The plight of bees: fighting pollinator loss

By Aidan Coyle

The plight of bees and other pollinators has been well documented in the media in recent times. However, one local area has begun to take steps to ensure the protection of its pollinators.

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has implemented a string of measures in an attempt to become more pollinator friendly. TheCity.ie spoke to Anne Murray, the Council’s Biodiversity Officer: “Here in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, we have altered our landscape management of green verges along roads, along stream sides and within our parks to create areas for pollinators and other wildlife.

“We have also planted fruit trees and orchards in some parks to provide additional pollinator opportunities and we have reduced our chemical use in relation to weed control. Our Slow to Mow Campaign aims to encourage resident groups who manage green areas and also residential gardens to manage areas for pollinators,” Murray said.

Pollinators play a major role in the Irish economy, but their existence in the country is under serious threat. Dr Úna Fitzpatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre said: “Pollinators, especially bees, make up a vital part of Ireland’s biodiversity. Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 99 bee species threatened with extinction.

“Without pollinators it would be impossible for farmers or gardeners to affordably produce many of the fruits and vegetables we need for a healthy diet. Pollinators are also vital for a healthy environment and landscape.”

A recent study released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked at the impact that pollinators have on the environment and how vital they are for Irish agriculture. According to the report, food and drink production along with food processing accounted for 7.7% of the goods and services produced by Ireland’s economy in 2018. 173,000 people are employed in these sectors and they amounted to 10% of all Irish exports. 

Anne Murray echoed the results of the study which described the economic benefit that pollinators give to the Irish economy. She said: “The annual value of pollinators for human food crops has been estimated at €153 billion world-wide, and at least €53 million in the Republic of Ireland.”

The report estimated the effect a total loss of pollinators would have on both crops grown in Ireland and those which are imported into the country from abroad. Value of imports, value of exports, production quantity and net trade were all factors that were examined.

Source: Assessing Market and Non-market Values of Pollination Services in Ireland (Pollival)

The report, which examined 62 different crops, featured the above chart showing the five most valuable animal-pollinated crops to the Irish economy as a proportion of all animal-pollinated crops consumed in the country. It found that for both imports and exports, apples are the crop that will be most impacted.

Apples take up 23% of the market share followed by cocoa beans with 17%. Soybean oil and green coffee were both valued at 7% and rapeseed oil occupying 5%. The remaining 57 crops are responsible for the rest of the economy.

Dr Fitzpatrick is responsible for coordinating the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan which has set up a series of initiatives to try to help pollinators around the country. She works with farmers, businesses, schools and communities to try to ensure the future of pollinators in Ireland is safely secured. 

Dr Fitzpatrick said: “The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is a call to action to all of us. Yes, bees are declining, but we know exactly what we need to do to reverse these declines, and the actions needed are very doable and will show results almost immediately.

The biggest threat to pollinators in Ireland is a lack of flowers for food and safe nesting sites across the country. They need natural green spaces to thrive. Dr Fitzpatrick said: “If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the greatest challenge you face. In increasing our green spaces, we not only help pollinators, but biodiversity generally.”

Initiatives like those in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown can go a long way towards safeguarding the future of our pollinators. Anne Murray said: “Flying from flower to flower and transferring pollen along the way, pollinators have had substantial historic, economic, social and cultural impacts in our world and they provide an ecosystem service that is vital to humans.”

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