The recent release of the European Red List of Bees had found that 9.2% of Europe’s 1,965 wild bee species were threatened with extinction. This trend affects a broad variety of stakeholders, given the bee’s key role in the pollination of crops and wild flowers, which is essential to society and agriculture.
Pollination provides not only economic value, but it is also essential for securing food production and delivering important ecosystem services. The intensification of agriculture has been identified as one of the main culprits for the decline of bee species, but at the same time, the agricultural sector is most affected by a decline in pollination services from bees.
In order to discuss the potential for and benefits of bee-friendly practices in the context of modern agriculture, a panel discussion was organized as part of the Launch of the European Red List of Bees event in Brussels on 20 April 2015, co-organised the European Commission, IUCN and the STEP project. Representing a wide range of views and experiences, the panel brought together conventional and alternative farmers, bee scientists, environmental NGOs, bee keepers and land owners, the panel reacted to the main threats to bees from agriculture, as outlined by Ana Nieto (European Biodiversity Conservation Officer, IUCN EU Representative Office) and Stuart Roberts (Visiting Research Fellow, University of Reading, UK), both among the report’s authors, at the start of the conference.
All panelists highlighted the potential of better dialogue between farmers, beekeepers and policy makers. Sebastien Windsor (COPA-COGECA) encouraged the exchange of dialogue between all stakeholders. Mr. Windsor noted the importance of site specific solutions, and of actively engaging with local beekeepers to understand the effects of choosing bee-friendly crops or using insecticides in a way that minimizes their effects on bees. Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners Organisation also stated that, in his view, modern farming inevitably required pesticides, but that the right balance needed to be found between productivity and biodiversity conservation.
Valentin Beauval from the international farmers’ movement Via Campesina and Noa Simon-Delso (Beelife & CARI), on the other hand, reminded participants that there are many alternatives to the use of pesticides which are well researched in Europe, but to date, their use remains limited due to a lack of understanding. Mr Beauval pointed to his 30-year experience as a farmer, during which time he barely ever had to resort to using pesticides. Both speakers emphasised that an environment which is nurturing for bees will also foster biodiversity more generally, and stressed that growing food in a mindful and bee-friendly manner can be achieved in an economically sustainable way.
For Simon Potts, STEP Project Coordinator and Professor for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, University of Reading (UK), bee-friendly practices could lead to improved crop yields and quality. He emphasized that preserving bees makes business sense for farmers, but that the economic value of bees needs to be better demonstrated and communicated to them. Prof Potts put the added value of pollinators at 22bn Euros/year in Europe, and emphasized that wild bees, rather than domesticated honeybees, provide the majority of these services.
Panelists also emphasized that considerable work remained to be done on the policy side to ensure the protection of bees, particularly in terms of the flexibility afforded to Member States in implementing the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which came into force on 1 January 2015. Faustine Defossez, Senior Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau reminded participants that the current greening provisions of the CAP, while green on paper, were an ‘empty shell’, and not adequate for protecting biodiversity or reversing the decline in bees.
Another point addressed at the conference was the lack of bee experts in Europe, which has lead to more than 56% of the species assessed under the European Red List to be categorized as ‘Data Deficient’. In order to ensure better data on wild bees, Denis Michez from the University of Mons (Belgium) called for better support of taxonomy at local and population level, and suggested methodologies and structures to involve citizens in the monitoring of bees in Europe.
The event was co-hosted by Georges Cingal, Member of the EESC. Other speakers included Bas Eickhout, Member of the European Parliament and European Commission speakers François Wakenhut, Head of Unit, Biodiversity, DG Environment; Sofie Vandewoestijne, Policy Officer, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, DG Research & Innovation; Krzysztof Sulima & Emmanuel Petel, DG Agriculture and Rural Development; Patrizia Pitton, Pesticides and Biocides, DG Health and Food Safety.
Concluding remarks were provided by Alojz Peterle, Member of the European Parliament.
See here for the full agenda of the conference.