The Highland News, May 2015
The last few years has seen an increase in public concern over the health of our bees. The UK bee population has fallen by 30% since 2007. More than four out of five plant species in the European Union (EU) are believed to depend on pollination by bees and insect pollination has an estimated economic value in Europe of €15 billion per year. Here in Scotland any threat to our bee population could have serious effects on our rural economy.
Last month the European Commission published the European Red List of Bees prepared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This report, for the first time provides factual information on the conservation status of the nearly 2000 species of Europe’s bees. It concludes that 9% of Europe’s bees are threatened with extinction mainly due to habitat loss from intensive agriculture involving pesticides and fertilisers, but also from urban development and climate change.
Last year, after evidence emerged that pesticides could be a major cause behind declining populations, a temporary EU ban was announced on three pesticides while further evidence can be examined. Labour MEPs were strong supporters of this ban and will be closely scrutinising developments.
Biodiversity loss in an enormous challenge in the EU. The EU Birds and Habitats Directives have been the cornerstone of the EU’s nature policies and have clearly helped bird species and some large carnivore species to recover. While this is encouraging, too many of Europe’s ecosystems are now dangerously and perhaps irrevocably degraded. The EU Biodiversity Strategy adopted in 2011 is part of a 2050 vision aiming to protect, value and restore biodiversity and the services it provides – its natural capital. This is important not only to protect nature’s value, but also for its essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity and to avert the potential catastrophic changes that could be caused by the loss of biodiversity.
MEPs are recognising that bees have become an important political issue. We do not need more alarms, we need to work in a more efficient way and create an inclusive strategy involving farmers, beekeepers, researchers, biologists and veterinarians. We need committed policies that can be developed and implemented across the entire EU.
In her forward to the Red List of Bees, Pia Bucella, Director of the Commission’s Natural Capital Directorate expressed her regret that the value of nature is often not reflected in public policy in the same way as those of economic and social objectives. She calls for more investment in this important field of scientific research and also for more engagement of all parts of our society to help strengthen the knowledge needed to reverse negative trends in our bee population. This is an issue that affects all of Europe and needs urgent action to preserve the benefits of these wonderful pollinators not just to wildlife and the countryside by also for our continued food production. The Red List pdf can be downloaded from the Commission’s website at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/redlist/downloads/European_bees.pdf