Biodiversity enhancement is a key objective of the NFGWS Strategic Plan. Apart from its intrinsic worth, a healthy environment that supports pollinators and other wildlife is of paramount importance to group water schemes wishing to protect and improve raw water quality and to improving the general health and wellbeing of the communities they serve.
Low-tech, natural vegetative buffers, sensitive management of GWS sites, non-chemical control of unwanted vegetation and biodiversity-proofing of all construction works are just some of the practical, cost-free ways that group water schemes may contribute to biodiversity enhancement and to one of the most exciting citizen initiatives of recent times: the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
Following the recent launch of the second phase of this plan, which has won international recognition and acclaim, one of its co-authors, Dr Úna FitzPatrick, reflects of what has been achieved so far and explains what it is hoped will be delivered over the next five years.
If pollinators could talk, I think the two things they would ask us to do is to let our hedgerows bloom in spring and to let more grassy meadows flower in summer. If we did this across Ireland it would provide them with a range of native wildflowers throughout their lifecycle.
Science tells us that besides saving us time and money, by not cutting hedgerows or grass so often we provide the native plants that are rich in the pollen and nectar that our insects need to survive. They don’t want fancy wildflowers from a seed packet. They want what was always there, but that in more recent times we’ve decided to tidy, strim, mow or spray away, leaving a landscape that to them must look like a bit like the apocalypse.
It’s a win-win. More native flowers and less chemicals means more bees and more biodiversity, but it also means a healthier and more colourful environment for us to enjoy … and a cleaner aquatic environment also.
The first AIPP for 2015-2020 identified 81 actions and the last five years has seen delivery on all of these.
A big focus was to help people understand what pollinators need and what simple, cost-effective and evidence-based actions they can take to help. To this end, guidelines were developed for various sectors including farmers, local authorities, communities, businesses, schools, sports clubs and gardeners.
In 2018 guidelines were published for group water scheme sites following a pilot initiative on Ashill GWS in County Tipperary. All of these resources are freely available at www.pollinators.ie.
Two thirds of local authorities across the island of Ireland have already become partners, agreeing to manage public lands in a more pollinator-friendly way. Hundreds of local communities have embraced the initiative; and already more than 300 businesses have come on board and agreed to take actions.
Seeds of change
Across Ireland, the seeds of change are everywhere. There are more hedgerows, beautiful with white blossoms in April-May, providing networks for nature. Many citizens and organisations have embraced the ‘don’t mow, let it grow’ approach and amazing, flower-rich meadows are reappearing in parks, roadside verges and in schools and private gardens.
Towns and villages are adopting pollen and nectar-rich planting regimes in beds, roundabouts and even hanging baskets. There are community or-chards and pollinator-friendly railway stations, campuses, schools and gardens.
There is much work still to do and we are delighted to launch a new and more ambitious All-Ireland Pollinator Plan for 2021- 2025. This has more partners coming together to deliver more actions — 186 this time around.
As we look forward to the next five years, we need to engage more, monitor more and manage more land for biodiversity. This will require the active support of our partners, not least the community-owned group water scheme sector that is embedded in much of rural Ireland.
We are asking schemes to provide encouragement and a lead on biodiversity enhancement to farmers, businesses, managers of social/educational facilities and householders within their source catchment and supply area.
We aim to encourage the sustainable use of pesticides and have better visibility on annual trends in use across Ireland.
We aim to focus more on helping rare species that are at risk of disappearing.
We aim to better explain how helping pollinators brings much wider benefits, particularly to our own health and wellbeing.
We also want to cement Ireland’s position as a world leader, by establishing a pollinator trail that identifies excellent examples of pollinator habitat right across the island of Ireland.
In addition, we aim to create pitstops for hungry bees right across our landscape by calling on people to pledge their garden for pollinators.
The new plan will support beekeepers in keeping healthy honeybees. While they face many threats, including pesticides and disease, honeybees are not in trouble in Ireland, but are increasing in number.
We aim to halt declines in wild pollinators and to create a balanced system with a range of pollinator types.
Focus on farmland
We aim to let farmers and others in the agricultural sector understand how they can help if they wish to do so.
We aim to celebrate farmland pollinators and the positive actions that are being taken by farmers.
We aim to continue to develop evidence-based resources for farmers and to expand these to new areas, such as forestry.
Importantly, we are calling for funding for a national pollinator monitoring scheme so that changes in wild bee and hoverfly numbers can be properly tracked across a network of farmland sites into the future.
Call to action
The AIPP is a call to action that requires many thousands of us working together across sectors. It is not a short-term, trendy initiative. It is about fully normalising a better way of managing our whole landscape to permanently support our struggling biodiversity.
We know that sustaining long-term participation with the AIPP will be a challenge. We believe it needs to be built on trust in the experts running the programme, acknowledgement of all the efforts being made, and clear demonstrations that the actions we are taking together are making a difference and are having a positive impact.
We look forward to working with the community-owned drinking water sector to implement these and other positive actions over the coming years.
We thank every scheme that has already engaged with the AIPP and we would strongly encourage all schemes to come on board.
The success of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan to date has shown that people care and that we can come together to make changes for the better. Lots of small actions, together, make a big difference.
The new All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2021-2025 is available here.