Wild flower strips are key to saving bee species

Wildflower biodiversity strip with Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Corn Cockle and Corn Camomile varieties producing a colour palette specially designed to attract bees.
Wildflower biodiversity strip with Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Corn Cockle and Corn Camomile varieties producing a colour palette specially designed to attract bees.
Kevin Looby from Cappoquin, Waterford and Gerard Kennelly from Youghal in Cork
John Tully from Gorey, Wexford
Carlow tillage farmer Jim Nolan
Liam O'Toole from Arklow
Sean Brennan from Wicklow
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Up to 30pc of the 101 Irish bee species are on the verge of extinction, according to the latest research data from Teagasc.

Research from REPS farms has highlighted an alarming decline in biodiversity among some of our most important insects, with three bee species already driven to extinction in the last three decades.

"Bees are crucial to farming, especially crops such as beans, peas and oilseed rape," said Teagasc countryside management specialist Catherine Keena.

"There are a variety of factors that have resulted in a decline in bee numbers and species, but the main one is the declining amount of flowers that we have in the countryside compared to years ago.

"Farmers are inclined to think that everything is OK because they're careful about what they are doing, but the reality is that we need to do more to protect vulnerable species.

"The alternative of letting more of the biodiversity in our natural environment be sacrificed in order to produce more food will not be acceptable for the consumer," said Ms Keena.

She was promoting the use of wild flower strips on tillage farms at Teagasc's Crops and Spraying open day in Kildalton last week.

More than 1,000 farmers attended the day to learn about a raft of new sprayer regulations and Greening rules in the latest CAP reforms.

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There were a series of displays outlining the latest advice on fungicide and fertiliser use on winter and spring cereal crops and break crops.

"A half-acre strip of wild flower seed only costs about €30-40 in seed, and while it needs to be planted in a good seedbed, it doesn't require other inputs. In fact, it can thrive on ground that is slightly impoverished," said Ms Keena.

The environment expert is hopeful that wild flower strips will qualify as a measure in the upcoming GLAS environmental scheme.

"It's only when you stand beside a strip on a sunny day that you can really see the difference between the crop in the field and the flower margin. The bees are hopping off the flowers but there's none in the main crop. That's not the fault of the grower, but it just proves that farmers need to be proactive in providing habitats for wildlife if we're serious about keeping our food production systems sustainable."

Mixed reviews for new rules and regulations

Darragh McCullough asked farmers at the open day for their views on the new rules and regulations governing sprayers and the environment.

Pat Minnock, Agricultural consultant, Carlow

"I've mixed feelings on the bans on various products that were routinely used on crops. For example, the latest ban on neonicotinoids was based on some of the drawbacks that are associated with the insecticide.

"But all the bans are doing is forcing a heavier reliance and use of the remaining products. In turn, this is increasing the pressure for the development of the resistance that we are seeing in diseases and weeds.

"The nature of modern farming systems is that we have to use chemicals to produce viable crops."

John Tully,  Gorey, Wexford

"The changes are going to put more of the onus on the farmer, even though I believe that everybody was doing the job fairly right.

"At this stage I think things have gone too far. It's the likes of the Greens that are pushing this, and many of them have never even seen a bee in the field."

Nicholas Gallivan, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford

"The new regulations are going to mean more paperwork, which isn't really an enjoyable part of farming. But the environment belongs to us all, so I suppose we have to do everything we can to mind it.

"But I really feel that farmers are already very careful not to waste chemicals because they are so expensive."

Ruairi Deasy, Tipperary

"I saw two or three things today that I've been doing for years and it was only the likes of today that has made me realise that they are big no-nos.

"Farmers can't afford not to get the best out of their sprays now with the costs that are involved."

Liam O'Toole, Arklow, Wicklow

"I work for the NCT testing centres and I see this test for sprayers as almost identical to that.

"I think it's really needed because you see sprayers going along the road with leaks and there's plenty of machines out there that have never been calibrated."

Jim Nolan, Carlow

"I don't think the new regulations are going to change much in terms of how we operate our sprayers.

"Maybe a few little things, but it looks like the rules are getting out of hand because farmers are doing a pretty good job."

Sean Brennan, Wicklow

"Most of the policies are over the top and come from people who spend their time sitting behind a desk. If any of them were given 100ac to farm, they'd starve.

"It's a case of more jobs for the boys. I sow 1,000ac every year and I see the same amount of insects as I've always seen."

Kevin Looby, Cappoquin, Waterford

"When you look at these regulations first, you think that they are over the top. But after spending the day here and learning about where they're coming from, I've realised that they are just going to make us better at doing what we already do."

Luke Cunningham, West Waterford

"I don't think the sustainability directive that is behind all the new regulations is a bad thing if it increases the sustainability of what we are selling.

"The ban on neonicotonoids seems to have been a bit hasty, but farmers probably didn't do themselves any favours by going out spraying products like this in the middle of the day rather than in the evening or early morning when bees are less active. Without the bee, farming is finished. We need them as our pollinators."

Gerard Kennelly, Youghal, Cork

"I contract spray a lot of crops and I don't think there's been any decrease in the level of biodiversity at farm level.

"The patchwork nature of our countryside gives nature a better chance than large areas of the rest of Europe."

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