What can be learned from Ireland’s initiative to reverse pollinator decline?

World Bee Day was marked on May 20th, the same day as the adoption of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. This happy coincidence provides the opportunity to reflect on the important role that pollinating insects play in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and contributing to the agri-economy in our regions and globally.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises that more than 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollination and identifies pollinator decline as one of the five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss (along with changes in land and sea use, overexploitation, climate change and invasive alien species). The Strategy identifies pollinators as key indicators of the health of agroecosystems and their importance for agricultural production and food security. To address pollinator decline, the Strategy includes an ambitious restoration agenda with a reversal of the decline in pollinators set out as one of eight key commitments for 2030.

While this commitment is new, recognition that the decline of pollinators is a serious problem is not! In the mid-2010s for instance, it was known that one third of Ireland’s 98 wild bee species were threatened with extinction. In response, a fifteen-member steering group comprising experts from universities, relevant government departments, local authorities and interest groups in Ireland came together to develop the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, without funding! With its launch in 2015, Ireland, North and South, joined a small number of countries in Europe who have developed strategies to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services. These ecosystem services are vital to ensure the sustainability of food production, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector and protect the health of the environment.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP) is an innovative, rich and accessible resource which facilitates positive steps by multiple users to protect pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide.  It has informed the development of pollinator strategies internationally, as well as the EU Pollinator Initiative (2018), which encourages all member states to develop national pollinator strategies using the AIPP as a template.

The secret to the success of the AIPP is its simplicity and accessibility by wide ranging stakeholders, from farmers and local government to communities and businesses of all scales. In marking Pollinator Week at the end of June 2020, the AIPP team took the opportunity to reflect on some of its key successes. These include successful partnering with local councils, communities, businesses and farmers; the establishment of the ‘Save the Bees’ initiative which encourages schoolchildren to lead the way in creating an Ireland where pollinators can thrive, and; successfully reducing routine mowing and hedge cutting undertaken by local councils, resulting in measurably improved biodiversity.

While 96% of the 81 Actions in the first All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (2015-2020) are now either completed or ongoing, biodiversity loss remains a key challenge. Furthermore, the successes of the implementation of the Plan are balanced with lessons learned, not least the challenges associated with reluctance to change by key stakeholders and limited resourcing. Indeed on June 10th, Dr Úna Fitzpatrick, Co-Ordinator of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan discussed the key implementation successes and lessons learned to date at the 1st International Training Workshop of the PROGRESS project. Furthermore, Dr Fitzpatrick encouraged attendees to submit their ideas and suggestions for the next All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (2021-2025). We extend that invitation to you!

In the meantime, individuals, communities, businesses, local governments, regions and nations who have yet to develop pollinator plans and strategies would do well to look to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and its resources for inspiration!

Further information and all resources related to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan are available at: www.pollinators.ie

Dr Owen Douglas, Eastern & Midland Regional Assembly, Ireland