Thirty per cent of our 99 bee species are threatened with extinction and the common bumblebee species have declined by 14.2% in the last five years.

Habitat loss and not enough flowers for food are the reasons for the dwindling bee numbers.

That is the bad news. The good news is that there is something we can do about it.

Last autumn, Gaisce – the President’s Award – launched their Bulbs for Bees campaign, which distributed over half a million bulbs to secondary schools and Irish local development networks.

The Bulbs for Bees campaign is born

Yvonne McKenna is CEO of Gaisce. The youth development programme had its 35th anniversary in 2021 and wanted to do something special to mark this milestone.

“We wanted to do something that would reflect Gaisce in some ways and something that wasn’t just for the participants,” she explains.

The Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock planted over 300 bulbs as part of the campaign and students also built an insect hotel.

“The biggest challenge of our time is climate change and biodiversity. We thought it would be nice to find something that would reflect those interests but then again be like Gaisce.

“A couple of things we realised was that, first of all, to plant for pollination is to believe in tomorrow and in some ways Gaisce is about having a belief in tomorrow because it takes a long time to get the award. It was about doing something positive that would have an impact beyond yourself. We also wanted to make it something that anyone could get involved in; all of these values around inclusivity and making a difference but also having some hope and being patient.

“Sometimes the idea of climate change or the biodiversity challenge can be so overwhelming but, in fact, to believe that you can do something is a positive response to that.”

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP) advised Gasice on which pollinator-friendly bulbs to plant. The autumn planting bulbs they sent out were allium, crocus and muscari. Over 350,000 bulbs were sent out for free to schools, prisons, volunteer centres, community groups and many more. Gaisce also had a partnership with Lidl, who sold 250,000 bulbs at a low cost.

Students get involved

Bernard Carr is a science teacher and Gaisce President’s Award leader at the Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock, Cork. The all-girls school took part in the Bulbs for Bees campaign.

“I had been trying to promote the natural world to the students this year and the way I chose to do it was to build this enormous insect hotel. At the very same time, Gaisce sent me a pack of 50 bulbs, saying: ‘Could you plant these?’” explains Bernard.

“I said: ‘Of course I will, but we’ve got a school of 250 pupils, would you give us a bulb for everyone and I will get every single pupil in the school to plant a bulb?’”

Over a couple of weeks, Bernard and all the pupils planted over 300 bulbs on their school’s roundabout. The insect hotel, decorated by the school’s art department, also stands on the roundabout.

The Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock planted over 300 bulbs as part of the campaign and students also built an insect hotel.

Together with Bernard, the girls did the entire planting process themselves, from preparing the bed with seaweed and farmyard manure to planting their individual bulbs.

Six students have also written a song about bees and birds, tying in nicely with the campaign. The school’s music department has composed accompanying music and the song will be recorded later this month.

The campaign has made students realise that they can do something for bees.

“I have learned that even something as small as planting a flower or as big as planting a tree in your garden can make such a difference to the bee’s habitat and livelihoods,” says Ellen Chambers, a second-year student.

Communities get involved

Carmel Fox is a member of Glenroe Tidy Towns. The community group took part in Bulbs for Bees after Ballyhoura Development made them aware of the campaign.

Infants at Glenroe Community National School seen here admiring the crocus flowers near a tree in the schoolyard. These pupils planted the bulbs donated last autumn by Gaisce, the President's Award.

As the Glenroe community had recently taken an interest in biodiversity, the Bulbs for Bees campaign was a welcome extension of their own projects.

“Tidy Towns has done quite a bit of planting that should be really good for biodiversity,” says Carmel. “For example, mixed fruiting and flowering hedges. We’ve been focusing on doing things like putting in a bee hotel and putting in a scraping [a scrape of bare earth] so that the solitary bees and insects can have somewhere to live.”

Tidy Towns, together with the local GAA club and the school, all planted bulbs for bees.

“The primary school children planted bulbs around the base of a tree that was planted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the school. In the case of the GAA, one member planted them in an area of the GAA complex that’s near to where the bug hotel is. The GAA complex has a community walk around it and they’re on the edge of the community walk, so people walking it can see them.

“In the Tidy Towns’ case, two members of the Tidy Towns planted them and we put them at the base of the wild fruiting and flowering hedge.”

The flowers are now in bloom and are a joy to the bees and community alike.

The Bulbs for Bees campaign continues

All participants have received certificates of involvement by Gaisce. But does the campaign end there? For Yvonne McKenna, it is a “story that continues”.

Anyone who has planted bulbs is encouraged to let them bolt and reproduce. Yvonne also encourages anyone who didn’t take part in the campaign to plant some pollinator-friendly bulbs this year.

Another call for action is to take photos of any bees spotted around the flowering bulbs. This is valuable information for the AIPP, who collect data to determine bee populations in Ireland. The AIPP has an abundance of helpful information.


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