It is also about raising awareness on pollinators and how to protect them. With the support of organisations like An Taisce Green-Schools, it aims to ensure that everyone, from schoolchildren to farmers, gardeners, local authorities and businesses, knows what pollinators need and which simple cost-effective actions they can take to help. The Plan will also support Ireland’s bee-keepers in keeping our honeybees healthy.
“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the Plan steering group.
She added: “Bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest and the amount of food our landscape provides for them.”
If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the biggest challenge you have to face. Declines in wildflowers are subjecting our pollinators to starvation. Fertiliser application has resulted in increased crop yields, but in strong declines in wild flowers in managed field and in adjacent semi-natural habitats. Our tendency to tidy up the landscape rather than allowing wildflowers to grow along roadsides, field margins, and in parks and gardens is also playing a big part in fewer of these resources being available.
The Pollinator Plan is not just about protecting bees but also about protecting the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their ‘free’ pollinator service, which allows consumers to buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. This service is worth over £7 million per annum for apples in Northern Ireland, and €3.9 million for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.
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. The value of pollination to tourism and branding our produce abroad is enormous, but has never been assessed in a monetary sense.
Dr Jane Stout, Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group, added: “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 reduce our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.”
The actions in the Plan are based on scientific evidence from research conducted in Ireland and elsewhere. However, there are still gaps in our knowledge. Dr Stout’s Plant-Animal Interactions research group in Trinity College Dublin will continue to do the necessary research to make sure that the best management solutions are implemented in the Irish context.
Dr Stout said: “The full implication of pollinator declines on our crop production, wild flower pollination, as well as our health and well-being are not well understood. Furthermore, new threats to pollinators continually arise. We need to understand the causes and consequences of pollinator decline in Ireland in order to minimise risk to our food supply, economy, welfare and the wider environment.”
Responsibility for delivering the 81 actions has been shared out between the supporting organisations, which include the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Teagasc, Bord Bía, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Heritage Council, Fáilte Ireland, An Taisce Green Schools, Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, Iarnród Éireann, National Trust, RSPB, Tidy Towns, Transport NI, Ulster Farmers’ Union, Ulster Wildlife and Waterways Ireland.
In coming together to protect pollinators, we will also protect the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their free pollinator service, as well as improving the general health of our environment. If successful, this Plan will ensure that Ireland is a much better place for pollinators.