Small creatures with a big impact

Why the German government is making a big effort to protect bees.

In need of protection: honey bees collecting pollen.
In need of protection: honey bees collecting pollen. dpa

The whole world is worried about bees. World Bee Day on 20 May will focus attention on this useful insect, populations of which are at risk and are also declining in Germany. Bees even figure in the German government’s coalition agreement, which states that “Protecting bees is something that is particularly close to our heart”. The government has set itself the goal of preserving biodiversity and ensuring eco-friendly agriculture. Its “Insect Protection Action Programme” is intended to improve living conditions for insects, among other things by imposing stricter conditions on the use of agricultural pesticides.

Why are politicians in Germany concerned about bees?

There are good reasons for this. Bees are regarded as the third most important production animal – after cattle and pigs. Bees also play an irreplaceable role in the human diet, pollinating a large number of all fruit, vegetable and animal feed crops and making a key contribution to biodiversity. Around 80 percent of plants in Germany rely on pollination by bees. “Bees are vital to the system”, is how Germany’s agricultural minister Julia Klöckner concisely put it in her government declaration.

If the output of honey bees were expressed as a monetary value, it would total 153 billion euros per year on a global basis. This was the figure calculated by scientists from France and Germany in a study published in 2009 in the journal “Ecological Economics”.

Why are bees dying?

Scientists are seeing an alarming decline in bee populations worldwide. This is due among other things to monocultures and the use of crop pesticides in conventional agriculture. Half of the 570 or so species of wild bees in Germany are at risk of extinction. 

This is why Germany supported the EU’s decision in April 2018 to ban neonicotinoids, a group of bee-harming pesticides, in outdoor cultivation. In addition, it is not permitted in Germany to sow rapeseed, corn and grain seeds that have been treated with these pesticides. The controversial pesticide glyphosate is also to be banned permanently from fields in Germany. To this end, the government is working out a joint strategy in cooperation with farmers.

What else is Germany doing to protect bees?

Together with the German Beekeepers Association, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) staged the first international bee conference in 2017, at which 500 international participants debated ways to protect bees. 

A Germany-wide initiative entitled “Deutschland summt!” (i.e. Germany is buzzing!) is appealing for more bees in towns and cities. Beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular across Germany, and there is a boom in urban beekeeping. Increasing numbers of young city-dwellers are simply installing hives on their balconies. 

The “Bundestag bees” enjoy particular state protection: since 2016, the Bundestag courtyard has been home to a beehive. Each year, three bee populations produce 80 to 100 kilograms of honey, which is sold as “Bundestag blossom”. All profits are used to support bee-friendly projects.

Which institutions in Germany conduct research into bees?

They include the Bee Research Institute which is affiliated to Goethe University in Frankfurt, and research institutions of the federal states such as the Institute for Bee Research, which is jointly supported by Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia.

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