Decline in bees and butterflies poses risk to crops

Populations of bees, butterflies, and other species are declining so rapidly it is threatening major world crops.

A study by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found around 20,000 species of pollinators are essential to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of crops every year.

It pointed out two out of five species of invertebrate pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are moving towards extinction with one in six pollinators with backbones, such as hummingbirds and bats, also moving towards extinction.

The report found such species are declining “in abundance, occurrence, and diversity at local and regional scales in Northwest Europe, and North America”.

In Europe, some 9% of bee and butterfly species are threatened with extinction.

Populations are declining for 37% of bee species and 31% of butterfly species.

“The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and livelihoods. These risks are largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use,” said the report.

IPBES did not declare a full-scale threat to food supplies but said protecting pollinators was vital to a secure fruit and vegetable supply globally.

The UN report pointed out that pollination is responsible for between 5% and 8% of global agricultural production by volume. This amounts to in the region of $235bn and $577bn worth of annual global output.

The report said three-quarters of the main global food crops vital to human survival rely to some degree on animal pollination.

“Pollinator-dependent species encompass many fruit, vegetable, seed, nut, and oil crops, which supply major proportions of micro-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the human diet,” said the report.

The report is the result of over two years work by scientists around the world who came together under a range of UN agencies in an effort to assess the Earth’s biodiversity.

IPBES is seen as the biodiversity equivalent of the UN-organised Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report was approved by a congress of 124 nations in Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier this month, The Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, and the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland launched a petition to persuade the Government to reverse its decision to make changes to Section 40 of the Wildlife Act which allows for the burning of vegetation in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August.

The groups challenged the decision stating it will have a “serious impact” on a range of wildlife species and habitats — particularly highly-threatened nesting birds and pollinators found in hedgerows and uplands.

The trust’s development officer Lorraine Bull said the decision will cause a significant blow to already vulnerable wildlife and goes against scientific advise.

“This is why our organisations have come together to persuade the Government to reconsider. If the Government is interested in the future of our natural environment and the ability for it to provide us with essential ecosystem services, it must reverse this ill-judged decision.

“If we do nothing, we risk losing yet more species here in Ireland,” she said.


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