Speech at the Official Opening of the Bloom Festival
Phoenix Park, Dublin, Thursday, 30 May 2019
Is mór an phléisiúir a bheith anseo inniu, agus muid ag ceiliúradh oscailt an tríú Féile bliantúil déag Bloom. Tá Bloom neadaithe anois i bhféilire sóisialta na hÉireann, agus is sár-ócáid iontach é do go leor daoine, anuraidh bhí slua níos mó ná 120,000 ann.
[It is a great pleasure to be here today as we celebrate the opening of the thirteenth annual Bloom show. Bloom has embedded itself into the social calendar of Ireland and, for many it has become a much-loved event, having, for example, attracted over 120,000 visitors last year.]
Each year Bloom reminds us of the great horticultural skills, traditional, discovered or recovered, that are based on love of nature and creative use of our land and gardens that exist here in Ireland. The Bloom festival is a great gathering of our best and most enthusiastic horticulturists, garden designers, food producers, floriculturists, landscapers and craftspeople, generously sharing their skills and the fruits of those skills with the many visitors who attend the festival each year.
Indeed, Bloom is now firmly established as part of the rhythm and ritual of the Irish year, synonymous with the departure of Spring and the emergence of another Summer season. It is an event during which many thousands of us come together to celebrate the renewal of nature with its rich variety of flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables – the source of food and drinks gifted to us by our rich Irish soil. In its combination of horticulture and artisan food, Bloom allows us to celebrate nature and the human mind and hand
Bloom 2019 features 22 spectacular show-gardens, over 25 of Ireland’s top nurseries and florists, 100 Irish food and drink producers, cookery demonstrations from many of Ireland’s top chefs and some 100 retail stands. I think you will agree that there is a great deal of variety here that will make for a most enjoyable and inspirational visit.
While Bloom provides us with a chance to appreciate the joys of gardening and horticulture, it also reminds us of the need to reflect on the sustainability of our own actions, and our own mode of living, as individuals and as a national community. I am speaking not only of ecological sustainability, but sustainability in our economic and social life, and whether we can, and will, meet the challenge of providing necessary materials and a nurturing environment to ensure human flourishing in its widest sense, and do so in a way that what we hand on to future generations is enhanced and respected rather than diminished. As President, I am fortunate to meet so many of the community groups throughout our country dedicated to answering this challenge.
Climate change is now the greatest existential threat facing humankind, and there is nothing abstract about it. We can see its effects already taking place in our gardens – indeed, gardeners could be the ‘canaries in our coalmine’, as it were.
We see these effects vividly in Ireland: plants are flowering earlier on average in the past decade than since records began, and tree buds are also unfurling their leaves on average 2-3 weeks earlier now than 50 years ago, an occurrence known in phenology as ‘season creep’. While there are temporary economic benefits – longer growing seasons can have benefits to horticulture – it leaves plants and trees more exposed to disease and shock from the cold spells that were less likely to occur in the growing seasons of the past.
I would like to say some words on the role that we – as garden-lovers and nature-lovers – can play in tackling catastrophic climate change. Each and every one of us can play our part in making our living habits and our environment more sustainable. For example, the way we lay out our planting and gardens, appropriate landscape management can – through a suitable selection of plants and trees – contribute to supporting wildlife and enhancing biodiversity in our immediate surroundings.
Native hedgerows play a hugely important role in biodiversity and in the mitigation of climate change. Thirty-five bird species nest in hedgerows in Ireland, and many more use these for shelter and feeding. They are also critical for insects, including pollinators, and for mammals. Their potential for storing and sequestering carbon is now widely acknowledged in the scientific literature.
Hedgerows and their associated trees, banks, ditches and margins provide a precious multi-functional resource in our countryside, benefiting plants and wildlife, agriculture, water quality, flood mitigation, tourism and the general community through their landscape value. Data from 17 County Hedgerow Surveys indicate that only one-third of hedgerows are in a favourable conservation state due to inappropriate management, leaving potential for greater carbon sequestration through an improved quality stock while supporting wildlife. I would very much like to see a concerted effort across all Local Authorities to redress this situation and indeed to implement a shared plan for our pollinators.
Similarly, a suitable command of natural surfaces can allow soakage and minimise run off in the event of heavy rain, thereby reducing the risk of erosion and flooding. In practical terms, this means avoiding the construction of hard landscaping in gardens and opting for softer, more natural options.
Regarding fertiliser use, nitrogen from fertiliser boosts the growth of algae and causes water pollution, and nitrous oxide – the gas that emanates from fertiliser application in soils – is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, as it is over 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas which needs to be curbed in order to mitigate climate change. We must, therefore, be responsible in our use of fertiliser, especially nitrogen-based types, and be cognisant that such fertiliser can result in the emission of powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
I urge gardeners and horticulturalists to consider using alternatives, including organic forms of fertiliser, to limit the negative effects on our climate and natural environment. We have to choose the way we live, achieve a balance, get to identify what are the sources of stress and needless aggression sometimes measured as efficiency.
Wildlife-friendly gardening focuses on native flowers, and I am heartened to see that a focus of Bloom continues to be on indigenously grown flowers and trees, and that climate change and sustainability is a focus for some of Ireland’s top gardeners showcasing their talents at Bloom this year. Among the many exciting and stimulating show-gardens include that of Liat and Oliver Schurmann, who showcase their underwater aquamarine garden which aims to demonstrate the growing problem of marine pollution; Fingal Bee Positive, a large show garden designed by Fingal County Council, Jane McCorkell and Technology University Dublin, demonstrating how gardeners can play a valuable role in reversing the decline of bees; and Liwen Xiao from Trinity College who, with colleagues Tom Grey and Dunzhy Li have designed the E3 Garden offering an ingenious solution to the growing threat of drought to Irish gardens and wildlife.
The bringing together of those involved in the many stages of production, delivery and retail of our food, drink and plants reminds us that such vital activity has its roots deeply embedded in land which hosts an ecosystem that must be protected, conserved and nurtured.
It invites us to remember that, as well as reaping the benefits of the land, we must also contribute to its sustainability through such measures as I have suggested, including the planting of trees and shrubs and the safeguarding of our hedgerows and ditches.
The most urgent message I want to emphasise today is in relation to biodiversity – all the life that we are part of – I want to draw attention to our role in promoting biodiversity in light of the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a 1,500-page report on the state of biodiversity on Earth. The report has 145 authors from 50 countries, and it sums up about 15,000 scientific papers on the threats against life in the age of humans.
To say that the report’s findings are stark is an understatement. It concludes that the abundance of native species in most major land habitats has fallen by a fifth since 1990, and approximately a million species are at risk of extinction in the coming two to three decades.
That number includes 40 percent of all amphibian species, 33 percent of corals, and around 10 percent of insects. It amounts to a biodiversity crisis that spans the globe and threatens every ecosystem. The results echo much of what we already know: life on Earth is in peril, humans are to blame, and it will likely take millions of years for the Earth to recover from the biodiversity crisis.
Earlier this month, Ireland became the second country in the world to declare a ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’. Increased ambition is now needed across all levels of our society if we are to play our parts in reducing our carbon footprints and reducing the devastating impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Once again, the institutions and organisations in the Conservation Area will be providing information on the valuable work that is done, by organisations such as An Taisce and the Irish Wildlife Trust, to protect our natural environment. Our bee population, so essential to our agricultural system, is in serious decline, and I am pleased that, yet again, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers are here to advise us of the bee’s significance as the world’s most important pollinator of food crops and of the Federation’s work in fostering the skills of beekeeping in ways that are environmentally sustainable.
Some 30% of Ireland’s wild bee species are threatened with extinction, and studies suggest that we in Ireland are losing butterflies and bees at a faster rate than in the rest of the world.
Pollinators are important for the services they provide, and without them we would lose some Irish produce that we enjoy. The beauty of the Irish landscape would be affected if the decline in pollinators is allowed to continue, as they maintain the diversity of our wild plants and support healthy ecosystems.
For growers, the loss of pollinators will lead to lower crop yields and reductions in quality, and for the consumer it will mean reduced choice and higher prices for the fruits and vegetable that are an essential part of our diets.
The artisan food sector is a rapidly growing one in this country, signifying a welcome reconnection to the land as new generations explore innovative ways of producing food using methods that are sustainable and ethical.
As to our diets, this year the artisans’ food section will showcase nearly 70 innovative smaller-scale Irish producers of farmhouse cheeses, preserves, baked goods, confectionary, juices and so much more, including a number of new, leading-edge brands. Every wheel of cheese, every keg of beer, every slice of smoked fish, has been carefully produced, fermented and seasoned by a person rather than a machine. Each artisan producer is passionate and proud about what they produce, especially where the whole family is involved.
It is part of our good news that Ireland has developed a strong reputation as a producer of quality and speciality food. Small food businesses make such an important contribution to our economy. They also, by sourcing locally and using skilled craftspeople, contribute to the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of our society.
Bloom is, of course, from its origins, founded on a celebration of gardening, and proudly showcases the talent and skill of those who enrich our lives through their love of gardening and growing. The growing of plants for recreational or ornamental purposes can also play an important role in maintaining sustainable rural communities, through its significant employment creation and its generation of a farmgate value of €71 million.
We can be deeply grateful to the Bloom Festival for the profound contribution it makes to the evolution and expansion of this sector, through both its support for all those involved in amenity horticulture and its bringing of the best of that work here to the Phoenix Park every Summer to be enjoyed by all.
Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a chuidigh chun Bloom 2019 a chuir faoi bhláth. Gabhaim buíochas le Bord Bia, leis an lucht eagraithe as ucht a gcuid oibre dílis, le Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí as gach rud a dhéanann siad chun Páirc an Fhionnuisce a choimeád mar áit taitneamhach, álainn, comhroinnte, agus leis na heagraíochtaí uilig a chuir le toradh Bloom eile lena n-iarrachtaí.
[In conclusion, may I thank and commend all those who have brought Bloom 2019 to fruition. I thank Bord Bia and the event organisers for their generous and dedicated work, the Office of Public Works for all they do to ensure the Phoenix Park remains a place of enjoyment, beauty and community, and all of the organisations who have contributed to the success of another Bloom Festival.]
I wish all those who visit Bloom an enjoyable and informative experience, and thank you for supporting this annual event, which continues to go from strength to strength.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh uile agus bainigí sult as an Féile agus bhur gcuid ama anseo i bPáirc and Fhionnuisce.