Helping to make Cork city more pollinator friendly

MARY HASSETT catches up with the Executive Horticulturist of Cork City Council to find out about the pollinator friendly initiatives around the city
Helping to make Cork city more pollinator friendly
Executive horticulturist Emer O'Callaghan, with pollinator friendly flowers on display at the South Mall, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

THE new pollinator friendly flower bed on the Well Road roundabout in Douglas has everyone buzzing.

The bees are feasting on the pollen and nectar provided by the flowers, while motorists are lowering their windows to compliment the City Council staff on their wonderful display of plants.

What motorists might not realise is that Emer O’Callaghan, Executive Horticulturist with Cork City Council, and her team, are on a mission to replace the showy big bloom annuals with equally eye-catching but far more bee-friendly perennials or permanent plants.

Since Cork City Council signed up as a partner to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan last September, the Parks Department, under the direction of Liam Casey, Senior Executive Parks Superintendent, have introduced various pollinator friendly initiatives around the city.

During the Covid lockdown, many people found great solace in walking among the meadows and wildflowers fostered by the Parks Department in areas such as Clashduv Park in Togher, Jacob’s Island and the Blackrock Railway Line and the Glen River Park.

Pollinator friendly plants are being used more and more by the Parks Department, whether in the form of perennials like lavender and geraniums or in a small selection of annuals that the bees are attracted to such as bidens and marigolds.

“Everyone in the Parks Department is on board to promote and do what we can to implement the Pollinator Plan. We’re a great team.

“I think everyone realises that, without the bees we’re bunched. Bees play a huge role in agriculture and in fruit production”, Emer points out.

Executive horticulturist Emer O'Callaghan with the Cork City Council with members of the parks department John Coughlan, Deirdre O’Donoghue and Jennifer Foley at the roundabout on the Well Road in Douglas. Picture: Dan Linehan
Executive horticulturist Emer O'Callaghan with the Cork City Council with members of the parks department John Coughlan, Deirdre O’Donoghue and Jennifer Foley at the roundabout on the Well Road in Douglas. Picture: Dan Linehan

The Well Road roundabout is one of five flowerbeds around the city that Emer has earmarked for perennial planting this year. Another on the list is the triangular flowerbed on Mick Barry Road near the Park and Ride Centre.

Deirdre O’Riordan from Ballyvolane, Jenny Foley, of Mahon, and John Coughlan, of Blackrock, are proud to be undertaking the planting and maintenance of these flowerbeds as part of an introductory pollinator friendly scheme.

“Everyone that passes the Well Road roundabout has a good word to say about the planting. It’s going down really well with the public. They think it’s amazing”, says Deirdre.

“It’s exciting to be involved in the Pollinator Plan. It gives a bit of variety to the beds we would be normally doing, and most of all, it’s good for the bees”, John points out.

“Some people have driven around the roundabout a few times to see the flower display from every angle. The bees love the plants too,” says Jenny.

“I must say, I’m very proud of Deirdre, John and Jenny. It’s all very well having the plans on paper but it’s not much use if you don’t have people to carry it out and do it to perfection,” Emer acknowledges.

The colourful tiered planters around the city are a sight for sore eyes and are also a tribute to the Parks Department staff. Almost 30 per cent of these tiered planters are now pollinator friendly.

Emer with flowers planted on the South Mall. Picture: Dan Linehan
Emer with flowers planted on the South Mall. Picture: Dan Linehan

“When we were doing the planters on Albert Quay last year we hadn’t even finished planting before the flowers were covered with bees. The bees are everywhere, it’s just that we don’t see them,” says Emer.

For all that, one third of our 97 wild bee species are threatened with extinction in Ireland. Their numbers are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscapes provides for them.

On a positive note, there will be no shortage of food and nesting places for the bees when Emer and her team complete an Education Garden in Clashduv Park in Togher this September.

“Practically the whole of Clashduv Park has been left to grow into a wildflower meadow. We’ll be doing different types of mowing regimes so that people can see the impact of cutting grass less frequently. We will label our pollinator shrubs so that people can see what they can grow in their back gardens and we’ll have bug hotels as well,” Emer points out.

The Parks Department has been working with Heritage Officer, Niamh Twomey, on this project which will hopefully attract a lot of interest from all age groups.

Emer, who lives near Mallow, has her own wildlife area and pond as she is lucky enough to have a three quarter acre garden. She grows her own fruit and vegetables and already this year has made gooseberry jam from her garden.

The Churchfield and Ballincollig allotment schemes run by the City Council are very close to Emer’s heart as she knows the satisfaction that comes from growing your own fruit and vegetables.

Cutting back on the use of pesticides is always an issue for the Parks Department staff as well as for the allotment users.

“I’ve sourced an organic herbicide that we’re trialling to see how it works in the allotments. Other local authorities are trying out boiling water and a foam applicant. We look at all these options and it’s a question of working out which is best,” Emer explains.

“Everything we do is all about sustainability, biodiversity, pollinators and protecting our environment for future generations”, says Emer.

“Implementing the Pollinator Plan will have a huge benefit for everyone, for the local authority, for the citizens of Cork and most importantly for the bees and other pollinator insects”, Emer concludes.

For more information on pollinator friendly plants see: www.biodiversityireland.ie/pollinator-plan

Everything we do is about sustainability, biodiversity, pollinators and protecting our environment for future generations. Implementing the Pollinator Plan will have a huge benefit for everyone.

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