5 ways to to get farmyards buzzing again

New guidelines to encourage bee-friendly farming were launched at this week’s Ploughing Championships by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Andrew Doyle.

Pollinators – our bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects – have suffered huge declines in recent decades, with many now at risk of extinction, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

As a result, action is needed to halt this decline and prevent such outcomes, in the form of the new guidelines.

The farmland guidelines detail five evidence-based actions to help make farmland more pollinator-friendly.

The five actions are:
  • Maintain native flowering hedgerows;
  • Allow wildflowers to grow around the farm;
  • Provide nesting places for wild bees;
  • Minimise artificial fertiliser use;
  • Reduce pesticide inputs.

In a bid to address the declines in pollinators, and to create a country where they can survive and thrive, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan was launched in 2015 by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

A shared plan with over 80 partner organisations, it has received support and funding from Bord Bia and the Heritage Council.

People often think the honeybee is solely responsible for all pollination, but in fact, most is carried out by wild bees, according to Dr. Una FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who is responsible for co-ordinating the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. “In Ireland, we have one honeybee species, 20 bumblebee species and 77 solitary bees.

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 97 wild bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr. FitzPatrick.

“In order to produce the farmland guidelines, we worked with farming organisations and went through an extensive consultation phase with farmers to come up with straightforward, evidence-based actions to help our native bees.”

According to Dr. FitzPatrick, one of the main reasons for bee declines is hunger – there are simply not enough wildflowers in our landscapes today to provide enough food for bees. “Bees rely entirely on nectar and pollen for food, which makes them our most important insect pollinators. A lack of safe nest sites, pesticides, and climate change also negatively impact bee survival,” she said.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is not just about conserving bees but is 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.

“Not only do pollinators contribute to the Irish economy directly through crop pollination, they also contribute to our landscape and our ‘green’ image that is so vital to marketing our agricultural produce abroad.

“Some 78% of our wild plants benefit from insect pollination, so without healthy populations of wild bees, the Irish landscape would be a much different – less beautiful – place. This indirect value of pollinators to branding Irish products and to our agricultural export business is enormous,” Dr. FitzPatrick said.

The new farmland guidelines have been developed in collaboration with Bord Bia and specifically Origin Green, the national sustainability programme for the Irish food and drink industry. Farmers who are certified to one of the Bord Bia sustainable quality assurance schemes are members of the Origin Green programme.

Every week, a team of over 100 Bord Bia quality assurance auditors undertake approximately 800 inspections on beef and dairy farms around Ireland.

These inspections include compiling data on the sustainability of farms.

Over 160,000 assessments have been carried out to date, looking at responsible farm management measures including biodiversity, the use of water, energy, feed and fertiliser.

Bord Bia has worked with the National Biodiversity Data Centre to incorporate elements of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan into its new sustainable quality assurance schemes. Actions identified to help pollinators will contribute towards a farmer’s sustainability criteria.

Welcoming the new guidelines, Michael Maloney, Director of Origin Green and Sustainable Quality Assurance, said: “Ireland’s green image is hugely important to farmers, manufacturers and our key customers both at home and abroad. We all need to play a part and these guidelines offer easy, zero-cost actions that will make a real difference for bees at farm level.

“I would encourage every farmer to take a look at the farmland guidelines, or download a copy from the pollinators.ie website. I think they will be surprised at how easy it is to take part in this hugely positive project.”

Said Juanita Browne, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan Project Officer: “The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is such an exciting project. Yes, bees are declining, but the good news is we know exactly what we need to do to reverse these declines, and the actions needed are very doable and will show results almost immediately.”

One Irish business that has embraced the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan by taking actions for pollinators, is ABP Food Group. A representative of the group said: “We understand the influence a healthy ecosystem has on the agri-food sector. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan offers an accessible, measurable framework that allows us to log our actions for biodiversity and effect change.

The integrity of our natural environment is a pillar of our sustainable future, in which we all have a stake.

The farmland guidelines are available for download on the pollinators.ie website along with lots of tips and other resources on how to help.