Ireland is buzzing as 68 organisations come together to save our Bees – All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020
Irish farmers growing strawberries, tomatoes, apples or oilseed rape know how important pollinators are. Without them they see greatly reduced yields. The annual value of pollinators for human food crops has been estimated at €153 billion worldwide, and at least €53 million in the Republic of Ireland. The free service they provide is worth over £7 million per year for apples in Northern Ireland and €3.9 million for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.
If pollinators died off, it would be impossible to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Peas, beans, courgette, pumpkin, currants, raspberries and many others all need to be pollinated. It’s not just crops; about three-quarters of our wild plants also require insect pollinators. Without pollinators the Irish landscape would be a very different and much less beautiful place.
Bees are our main pollinators. This is because they are entirely dependent on plants for their food. The young are fed exclusively on pollen, and the adults rely on nectar as an energy source. Whilst feeding on flowers, bees transfer pollen between flowers and so act as pollinators.
In Ireland, we have 98 different bee species. This includes the domesticated honeybee; 20 different species of bumblebee; and 77 different species of solitary bee. Research tells us that to maintain pollination you need healthy honeybees in combination with a diversity and abundance of wild bees. In the UK it has been shown that if all honeybee hives were used for crop pollination, they could only provide about one third of the service required by crops. The rest is provided free of charge by wild pollinators.
Without pollinators we won’t starve, but it would be much more difficult to have a healthy balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Bees need the same things we all do – somewhere safe to live and enough food to feed themselves and their families. Unfortunately, we’re not providing that anymore in Ireland, yet we still expect them to carry out pollination when we need it.
We know bees are declining. One third of our 97 wild species are threatened with extinction in Ireland. We know it’s because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscape provides for them. We’ve also inadvertently introduced pests and diseases that negatively impact their health, and we subject them to levels of pesticides that make it difficult for them to complete their life cycles.
If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the biggest challenge you face. Declines in wildflowers are subjecting our pollinators to starvation. If we want pollinators to be available to pollinate our crops and wild plants for future generations we need to manage the landscape in a more sustainable way and create a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats as well as reducing our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.
By taking small actions to provide bees with food and shelter across the landscape we can tackle the problem, but it requires all of us to help – from farmers to local councils, to schools, gardeners and businesses. We can stand back and watch the problem happen, or we can try to do something. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is about coming together to try and create an Ireland where pollinators can survive. It’s a shared plan of action. By working together, we can collectively take steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.
In publishing the Plan, Ireland became one of the first countries in Europe to develop a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services. The Plan was developed by a 15 member steering group and identifies 81 actions across five objectives. Sixty-eight governmental and non-governmental organisations came together to support the Plan when it was launched in September 2015. Since then, that number has increased. Responsibility for delivering the 81 actions has been shared out between the supporting organisations, who include: Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Teagasc, Bord Bia, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Heritage Council, Fáilte Ireland, Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, Iarnrod Eireann, National Trust, Tidy Towns, Ulster Farmers’ Union and Waterways Ireland.
The main objective of the Plan is to start making Ireland more pollinator friendly by taking actions on farmland, public land and private land. It’s about moving away from the ‘lawn and lollipop’ approach of short grass and occasional trees in many of our public parks. It’s about allowing wildflowers to grow along transport routes to create pollinator highways across Ireland. It’s about farmers allowing hedgerows to flower in spring, Tidy Towns groups considering pollinator friendly planting and making our gardens and schools pit-stops for busy bees. It is not about allowing all land to ‘go wild’ but rather taking small actions, where appropriate, to achieve a more sustainable balance.
Pollinator friendly guidelines are currently being developed for all sectors. These clearly outline lots of actions that can be taken to help implement the Pollinator Plan. Guidelines for local communities (e.g. Tidy Towns) and gardeners are already available on the website, with others to be added over the coming months (farmers, local councils, businesses). The Pollinator Plan is not just about protecting bees. It’s about protecting the livelihoods of farmers and growers who rely on their free pollinator service, and protecting our own ability to go into a supermarket and buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. It’s about protecting the wild plants who depend on insect pollination. Those wild plants provide fruits, seeds and shelter for our birds and mammals, and habitats that enhance many other animal populations. In coming together to take action to protect pollinators, we not only make crop production more sustainable, but we help protect the general health of our environment.
Una Fitzpatrick, National Biodiversity Data Centre