The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, just five years old, has been remarkably successful, especially given notorious failures, north and south of the Border, to conserve biodiversity. Who knew that the passion of so many people could be ignited by small insects many of us had previously barely noticed?
The plan, developed by Úna FitzPatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Jane Stout of Trinity College Dublin, was launched after widespread consultation, which produced cross-sectoral – and cross-Border – consensus around key points. Most of Ireland's crop and vegetable plants are insect-pollinated, especially by bees and hoverflies. The annual value of such pollination to Irish-produced food crops is estimated at €59 million. But pollination benefits extend much more widely. Most of our natural vegetation also relies on insect pollinators. Wild plants sustain all other biodiversity, as well as providing carbon sequestration and flood mitigation services, not to mention the joy (and health benefits) of wild flower and native woodland landscapes.
However, many of our pollinating species, especially bumble bees and solitary bees, are declining rapidly, due to habitat loss and other factors.
The primary success of the first plan was to communicate this message to an exceptional diversity of partners, from individual farmers to schools, from semi-state and private companies to tidy towns committees and local authorities. Patches of restored pollinator-friendly vegetation can now be found in almost every corner of the island.
A new plan will be launched shortly. It is vital that in this phase we see restoration on a scale that will demonstrably reverse the decline in pollinators, and confirmation that all the plan’s partners are pulling their weight. Other causes of the alarming decline in pollinators, including neonicotinoid insecticides, need urgent research.
The plan has already, however, given us an invaluable template for restoring biodiversity. Government, business, agriculture and the public must not miss the opportunity to embrace this dynamic and effective model.