Fifty years ago, well-fed Pollinators buzzed around chemical free extensive flowering hedgerows in Spring and hay meadows in summer. As times changed and things progressed biodiversity was pushed out. Although the world has to move forward, using science can help to create a new balance that works for everyone. An article from 2020 takes a look at how working together with Farmers could help Pollinators.
Evidence based actions for farmland were published by The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan in 2017. Then in 2018, a group of Co. Kildare farmers sat down with Dr. Una FitzPatrick to work out how best to bring the buzz back to the countryside by engaging with busy farmers. They wanted something that would have a positive effect on farmers and not impact on farm business or create unnecessary work. Something that would reward farmers for their efforts.
‘Protecting Farmland Pollinators’ is the project they came up with. It was granted European Innovation Partnership funding through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Based mainly in Co. Kildare, the project runs from 2019-2023 with Dr Saorla Kavanagh their Project Manager. It is about scientists and farmers working together to figure out how best to improve things. Funding allows them to work with a small pilot group. There was no difficulty getting 40 farmers willing to give it a try.
The types of farmers are varied. Some are beef, some dairy, some tillage and some are mixed. Some love biodiversity and some don’t. The aim of the project is to show that any farm, regardless of type or intensity level, can become more pollinator friendly. Based on simple management actions – Whether farmers have flowering hedgerow, pollinator-friendly trees, clover meadows or unmown margins, they get a pollinator score for their whole farm. The more pollinator-friendly habitats they have, the higher the score and the more they get paid each year. Farmers can trace their progress and understand how to make improvements if they wish.
This approach only makes sense if the farms that get a higher pollinator score really do have more wild bees and other insects buzzing around. Saorla, together with a survey team spent six months intensively surveying each farm for pollinators and other biodiversity. This told them which actions were most effective and helped to create a robust scoring system that was fully evidence -based with which to go forward. It was good to see early results were encouraging. Very intensive farms thankfully still had some wild pollinators remaining and solitary bees were nesting in at least 40% of all the farms. Farmers taking part agreed to create tiny areas of bare soil for mining solitary bees to nest. Within months of them being created, many of these had bees burrowing in, making their nests, reinforcing how easy it is to help.
For the farmers it is not about the money but about helping to find a realistic way to genuinely improve biodiversity on their farm and so helping to understand how best to structure a scheme that will work for everyone. So many more farmers from across the country have also expressed an interest in the project.