gone. Our diet would be very simple. It would consist of cabbages, root vegetables and wheat. A very interesting diet.

We are destroying our environment. I refer to plastic in the sea and the effluent recently affecting south Dublin where people cannot swim because all the poo is going into the sea, etc. Would I be crazy to say that we need a single Department for the natural environment because of the destruction that would encompass what the witnesses are talking about?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It is very simple. Who are the people on the street who have been so passionate about this during the last year? It is the children. They do not want us to hand them an environment that has been destroyed. Every one of us is in charge. Anybody over the age of 30 is responsible for what happened in the past. We cannot go back and change the industrial revolution. We have to look after what we have today. The Senator is of the same vintage as I am. Many years ago when driving across the country one would find the windscreen was covered in insects. Today one can drive from here to Galway and one might see two insects.

A driver certainly will not see them on the windscreen, which is where they are usually seen.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

No. We have been excellent at removing all the insects. We are doing a great job of it but we have to stop.

People live in a kind of a contradictory environment. They drive across Ireland and think Ireland is magnificent, green, emerald and all of that. They do not lock into the reality of what Mr. O'Brien is saying. They do not really think these pollinators are essential to what and how we eat.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Every single thing that we live with is essential. If one snail, bee or bird is taken out of nature it has a catastrophic effect on other animals. I refer to yesterday's report about the diversity of plants and fauna.

That diversity is disappearing. We can make a start today by helping that.

Should there be a statutory requirement on all county councils, not only Louth County Council, to respond to what Mr. O'Brien has described?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It should be statutory requirement that they incorporate in their planting, landscaping and planning permissions respite or oases for pollination and for birds and bees.

I have a number of questions following which members may come back in again if they wish. It would be useful for the committee to get a list of the county councils that have signed up to all-Ireland pollinator plan. If such a list is not already on the website of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations, it might be useful to highlight that on it. That would allow the young people Mr. O'Brien is talking about and those of us who are passionate about this issue to put pressure on our colleagues in councils, whether we are members of political parties or independents, to act and to use their new mandate to try to-----

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I will undertake to do that for the Chairman.

There is a movement in Dublin towards having many more allotments. For instance, allotments were opened only recently in my area of Bluebell. I got my keys last week but I have not done anything yet. Allotments encourage people to grow crops. However, if they are located in the middle of a built-up area where flies, wasps, bees and so on are being killed off with pesticides, with all the will in the world there will not be an abundance of crops. One idea that came up in discussions with some of the other allotment holders was to try to get the council to encourage the growth of colourful flowers in the hedging or near the fencing around thee allotments to attract bees.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

The pollinator plan includes recommendations on which trees and bushes to plant. There is no point in planting trees or plants with only green leaves.

It should be colourful-----

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Scotch pine is no good to anybody. They should be trees or plants that would have some benefit.

Mr. Norton or one of the other witnesses mentioned the funding running out.

Mr. Ken Norton

Yes.

Has the federation made a submission seeking an additional wad of money to continue this work? In preparation for the meeting I read some of the documents the federation has produced and they are very useful-----

Mr. Ken Norton

They are, yes.

-----to someone who is uninitiated, so to speak, and outline some simple steps. I encourage people to visit the pollinators.ie website and read the guidelines.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I will give the Chairman some of the guidelines. The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations gets €8,000 a year from the Government.

It gets €8,000 to do its work.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

We have 3,500 members and all of us give our time on a voluntary basis.

Mr. Ken Norton

The all-Ireland pollinator plan is being run mainly by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. We are in partnership with centre, as are several others. However, it is the top dog, so to speak. We would support it in seeking funding for this.

Given the crisis we are in, the organisations that are best placed to give advice to farmers, schools or whatever need to be funded. Whether it is to the witnesses' organisation, for the national biodiversity plan or whatever, the funding must be provided.

On an issue discussed by the committee previously, many of the Bord na Móna bogs and other bogs not owned by the company are no longer being cut. Has much work been done to encourage the growing of flowers, ferns, etc., on those areas?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Bord na Móna has approached us.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It wants us to get involved in the replanting of many of the bogs in County Offaly.

That is a very important aim.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

That is a big belt of land in the middle of the country and if we could bring back the habitat, it would be wonderful.

The federation should draw up a plan for that and if it needs the help of the good offices of this committee or politicians in general, it should ask for it. In the main, people understand this issue, even if they are not fully aware of the full consequences. The beekeepers have supporters, certainly among members of this committee who have expressed an interest. We will have witnesses from BirdWatch Ireland before the committee in a number of weeks. There is an understanding on this committee and, I believe, among the population in general that we have reached crisis point and need to take action. It is not just about Bord na Móna. It is also the national parks, the Phoenix Park and all of those areas.

The witness mentioned meadows, allowing areas to grow wild and so on. There is a park across from my house and I always wondered why the grass was not cut.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

The Chairman knows the reason now.

Now I understand the reason.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

To give credit to the Office of Public Works, OPW, and Bord Bia, they have been very supportive of us and very helpful.

It is a matter of explaining it to the rest of the population to ensure they understand. That is why the funding needs to be provided so that it can be explained.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Mr. Walsh would like to say a few words because he has been a beekeeper for longer than any of us.

Mr. Peter Walsh

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.

I thank Mr. Walsh for his passion and understanding of our responsibility. Maybe Kilkenny will do better in the hurling after adopting the symbol of the black and amber bee.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Not if I have my way.

Mr. Paul Walsh

This is a Galway man beside me.

I am a Dublin man. Maybe they will beat Galway this week.

Mr. Paul Walsh

I will give up the hurling if we can save the bumble bee.

To fast-track this, we on the committee might undertake to write to the councils to ask them what action they have taken. If our guests think that we can take any practical steps of that nature, I am willing to put the matter to the members over the next while. If they come across a stumbling block and think that our intervention would be useful, they should just ask for help. I think that is not as much as we can do but it is the least that we can do.

If the committee can help our guests to ignite people's interest in order to ensure that what they are seeking to do will happen, that would be good. If, as Mr. Norton suggested, Louth County Council is doing this so well, why can other local authorities not do it too? It is all very well to say that a plan is being adopted; there must also be action. I would be very much in favour of that.

I will call Deputy Ó Cuív because I have to go very soon and want to get a photograph with our guests beforehand.

I am sorry that I could not make it here before now. I was tied up with something else. My understanding, from looking at the documentation provided and from what was said to me when it became known that our guests would be coming in, is that in parts of the country, the cutting of hedgerows is a major issue. In large swathes of the west, especially where I live, there is very little hedgerow cutting and any such cutting is quite cursory in nature. It is done along the roads by the county council, on just the outside hedges, not the inside hedges, in an attempt to make them more vertical than lateral. Even in the time that I have been in Corr na Móna, there are many more hedges, including many higher ones, in the west than was the case previously. These are deciduous, whitethorn or traditional hedges. This year was a great year for whitethorn. If one drives along the roads, they are ablaze with whitethorn. There is more gorse than there ever was. In fact, more land is used than there was 40, 50 or 60 years ago.

Are there areas of the country where the hedgerows and the bees are thriving? I remember it being pointed out to me many years ago that there was a substantial change in farming balance and patterns from a multicultural approach, with the sowing of oats, potatoes, vegetables, some fruit and so on being popular, to just producing more and more grass because that is what farmers were getting paid to do. Has that had a negative effect on what our guests were describing? The hedges are not cut across large swathes of the country and there is much more cover than previously, with many more wild flowers not being cut. Is the bee population in those areas thriving? In areas where there is wholesale mechanical cutting by the farmers with sophisticated machines that can cut every side of the hedge - up, down and across - is there a difference in the number of bees? How much is the change in farm practice having an effect?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I thank the Deputy. He was out of the room earlier. In the dairy belt from Athlone to Cork, the hedgerows are cut down to within an inch of their lives, to the stalk and root. The diggers break the stalk as they are doing that and the hedgerows are not recovering. I live in the same town as the Deputy in Galway. The hedgerows and fields are good in Galway but the wind coming in off the sea keeps the bees busy trying to fly in straight lines. I am talking about the dairy belt from Athlone to Cork.

The wind was always the same and, if anything, the cover is better now. Places such as where I live are inland. They are not right by the sea. Has the bee population-----

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It has to a degree. In our own association in Galway, we had 14 members when we set it up five years ago. We now have 100 members. Some 100 new beekeepers have come into our area. Technically, the bee population in the west has increased but that is down to the work we are doing.

Can Mr. O'Brien prove, by comparing one with the other, the direct relationship between the hedge cutting that is going on and the population of bees?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Yes. In our area, we use the number of supers to determine how much honey will come into a beehive.

In the west, we are still getting two or three supers per hive when we get the right summer weather as we had last year. Mr. Walsh, for example, is down the other end of the country and he might have had five or six supers per beehive years ago but he is barely getting two now.

Second, has the drift towards monoculture been a factor?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

Yes, vast tracts of grassland have been heavily fertilised with nitrogen and manure. It is just pure grass; there is nothing else there. The Deputy should put himself in a bee's shoes. A bee can only fly three miles to get food and if it is flying over grass, which has no food, it suddenly starves.

I want to raise an interesting side note which has nothing to do with bees. I was to Inishbofin last weekend. There has been a significant revival in the corncrake population on the islands off the west coast. Part of what caused their demise was the lack of farming when the islands became depopulated, as well as changes in farming practices. Strangely, in some cases it was just pure depopulation. However, there has been a significant revival. I was listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta and corncrakes appeared in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh recently. The corncrake is making a comeback and, therefore, that shows that if the circumstances are changed, the game is not over.

One of my suggestions is that we should write to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and copy the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I have waited for years for a special measure under GLAS, which used to be the rural environment protection scheme, REPS. This is up for negotiation because a new plan will come in after 2020. Instead of it being the case that the best money to be earned from environmentally friendly farming is to put land in grass and do nothing apart from keeping the grass cut, €1,000 or €2,000 should be paid to people to have kitchen gardens, or to recreate more traditional diverse farming. With small mechanical devices, much of the hard labour can be taken out of having a half acre of potatoes, vegetables or whatever. Would that be a help?

Environmental schemes such as GLAS have good features in them but they tend to lead to monoculture because it is easier to get money from a scheme if the measures are simple. I wanted a measure that would be like the trailing shoe measure where fertiliser was injected to reduce fertiliser use so that there would be a specific measure for diversity in crops. For example, certain areas set aside in the tillage sector. What were they called?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

They were set aside for bumblebees in areas they had settled.

Whatever. In other areas we need a little bit of tillage or planting of various types. Would the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations be supportive if we suggested that the new environmental programme be much more diverse?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

We would be very supportive of that. We would also be very supportive of not losing what we have. I reiterate that the hedgerows have to be cut and managed but they should not be removed. We have photographic evidence of fields that were there three years ago-----

We do not see that in the west, as Mr. O'Brien will be aware.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

No, the west is perfect. I am going to give out about the other end of the country because it is gone. All we want is for that to be saved and protected and the only way to do that is to bring out some rules for how to cut them and not to remove them. They are being removed by stealth but I agree with the Deputy that we need to open of the countryside to methods other than monocultures.

I suggest that the Chairman add that to his list.

We will consider that for the next meeting.

I will not hold up the meeting too long. I was held up with other matters and I happened to follow part of the debate from my office. It is fantastic that we are discussing such important issues within the confines of these Houses. I have one or two short questions, which have probably been touched on so I will be happy with a short answer. I have a background in horticulture so I know a little about how important this debate about bees is. It is disturbing that so many people still laugh when one talks about the importance of the bee for human beings. This is a significant problem. We often see environmental advertisements about different matters. What about an awareness campaign on television, radio and social media about getting serious about the importance of the bee, particularly the bumblebee?

Mr. Walsh referred to the black and amber. I live in Strokestown and we have black and amber there as well. Young people are great, the schools are fantastic and the teachers are good in the schools but there is a problem with large parts of society who laugh at this and think it is airy-fairy stuff that we are discussing. I am talking about awareness. How does the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations think we could improve it? If we could we get the relevant Department to fund an awareness campaign, would that be a good idea?

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It would. I will answer this in two ways to give a bit of positivity. When I started in beekeeping, I was invited to a school once every two years if I was lucky. I would go in and they would look and they would be horrified when they saw bees. I always go to the eight year old classes, I do six schools in my district, and, in recent years, when I go in, the kids are not terrified of bees. They know more about bees than I ever did at their age, they are hugely positive and they contact me when they see a bumblebee or something in difficulty. The positivity is there with all the youth. They have it and they understand it. We see them on the streets protesting about the earth and the climate. They are ahead of the game and we are only catching up as elderly adults. We missed the game here a few years back but the children are positive.

This is the first time we have been asked to any Oireachtas committee to speak about the bees so I thank the committee for that. This is the first opportunity we have ever had. I represent 3,500 members. It is a voluntary organisation and we get a pittance of €8,000 each year to keep it running. We conduct two surveys every year for the Government and that is where most of our money goes. We do not have any bee health inspectors and we do not have any bee support inspectors. In England, there are bee supports and instead of going to see the vet, one goes to see the bee support inspector to address a problem.

We get free testing from Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Department pays for health inspections on our bees. We send samples, which we used to pay for but for the last two years it has been free so that is a slightly positive move. However, a lot of money is coming into the country for research and everything else but we do not get it on the ground.

There are 3,200 beekeepers, each one with up to three or four hives. Each hive has about 60,000 bees so we are doing our bit. On support for beekeepers, this has been the first opportunity to talk to Government representatives at an equal level and we thank the committee for that. We would like more media attention but we are volunteers. We try our best and, to be fair to Mr. Norton, he is running around ragged. I used to do his job and the members have all met the late Phillip McCabe. God rest his soul he is gone. He was an Irishman who was president of Apimondia. We have done our best but we our hands are tied because we are a voluntary organisation and we are trying to get there.

I will not hold up the meeting any longer. Most of the other questions have been asked.

Gabhaim buíochas do na finnéithe. We can hear the passion. If the committee members did not understand previously, we understand now how important it is. Hopefully today's session gets the publicity it deserves. The witnesses have laid it out quite well and, hopefully, we will be able to impact on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the councils. I presume that the next pollination plan is in hand and we will try to encourage whatever help can be given to the federation. Hopefully, the federation will be able to come back to us in a few years and tell us that it has managed to address the decline at the very least and perhaps encouraged an increase but it will take quite a number of years. The federation has gone great work.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

It would be nice to come back here again next year and see how we have progressed with the committee's help.

We would not have a problem with that. We are just not sure whether we will be here next year.

That is the nature of this job.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

I do not know if I will be here either. I might not be elected.

That is true.

Mr. Paul O'Brien

We all have that problem.

Ag an stad seo, ba mhaith liom an cruinniú a chríochnú. Gabhaim buíochas ach go háirithe leis na hionadaithe ón gCónaidhm Chumainn Beachairí na hÉireann, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations.

I thank them for their contributions, which were very valuable.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.40 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 July 2019.