27th Feb 2024


What Europe still needs to do to save its bees

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Convenience, and the power of choice it offers to the European consumer, is the flagship achievement of the European single market.

As Europeans, we have become accustomed to consuming any variety of seasonal vegetable, spice, nut, fruit, herb or variety of coffee whenever we want it however we want it: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-on-year.

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  • Colony collapse disorder is when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear leaving behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees (Photo: B-GOOD project)

But one-third of the exciting range of everyday foods we now eat in Europe are pollinated by bees, and thousands of other insects such as hoverflies and other fly species: butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps and thrips.

However, pollinators are increasingly under threat. Scientists argue that a myriad of interacting and complex factors such as the loss of habitats in farming landscapes, impacts of pesticides combined with climate change and pollution, can account for the decline of the species.

Managed species are under threat from what scientists in 2007 defined as "colony collapse disorder" (CCD). This is when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear leaving behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees.

Europe has a duty of care as a higher proportion of threatened wild bee species are endemic to either Europe (20.4 percent, 400 species) or the EU 27 (14.6 percent, 277 species), highlighting the responsibility that European countries have to protect the global populations of these species.

Almost 30 percent of all the species threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) at the European level are endemic to Europe (e.g., found nowhere else in the world).

Back in 2018, the Commission adopted the first-ever EU initiative on wild pollinators. It set out strategic objectives, and actions for the EU and the member states to address the decline of pollinators. It has mobilised cross-sectoral action and made significant progress in pollinator monitoring.

But clearly more needs to be done to fight the main drivers of their steep decline.

The European Commission and the European Research Executive Agency, under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding programmes, are supporting bee and pollinator projects across the EU to help turn the tide.

The following are just a sample of conservation efforts highlighting the importance of protecting biodiversity in line with EU Green Deal objectives.

Honey bees, bumble bees, and solitary bees face many threats in Europe, and one that has received increasing attention is the use of agrochemicals in industry.

To what extent they may negatively impact bee health is the objective of the PoshBee project. PoshBee is a consortium of academics, governmental organisations, industry, and NGOs that seek to address the issue of agrochemicals to ensure the sustainable health of bees and their pollination services in Europe.

The project intends to deliver practice- and policy-relevant research outputs to local, national, European, and global stakeholders. PoshBee's work will support healthy bee populations, sustainable beekeeping, and sustainable pollination across Europe.

European beekeeping, the process of farming honey bees, can be prone to the spread of parasites and dangerous viruses to other local hives. In 2022 there is insufficient data on the socioeconomic consequences or sustainability of long-term beekeeping across Europe. The B-GOOD project paves the way towards healthy and sustainable beekeeping within the EU.

The project aims to test and implement a common index for measuring and reporting honey bee health status index (HSI), which will help risk assessors and authorities evaluate the effects of (beekeeping) management.

B-GOOD will also assess the socio-economics of healthy and sustainable beekeeping, perform socio-economic analyses using qualitative and quantitative research methods, and identify viable and sustainable business models for European beekeeping.

Their platform will integrate information available at the EU level, including information on farming, environment and socio-economics, providing relevant data for guiding decision making at local, regional and international scales.

Food is culture

When travelling or in everyday life, people say that the best way to experience national culture is to try the local food.

This is especially true in an organisation represented by 27 nationalities with so much to offer in terms of food variety, the essential 'buzz' of life (pardon the pun.)

Without bees and other pollinators, our food would be bland and boring.

It is thus vital to continue to protect the humble and hard-working insects who pollinate the everyday fruits and vegetables that make our EU culture so historically delicious and tasty.

Author bio

Michael Beadling is a British journalist and communications specialist working for the European Research Executive Agency.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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