Good practice general information

Title of the practice

Protecting Farmland Pollinators

Organisation in charge of the good practice

National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC)

Description

Short summary of the practice

This five-year project is working with a group of 40 farmers, across farm types (beef, dairy, mixed, and tillage) and intensities (high, medium, and low) in Co.Kildare and neighbouring counties in the Eastern and Midland Region of Ireland. The 40 farms make up a total area of 2,774.70 ha. The project has four key objectives: 1) To test the effectiveness of a range of pollinator measures across different farm types in Ireland and to identify those that have most impact, and those that are most cost-effective; 2) To test the impact of these pollinator measures on overall biodiversity; 3) Based on the pollinator measures, to develop a simple farm-scale pollinator scoring system that uses a habitat matrix approach to quantify how pollinator-friendly the entire farm is, and 4) To develop a simple results-based payment method that encourages and assists farmers in attempts to improve their whole farm pollinator score.

The project is built on evidence-based actions and a results-based payment model. The participating farmers receive an annual payment based on their overall farm pollinator score, which is calculated based on the quantity and quality of pollinator-friendly habitat on the farm. Scores are based on indicators relating to the following 5 criteria: 1) Flowering hedgerows, 2) Pollinator-friendly trees; 3) Pesticide inputs; 4) Flowering margins around field edges; and 5) Flowers. The higher the pollinator score of the farm, the more the farmer will be paid annually. The maximum payment any farmer is able to draw down in any year is limited to €4,000. The farmer is required to complete the scorecard and the project team then calculates the score based on the information submitted by the farmer. Actions are weighted, so that those actions that are more beneficial to pollinators score more. Scores are also further adjusted for quality.

Category of the good practice

Sustainability instrument

Resources needed

Protecting Farmland Pollinators is one of 23 Irish EIP-AGRI Operational Group projects funded by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. Total funding for PFP for 5 years: €1,194,679.

Timescale (start/end date)

July 2019 – end of 2023

Strategic relevance (long term impact)

Pollinators are important for many reasons. For growing insect-pollinated crops, fruits, and vegetables; for marketing fresh produce; for the health of our environment; for their cultural significance, and for the economy. Farmers recognise this importance, but farmland has experienced wide-scale loss of wild pollinators over the last 50 years. The decline in bees, butterflies and other insects has largely resulted from the effect of monoculture and the drive to ever higher levels of agricultural productivity, which is also characterised by a loss or neglect of hedgerows, farmland edges and scrub[1],[2]. In Ireland, one third of our 98 wild bee species are threatened with extinction.

This project is working with farmers to roll-out a whole farm pollinator scoring system and identify what management practices on Irish farmland benefit pollinators. The whole farm pollinator score is calculated based on each farmer’s management practices. In the long term, this score will help farmers to understand how pollinator-friendly their farm is, and identify what simple, low-cost actions they can take to work towards improving their score in a way that does not negatively affect productivity.

Evidence of success (results achieved)

 

In 2020, for the first time, farmers have received a results-based payment depending on how pollinator-friendly their farm is. The total sum of farmer payments for the farming year 2019/2020 was €63,209.57.  Pollinator-friendly habitat was identified on each of the 40 farms and farmers were provided with examples of how to increase their pollinator score for the next assessment period. In Year 1, extensive insect and plant surveys were carried out to gather data to test whether farms that have higher scores have more pollinators (bees, hoverflies) and more biodiversity generally. ‘Number of pollinator-friendly trees’ was the most frequently used action on the 40 participating farms in 2019/2020. The number of trees on the individual farms ranged from 12 to over 500. The second most popular action on the scorecard was mixed species sward/clover pasture (32 of the 40 farms). Thirty-one farms contained pollinator-friendly non-farmed areas. Some of these areas were identified as biodiversity ‘hotspots’.

The scoring system and associated weighting is under constant development, and will slightly change annually as the project progresses. The new data will allow the project team to finetune the scoring system in line with the project objectives. The review of the scoring system and associated measures is undertaken in response to which specific measures are identified as being most effective in enhancing biodiversity, and that are most cost-effective.

Tangibility

The whole farm pollinator scores for the 2019-2020 farming year (Year 1 of the results-based payments), ranged from 1,020 pollinator points to 248,946 pollinator points (Median = 22,067 ± 49,292 standard deviation). The scoring system has worked and is showing the expected range for the pilot group of 40 farms that were chosen to reflect differing farm types and intensities.

The highest score overall came from a beef farm (248,946 pollinator points), the second highest came from a mixed farm (192,190 pollinator points) and the third highest from a tillage farm (108,176 pollinator points). Mixed farms were found to have the highest average pollinator points overall and tillage farms had the lowest.

Durability

According to the 2020 Annual Report for the Protecting Farmland Pollinators project, the success of the project in Year 1 has demonstrated how the scoring and payments system could be rolled out on a national scale as an eco-scheme or other results-based agri-environment programme. On this basis, the Protecting Farmland Pollinators team is working to secure long-term funding and further roll-out of the project through the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, in alignment with the sustainable ambitions of the European Green Deal. The future CAP reform is due to be implemented from 1 January 2023, pending final agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. To align with this, the current EIP-Agri Protecting Farmland Pollinators project will run until the end of 2023.

Visibility

The Project website was launched in February 2020:

www.biodiversityireland.ie/farmland.

The Project manager is disseminating the project through Twitter (@SaorlaKK, #FarmlandBiodiversty) and is further supported by the AIPP and NBDC’s Twitter accounts (@PollinatorsIreland and @BiodiversityIreland). Biodiversity Ireland’s Facebook page is also used to disseminate the Project updates.

Participant beef farmer Kim McCall and Dr Úna Fitzpatrick (Project Co-ordinator) were interviewed about the project on national television on 27th May 2020. The interview was featured on Nationwide, a prime-time TV programme on the main channel of the Irish national broadcaster, RTE (RTE 1). The coverage of the project is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFQltrWUGh4&feature=emb_logo.

The project manager participated in an interview with ‘Midlands Science’ for an online TV series for children funded by Science

Foundation Ireland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA8pQNs_8MQ&feature=youtube.

Three newspaper articles were published after the project launch:

1.       The Farmers Journal https://www.farmersjournal.ie/farmers-taking-part-in-new-pollinator-project-530842

2.       The Kildare Nationalist https://kildare-nationalist.ie/2020/03/10/new-project-aims-to-get-farmsbuzzing-again/

3.       The Irish Independent https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/tillage/helen-harris-how-doesbiodiversity-drive-square-with-the-demand-for-cheapfood-39029208.html.

In Year 1, Saorla Kavanagh (project manager) presented the project at the Tillage Industry Ireland meeting in January 2020. The project was also presented at the Biodiversity Training workshop in Co. Clare, the AIPP consultation meeting at the Ulster Beekeepers Association Annual Conference in February 2020, the Burren Winterage School, October 2020 and at the Teagasc Tillage Training workshop in December 2020. (See also ‘Externality’ section below.)

An Annual Report for 2019/2020 was published in January 2021. This report contains an update on key achievements, background of the project, an outline of 1) how the results-based system works; 2) kinds of actions that are considered when generating the farm-scale pollinator score; 3) results to date, and; plans for 2021: https://www.biodiversityireland.ie/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Protecting-Farmland-Pollinators-Annual-Report-2021.pdf. This report provides most of the information included in this Good Practice write-up.

Added Value

Before the farmer can score his or her farm, they must create solitary bee nesting habitat for mining and cavity nesting solitary bees. This was a requirement for participation with a view to adding value from the outset of the project. Since July 2019, participant farmers have installed over 130 bee boxes for cavity nesting bees and nests of four different cavity bee species have been recorded in the newly created bee boxes. Over 300 bare soil solitary mining bee nesting sites were created by participant farmers and after just a few weeks, nests were recorded as occupied on 16 farms. Early results suggest that – as a result of the project in year 1 – seven different species of solitary mining bee have set up home across the newly created nesting sites.

Effectiveness

The project to-date demonstrates that participating farmers have been very interested in learning about biodiversity and want to know, how to protect and enhance biodiversity on their farms while having a productive farming system. In 2021, training will be available to all 40 farmers on-line and on-farm in accordance with government guidelines related to COVID-19. A guidance document will also be produced in 2021 to explain the whole farm pollinator scorecard, and will provide examples to farmers on how best to manage their farm for pollinators and wider biodiversity without negatively affecting productivity. This document will be produced in consultation with farmers and will be based upon the ‘Farmland Guidelines’ of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. This document will ensure  greater protection for farmland pollinators across the participant farms and will help to improve awareness and understanding of the project. It will include a large number of real-life examples to make it as easy as possible for farmers to understand the features on their farm that are most beneficial for pollinators and how to maximise their scores (and therefore their payments) if they wish.

Innovation

The agricultural economy in Europe has developed around payment for production of commodities such as food, while all the other services that are vital to human well-being and survival are seldom rewarded in the marketplace[3],[4].  Agri-Environmental (AE) schemes have existed in Europe since the 1980s[5]. Traditional AE schemes are prescription/actions-based. They are designed to compensate farmers for the costs incurred and income foregone from adopting practices that promote biodiversity, protect water quality and combat climate change[6]. This typically means that a farmer will be required to carry out a range of actions or follow a management prescription on their farm in order to receive payment. The payment remains the same for all farmers, regardless of their level of success.

The concept of paying farmers for producing ecosystem services on the other hand is a relatively new idea. Until recently, the wide diversity of ecosystem services provided by farmers (such as water quality, flood and fire resilience, and soil quality) has not been acknowledged in payments to farmers.

A mezőgazdasági szereplők nem feltételnül vannak tudatában annak, hogy a gazdálkodás során a mezőgazdasági terményeken kívül más ökoszisztéma-szolgáltatásokat is fenntartanak, illetve nyújtanak, így a kifizetések és pénzügyi ösztönzők is a termények  és termékek jutalmazása irányába mutatnak. Mindez a mezőgazdasági területeken található nem mezőgazdasági ökoszisztéma-szolgáltatásokat hátrányos helyzetbe hozza

This lack of connection between farming enterprise and the provision of wide-ranging ecosystem services results in a disproportionate level of reward being granted to the food provision service. This practice ultimately comes at the cost of the other ecosystem services4.

There is increasingly a move towards agri-environmental Results-Based Payment Schemes (RBPS). In a RBPS, a farmer’s payment is linked to the desired deliverables of the programme: the higher the quality of product delivered, as defined by habitat quality scorecards (result indicators), the higher the payment to the farmer[7]. If the quality increases over time, the farmer receives an increased payment; this provides an opportunity and strong incentive to manage land to a higher environmental standard and offers increased flexibility to the farmers in choosing how they deliver ecosystem services4.

European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) are partnerships that aim to better co-ordinate existing financial instruments and initiatives in a number of key areas including agriculture sustainability and productivity (EIP-AGRI). EIP-AGRI was launched in 2012 to contribute to the EU’s ‘Europe 2020 Strategy’ of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Irish DAFM was transformative in its decision to use EIP-AGRI funding to address the restoration, preservation and enhancement of ecosystems, as most other European member states focused this mechanism on productivity.

Therefore, in testing an innovative RBPS focusing uniquely on pollinators, and funded through a scheme that – in other European Member States – traditionally focuses on productivity, the very essence of Protecting Farmland Pollinators is innovation.

Efficiency

The Protecting Farmland Pollinators Project is co-ordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC). The NBDC is the national centre for the collection, collation, management, analysis, and dissemination of data on Ireland’s biodiversity[8]. There is a project co-ordinator, as well as a project manager who manages the day-to-day running of the project. Both are based in the NBDC. There are two Financial Managers for the project employed by Compass Informatics. Three surveyors worked on the Ecological Survey Team for 6-months between March and August 2020 (Year 1 scoring and assessment). Annual on-farm inspections will be conducted on at least 10% of the farms from Year 2. The operational group for the project includes the NBDC; Five Champion Farmers; Bord Bia (the Irish Food Bord); Glanbia (an Irish global nutrition group with operations in 32 countries); HEINEKEN Ireland; Macra na Feirme (an Irish voluntary rural youth organisation); Teagasc (the semi-state authority responsible for research and development, training and advisory services in the agri-food sector) and the University of Dublin, Trinity College. The group is locally led by the five Champion Farmers across types (beef, dairy, mixed and tillage). It has been put together to ensure scientific expertise in pollinator requirements, project design and data analyses; farmer engagement and knowledge transfer; and to advise on future practical recommendations with respect to agri-environment and biodiversity/sustainability schemes from a commercial perspective. The Operational Group is further supported by the 16-member steering group of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

Externality

Participant tillage farmer Andrew Bergin presented the project at the Halting the Loss of Pollinators Conference on February 21st 2020, in Brussels, where he shared his experience with a European-wide audience. This conference focused on the role of EU agricultural and regional development policies in halting pollinator loss. Neus Rodriguez-Gasol (ecological survey team member) wrote a blog describing the different methods being used by the project to assess farmland biodiversity. It is available at: https://www.biodiversityireland.ie/measuring-farmland-biodiversity/. A blog was published by the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan team for Pollinator Week 2020 which showcased the Protecting Farmland Pollinators project: ‘Working together with farmers to help pollinators’ https://pollinators.ie/working-together-with-farmers-tohelp-pollinators/.

Intra-regional coordination

A monthly project newsletter was established in June 2020 and is distributed to the participant farmers, the Operational Group, and other interested parties across the region. The newsletters are available to download on the NBDC website: https://www.biodiversityireland.ie/projects/protecting-farmland-pollinators/news/. The first edition of an annual Children’s Farming Newsletter was published in May 2020 and is available here: https://www.biodiversityireland.ie/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Newsletter-Farming-Kids-EIP-Pollinators-Issue-1.pdf. A WhatsApp group was set up for the 40 participant farmers and their families in order to share information and co-ordinate actions.

Extra regional impact

The Protecting Farmland Pollinators Project is featured on the new European Results based Payments Network website, which was launched on 7th May 2020: https://www.rbpnetwork.eu/country-infos/ireland/protectingfarmland-pollinators-17/.

The project manager is also a member of a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) webinar working group. Webinars are organised by the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism with support from the Irish Heritage Council and in collaboration with Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. These webinars aim to bring together the broader land management /agri-environment EIP projects within Ireland and across Europe.

Quality

This project has a specialised project team consisting of managers and scientists that have appropriate specialist knowledge and are skilled in database management, communica­tion and financial administration. All 23 funded EIP-AGRI projects in Ireland have detailed monitoring programmes that record the rate of improvement of the conservation status of the target habitat and species. In the case of Protecting Farmland Pollinators, this is pollinators and their habitats on farmland (the 2019/2020 scorecard contains 18 measurable actions/indicators relating to food, shelter and safety for pollinators). Such comprehensive monitoring programmes have been absent to date from national AE schemes in Ireland. This is an inherent aspect of the results-based approach and is what incentivises farmers to improve ecological quality. The focus is on delivering ecosystem services in tandem with—rather than in spite of— producing food products. Programmes that do not use habitats as indicators for ecosystem quality payments risk missing an opportunity to provide multiple co-benefits, and indeed risk potential negative impacts of some other ecosystem services4.

Potential for learning or transfer

Since results-based pollinator measures must be present in order to obtain pollinator points, the Protecting Farmland Pollinators measures are, in effect, self-targeting and have the ability to fit conditions and circumstances in any target location. As an RBPS model, with a standardised system of payments linked to desired deliverables of the programme as defined by habitat quality scorecards (result indicators) under development, the approach is highly transferrable to other EU regions. For successful transfer, the results-based approach of the Protecting Farmland Pollinators project needs to be supported by the farmer and the Project Team. Farmer training is provided to offer advice on pollinator-friendly farm management and on how to score the farm.. However, the farmer is free to choose the methods most suited to them and their farming conditions to deliver the desired result. While the empirical results of the project will take a number of years to be realised, Year 1 results suggest that the scoring and payments system of the Protecting Farmland Pollinators project could be rolled out on a national scale. There is no reason why this should be limited to the Irish context. Aspects of the Project are subject to change over the life of the project, in response to participant feedback and project monitoring.

Further information

www.biodiversityireland.ie/farmland

 [1] Hallmann, C.A., Sorg, M., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N. and Schwan H., 2017, More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10) e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809

[2] Merckx, T., Marini, L., Feber, R. and Macdonald, D. 2012, Hedgerow trees and extended-width field margins enhance macro-moth diversity: Implications for management. Journal of Applied Ecology 49, 1396–404.

[3] Kelly et al. 2016 Agri Vision 2015 Committee. Report of the Agri Vision 2015 Committee. Department of Agri­culture, Food and the Marine, Dublin.

[4] McLoughlin, D., Browne, A. and Sullivan, C.A., 2020, The delivery of ecosystem services through results-based agri-environment payment schemes (RBPS): three Irish case studies, Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 120B, No. 2, pp. 91-106.

[5] CEC 1998 Evaluation of agri-environment programmes, State of Application of Regulation (EEC) No. 2078/92, DGVI Working Document, VI/76555/98.

[6] DAFM 2015 Ireland – Rural Development Programme (National) 2014–2020, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Europa website (2020) https:// www.agriculture.gov.ie/ruralenvironmentsustain ability/ruraldevelopmentprogrammerdp2014-2020/

[7] Byrne et al. 2018 Non-technical Summary: Results-based Agri-environment Pilot Schemes in Ireland and Spain. Report prepared for the European Union, Agreement No. 07.027722/2014/697042/SUB/ B2  https://rbapseu.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/ rbaps_es01_non_technical-summary.pdf     

[8] The NBDC is an Initiative of the Irish Heritage Council and is operated under a service level agreement by Compass Informatics. The NBDC is funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the Heritage Council.