A recent scientific warning that the world’s insects could vanish in 100 years has renewed focus on how Clonmel, in County Tipperary, won a top award in last year’s Tidy Towns competition for pollinator-friendly actions.
Clonmel set a headline for communities countrywide by mapping itself and pinpointing areas that could act as refuges for pollinating insects to provide food and shelter.
The Tidy Towns Committee worked with all industry sectors to highlight the issue and how the local council, businesses, home-owners, and schools could get involved.
It helped to identify and protect native flowering hedgerows and preserved existing pollinator-friendly areas in parks and on council lands.
Working with the Men’s Shed, and other groups, such as SuirCam and 2CanDo, it planted a community orchard to help pollinators and provide free fruit.
The Tidy Towns group also manually weeded kerbs, roundabouts, and flowerbeds in the town centre to avoid using pesticides. Stone walls and soil banks were protected as nesting sites for solitary bees.
Guidelines were circulated to residents’ associations, so that private gardens, roadside verges, and green areas could all be managed with pollinators in mind. Local schools were visited and flowers were planted in local parks.
It was all timely, because the recent global review of insect populations warned that bees, ants, and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds, or reptiles.
Intensive global agriculture, climate change, habitat loss, urbanisation, deforestation, increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides, invasive species and climate change are all having a big impact.
The scientists warned that the drastic declines may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades.
One-third of Ireland’s 99 bee species is at risk of extinction, due to the reduced amount of food (wildflowers) and safe nesting sites in landscapes. But there is a growing public awareness of the issue.
Market research, by IReach Insights, last September, revealed that 75% of the 1,000 people interviewed knew of the threat. But 88% believed the Government had not done enough to save the bees.
The research also revealed that 38% had planted flowers that bees prefer (69%), reduced pesticide use (56%), and told friends and family about the importance of bees (50%).
Meanwhile, the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), established by the Heritage Council in 2007, manages data on Ireland’s biodiversity in order to document the wildlife resource and track how it is changing.
Funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and by the Heritage Council, it co-ordinates the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
The plan was launched in 2015 to reverse the decline in the bee population by working with communities, businesses, parks, schools and farms to make an Ireland where pollinators can survive and thrive. Much progress has been made, but there are still many challenges. Dr Úna Fitzpatrick, NBDC, reflecting on the mid-term review of the plan last year, said rare bees are disappearing through habitat loss. Common species are struggling. because there isn’t enough food for them across the landscape.
“Pollinators need us to move away from seeing the landscape as purely a human space that should be kept neat and tidy.
“It’s not about letting things go wild, but we do need to let nature back in. or we risk losing its vital. free services,” she said.
Dr Fitzpatrick said it is about retaining healthy hedgerows on farms and allowing them to flower (not using herbicides so freely to tidy up public spaces) and planting more native flowering trees.
It is also about cutting grass less frequently to ensure pollen-rich dandelion and clover can grow and provide food, and planting pollen and nectar-rich flowers in parks and gardens.
More native flowers in our landscape means more pollinators and other insects. More flowers means more fruits and seeds, and, therefore, more birds and mammals.
“More flowers also means a more distinct, more colourful, and more attractive environment for us to live in and for visitors to experience. In taking simple actions to help bees, we gain so much more,” she said.
The National Biodiversity Conference, in Dublin Castle, last week, noted that many protected habitats are indeed in poor condition and that there is a growing threat to plants, insects, mammals, and birds.
Heritage, Culture and Gaeltacht Minister, Josepha Madigan, announced a number of new government initiatives at the conference to protect Ireland’s biodiversity.
A climate action programme is to be set up within her Department. Annual funding for county biodiversity actions is being doubled to €1m by 2021, an Irish Business and Biodiversity Platform is to be set up, and funding to tackle invasive species is also to be doubled.
Legislation to create a biodiversity duty on public and local authorities is to be introduced, and the surveillance, detection, and prosecution of wildlife crime is to be improved.
Minister Madigan said the Government is also committed to providing €60m to protect natural heritage and biodiversity in Project Ireland 2040.
She said a huge amount of work is being done, but more is needed. The new initiatives are a sign of the Government’s commitment to protecting and restoring nature.
“However, success will only come through collaboration with farmers, foresters, fishers, local authorities, businesses and communities.
“I’m asking everyone to lead within their own sphere of influence for a new horizon for nature in Ireland.
“Our rivers, our kingfishers, our woodlands, our salmon, our pollinators, our meadows, our eagles, our whales and dolphins, will not thrive without it,” she said.
Minister Madigan also announced that the draft Biodiversity Sectoral Climate Change Adaptation Plan will be open for public consultation until April 17.