Ireland has 99 species of bees but one third of them are currently threatened with extinction due to a reduction in food sources (wildflowers) and safe nesting sites.
The All Ireland Pollinator Plan was launched in 2015 as a shared action plan to try reversing these declines and work with communities, businesses, parks, schools and farms to ensure pollinators can survive and thrive.
A year later, the Local Authority Pollinator Award became part of SuperValu Tidy Towns to encourage participating groups to implement pollinator-friendly actions as part of the national competition.
It is co-ordinated and sponsored by the Heritage Offices and Biodiversity Offices of local authorities, in partnership with the National Biodiversity Data Centre, and has resulted in voluntary groups rising to the challenge to get their communities buzzing.
Since the award’s inception in 2016, there have been over 160 entries from towns and villages across the country.
According to feedback from this year’s Tidy Towns judges, over 80% of the 918 general entrants are following guidelines produced as part of the Pollinator Plan, even if they aren’t entering the category award itself.
Every year, the standard of entries is growing and the team behind the Pollinator Plan say they are amazed at what is being achieved.
Buncrana in Co Donegal (large town) and Geashil in Co Offaly (small town) won the national pollinator award in their respective categories.
Regional large town winners were Dunboyne, Co Meath (Midlands and East), Ennis, Co Clare (South and Mid-west), Kilkenny (South-east) and Buncrana (North-west and West) Small town category winners were Geashill (Midlands and East), Sneem, Co Kerry (South and Mid-west), Tullahought, Co Kilkenny (South-east) and Belmullet, Co Mayo (North-west and West).
Groups are making big efforts to help bees by managing public spaces in a pollinator-friendly way, developing orchards and protecting existing and planting new native hedgerows.
Allowing wildflowers to grow and planting pollen-rich flowers are other actions that have been taken to help create a greater awareness of biodiversity and the importance of pollinators.
However, the number of pollen-rich wildflowers has reduced over the years, as landscapes become more intensively managed.
But the Pollinator Award recognises communities that are facilitating wildflower growth, creating space for nature, reducing pesticide use and providing safe areas for pollinators to nest.
Juanita Browne, Project Officer, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, said it is amazing to see what all the Tidy Towns groups are doing for biodiversity.
“We hope this will continue long into the future. Ireland recently declared a Climate Crisis and Biodiversity Emergency.
“And it is the local community groups who are actually leading the way and showing us what can be done to help biodiversity and help tackle climate action at the same time,” she said.
Colette Byrne, chief executive, Kilkenny County Council, said the Tidy Towns groups are the unsung heroes of the country.
“As local authorities, we recognise this. We also recognise that the Tidy Towns competition has wholeheartedly embraced work to support pollinators, including our special Local Authority Pollinator Award.
“I’m personally delighted as chief executive of Kilkenny County Council, the first local authority to sign a framework agreement to support the All Ireland Pollinator Plan, that this award has been so successful,” she said The Tidy Towns judges in their reports on the various entries give a flavour of what many groups are doing to help pollinators and create an awareness of biodiversity.
Buncrana, the large town Pollinator Award category winner, was particularly praised for conservation action in relation to swifts.
It involved the provision of boxes and monitoring to see if the birds take up residence. Interestingly, the number of nesting sites has increased by almost 50% between 2017 and 2018.
“The monitoring of the red squirrels and pine martins is no less impressive. We note that the red squirrel monitoring project involves controlling the grey squirrel population and that some of your committee members have undertaken a course on how to achieve this in an appropriate manner.
“We encourage you to share your experiences of this project with other wildlife groups in your county (and perhaps further afield) as this sounds like pioneering work for a community-based group,” the report stated.
The sharing of findings on moth monitoring work as part of a Europe wide project and the sowing of 1,876 native trees in the town were also hailed.
Geashill, winner of the award for the most pollinator friendly small-town, was also praised for planting 900 young trees. A small plot dedicated to nettle-nurture was particularly noted.
There was encouragement too for those who organise a butterfly monitoring scheme and delight that the species has risen from five to eighteen.
Ennis was lauded for bringing invasive species to the attention of the town and for fully implementing the group’s own biodiversity plan.
Special mention was given to a Community Biodiversity Toolkit, believed by the adjudicator to have been the first time such a document had been submitted for review in a Tidy Towns entry.
The report on Sneem described a garden of the senses as a little wonder and a bird village as a delight.
“We were delighted to see so many red Valerian plants growing in so many places, especially on walls,” the report added Glaslough, Co Monaghan, was overall winner of this year’s Tidy Towns competition, organised by the Department of Rural and Community Development with SuperValu as sponsors for the 28th successive year.
At the awards ceremony, Minister Michael Ring announced a special €1.4 million allocation to directly support Tidy Towns committees.
Martin Kelleher, managing director, SuperValue, said the competition has steadily grown from its initial focus on making villages and towns neat and tidy to the present day where it is the greatest sustainability initiative in Ireland.