If bees die out, there will be a sting in the tail

There are 98 bee species in Ireland, but one-third are at risk of extinction. Without them, most of the plants we need for food would not be pollinated, says Una FitzPatrick.

If bees die out, there will be a sting in the tail

There are 98 bee species in Ireland, but one-third are at risk of extinction. Without them, most of the plants we need for food would not be pollinated, says Una FitzPatrick.

MOST people appreciate the beauty of wildflowers, they want the option to grow their own fruits and vegetables, and they want to buy affordable Irish apples or strawberries.

These can only happen in a landscape that supports pollinators and which provides them with nesting areas and a diverse diet from spring to autumn.

Unfortunately, one third of Ireland’s 98 wild bee species are threatened with extinction. Our common bumblebees have declined by an alarming 14% since 2012.

Rare species are disappearing through habitat loss and our common species are struggling, because there simply isn’t enough food for them across our landscape.

Pollinators are in enormous difficulties, but, by working together, we can change their fate. We need to let nature back into our whole landscape or we risk losing its vital free services.

In 2015, Ireland became one of the first countries in Europe to develop a strategy to address pollinator declines and protect pollination services. The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is a ground-up initiative developed voluntarily by a 16-member steering group.

Its implementation is co-ordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Currently, it is endorsed by more than 90 governmental and non-governmental partner organisations, who share responsibility for delivering its 81 actions.

The plan has five objectives, but, at its core, it is about looking at our whole landscape: Farmland, public land, private land, and making it a place where pollinators can survive and thrive.

It is a call to action. Through small changes, taken together, we can protect pollinators for ourselves and for future generations. It is unrealistic to expect people to get involved in any initiative unless you clearly explain what it is you are asking them to do.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan has been publishing evidence-based guidelines for different sectors with a wide range of simple, practical actions they can take to help bees and other pollinating insects.

These are freely available online for farmland, councils, local communities, faith communities, gardens, and businesses and with more in train.

The guidelines explaining how businesses can help were developed in late 2016, in collaboration with Bord Bía. It identifies a wide range of 18, evidence-based actions for companies to consider. In parallel, a structured framework was established and those companies who sign up as a business supporter of the plan agree the following:

    1. To carry out at least one pollinator-friendly action within the first year of signing up, and to plan to carry out two additional actions by 2020

    2. To update the Pollinator Plan team on the positive pollinator actions they have planned, implemented, or maintained each year. This is to help us promote their work and to facilitate knowledge exchange.

That their business supports the ethos of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. Support of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan offers companies multiple benefits, such as a demonstration of their sustainability credentials and a way of differentiating their business for key customers who require strong sustainability commitments in an increasingly competitive market.

It offers a framework to support corporate social responsibility objectives, with the flexibility to choose from a variety of low-/no-cost actions designed to suit every business type.

These can be integrated with environmental management systems, such as ISO 14001:2015. They will also count towards the ‘biodiversity’ element of key target area manufacturing processes within the Origin Green Programme.

Along with the business benefits of supporting the Pollinator Plan, registered companies will receive a certificate of participation, as well as online support in developing plans to take pollinator-friendly actions.

Once businesses have taken pollinator friendly actions, they may also receive recognition for their work by logging their efforts on the publicly available mapping system, Actions for Pollinators, which is managed by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Furthermore, commitment to the plan encourages and increases employee engagement through relevant training and events and improves employee health and wellbeing, as well as supporting community engagement and strengthening relationships with local groups.

Since 2017, many businesses have embraced the plan and are leading the way in helping protect pollinators on their land or within their local community. Some companies have adopted a pollinator-friendly planting regime, installed bee boxes, eliminated herbicide use, or incorporated a pollinator-friendly grass mowing regime at work.

Some have sponsored local groups, such as Tidy Towns, in their efforts to make the local community more pollinator-friendly. Other businesses have helped raise awareness by funding a print run of the Junior Pollinator Plan for local primary schools in their vicinity. Already, there have been many successes including:

  • Over 120 businesses have now become supporters of the plan and have agreed to take actions to help. Annual reviews are available online, showing the actions that each has taken.
  • A wide range of different business sectors have become involved, from agri-businesses to property developers to retailers to distilleries.
  • All sizes and all locations are also represented from ABP Food Group to Dundrum Town Centre, Gannon Homes, Tipperary Distillery, and Claremorris Free Range Eggs.
  • Bees have been around since the time of dinosaurs. We all have a responsibility to ensure we are not the generation that squanders this vital resource. We are calling on all Irish businesses, regardless of their sector or size or land holdings, to get involved and to use their influence to help change things for the better.

    Dr Una FitzPatrick, co-founder and project co-ordinator, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. To find out more about becoming a business supporter of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, or to see the list of supporters, please pollinators.ie/businesses/

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