Wild bees under pressure in Europe

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Your Garden Is Now The Frontline In The Battle To Save Pollinators

Last month saw the completion of an assessment done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) into the well being of Europe’s 1,965 species of wild bees and the results were largely depressing.

Idyllic European rural scene... but not for long if we keep poisoning pollinators  Europe's (Credit EEA website)

On a recent walk from my country home I counted 25 different species of wildflower in under an hour and I suspect that many people in France — even those living in more urban environments — would not be hard-pressed to find a similar display.

Spring seems to have moved in with unusual speed this year and certainly in rural areas, flowering plants are responding with considerable vigour. Many Maries (local Mayors) have opted to allow village verges to flower before they mow them and the result is pretty spectacular though we wanderers and walkers are mere spectators to an enlightened approach clearly beneficial to wild bees and other all-important insects.

Endangered and on the European Red List of Bees (Credit as per images via IUCN website)

 Caption: Endangered and on the European Red List of Bees (Credit as per images via IUCN website)

Bees and other pollinators are critical to the food chain and hence to human survival. Read more by our nature correspondent Mike Alexander on their fate and current state:
Is a World Without Bees Possible?
No Buzz this Spring? Time for Plan Bee

Blame Beef (and GM) for Bee Slaughter

The assessment, mentioned earlier, into the well-being of Europe’s wild bees is not encouraging indeed some might even regard it as alarming.

The study, sponsored by the EU, found that 7.7% of the species had declining populations with an overall 30% decline over the last 30 years while 25.8% of bumble bees are at risk of total extinction.

There have been many reports focused on the western honeybee (Apis melifera) and the woes it faces, but honeybees are classed as domestic and the IUCN report was the biggest study done so far on wild bees.

The IUCN is calling for urgent funds for research into ways to reverse the decline it has noted. It seems that modifications in farming practices, global weather change and large scale use of pesticides are the most likely reasons why wild bees today manage far less buzz than before.

Alarming report by IUCN on the status of European Pollinators ie bees

Last year saw the ban in Europe of many pesticides containing neonicotinoids, mainly in response to fears that they might be related to large scale colony loss disorder presently affecting honeybee colonies throughout the European Union.

Two of the major pesticide producers, Syngenta and Bayer Cropscience, are presently suing the EU in an attempt to have that ban overturned.

(As an important side note if  TTIP is finally concluded between the EU and the US, global conglomerates such as these will have carte blanche to sue individual governments for profit loss arising from just such restrictions and the arbitrators will be an elite body of international lawyers entirely insulated from any state interference or intervention. Read more about this secret stitch up here)

Whilst the big players in the chemical industry slug it out with the EU they are also being harassed by lighter weights in the gardening world where calls are increasing for the removal of pesticides containing thiacloprid, a supposedly milder neonicotinoid-based chemical, from the shelves of garden centres.

Bees are becoming addicted to the pesticides that are killing them off

Though the producers of thiacloprid defend their product as not harmful if used according to instructions on the bottle, they need to tread carefully as gardeners appear to be increasingly more concerned about their impact on the environment.

While individual gardeners may not have the clout of large organisations what they lack in size they make up for in numbers as the frontline consumer.

Cover of the most recent European environmental outlook report

Meanwhile what we gardeners can do to assist beleaguered bees and other pollinators is to grow more plants that are attractive to them and perhaps be a little more tolerant of flowering weeds such as nettles and dandelions, even if only in some of the less visual areas of the small environments under our control namely our gardens. It is difficult not to micro manage our plots as we strive for the “perfect garden” but what nature regards as important and what we regard as important frequently differ.

More and more domestic gardens are becoming last bastions for many of nature’s smaller and often un-noticed but food-chain-critical creatures.

Writer: Mike Alexander