Flowering fields to save bees and butterflies

A new environmental crisis threatens both natural ecosystems and human food security. This is the 'pollinator crisis', that is, the crisis of insects that, by transporting pollen, allow 80% of plants to reproduce.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that over 40% of pollinating insects, mainly bees and butterflies, are at risk of extinction due to environmental degradation and the disappearance of their most important habitat: the flowering meadow.

Therefore, researchers and experts coordinated by botanist Gabriella Buffa, professor at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, asked themselves how we could intervene to stem this decline, with research and concrete - even demonstrative - actions. Thus the European project LIFE 'Biodiversity' PollinAction was created, which, with a budget of €3.2 million and 10 partners from Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Aragona (Spain) will implement actions intended to reverse this trend.

“The decline of pollinators is influenced by various factors, such as an increase in chemicals, parasites and diseases,” explains Gabriella Buffa. “However, the research is quite consistent in indicating environmental degradation and the loss of natural and semi-natural habitats as the main threats. Insects find in these habitats pollen, nectar, nesting sites and wintering sites. So human action is the main problem at the moment: land consumption, urbanization and the intensification of agriculture.”

The loss of insects will lead to the disappearance of wild plants (cascade extinction or secondary extinction) with repercussions on the functioning of natural ecosystems. Agricultural production will also suffer, thereby threatening food security for humans and wildlife, as well as economic stability.

The proposed solutions follow an innovative approach. The project will build 'green' infrastructures inspired and supported by nature. Therefore, these consist of sustainable works that benefit the resilience of the territories involved, including 6 municipalities that have made areas available, 11 farms, two beekeepers in Spain, six areas of extensive agriculture in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Mestre Bypass.

Green infrastructures,” adds Gabriella Buffa, “are a new approach, especially in southern Europe where they have been mainly implemented in areas where anthropogenic pressure is low and therefore there are few potential beneficiaries. PollinAction foresees the implementation of these works in a very complex territory from a socio-economic point of view, that is rural and urban areas.”

To increase rural blooms, 200,000 square metres of arable land will be converted into flowering meadows, 2.6 million square metres of existing grasslands will be improved, ecological corridors will be created on 30 kilometres of roads, as well as 3.5 km of rural hedges.

The Veneto Agricoltura Montecchio Centre and the regional plant nursery in Friuli-Venezia Giulia will produce 385,000 seedlings in total, including herbs and shrubs, and 150 kilograms of wild flower seeds.

In addition to Ca’ Foscari and Veneto Agricoltura, the vast and organised partnership includes the Agro-Environment Directorate of the Regione Veneto, the Autonomous Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Concessioni Autostradali Venete - CAV spa, EcorNaturaSì spa group, Albatros Srl, Municipal Authority of Caldogno (VI ), SELC cooperative. Furthermore, this supranational project also includes a Spanish partner that will conduct similar actions, the Centro de Investigación y Tecnología Agroalimentaria of Aragon.

In addition, numerous external supporters will make land available for the project: the Municipalities of Carceri (PD), San Bellino (RO), Cartigliano (VI), Mirano (VE), Chiopris-Viscone (UD), Palmanova (UD), Montereale Valcellina ( PN), Villesse (GO); the Tegliese Association of Prati delle Pars Teglio v.to (VE); the association Apicola Provincial de Jovenes Agricoltores de Teruel (E) and, in Friuli, the Spilimbergo Hunting Reserve (PN).