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The European Red list of Bees: much work to be done, many solutions available

On the 20 of April, the European Red list report on bees was launched at a Conference held in Brussels at the EU Economic and Social Committee. This report is the first assessment published on the conservation status of the 1 965 bee species described in Europe. It concludes that one tenth of total bee species face extinction in Europe and that for 57 % species there are not enough data to evaluate the risk of extinction.

The assessment has been published as part of the IUCN European Red List of Bees and the Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project, both funded by the European Commission.

Among the main threats identified there is agricultural expansion and intensification (application of pesticides, less wetlands, removal of hedge, nitrogen deposition…), climate change and urbanization.

The authors highlighted the lack of expertise, especially the lack of wild bees taxonomists in the academic world. Developing common inventories including citizens and experts as been mentioned as a potential for the future.

While the authors of the report compared the importance of wild pollinators and honeybees (Apis mellifera), the symbolic value of all bees through their pollination services, as well as the role of honeybees as bioindicator of our environment were put forward.

Representatives of the Commission made a point on the EU Research policies and explained the opportunities to act for pollinators within the EU Agricultural, Health and Environmental policies. The implementation of the sustainable use of pesticide directive is delayed. The process is going on between the Commission and Member states. In this framework, some Member states have the intention to prohibit the use of pesticides in Natura 2000 areas.

Finally, there was a discussion on bee-friendly farming practices. Conventional farmer and landowner expressed their willingness to protect the bees but explained their fear to change the current agricultural model. They questioned how to produce with less pesticide or without neonicotinoids. In response, education of the field stakeholders was mentioned as a must. The proposal to introduce a lecture on pollination and bees for farmer advisors was made. Diverse ranges of agronomic practices exist to decrease the use of pesticides. Conscious of the current pollution of water and the role of bees for seed production, a French farmer highlighted his experience: 30 years farming with as few pesticides as possible. He explained his agricultural practices: managing small plots, implementing crop rotation longer than 5 years, avoiding early sowing, keeping observations the crops, using less sensitive crop varieties to parasites and pathogens, using biological control, planting melliferous shrubs and trees…It is fundamental to communicate on these alternatives which already exist. Measures should be put in place with a result-based and territorial approach, coupled with a monitoring and assessment system of the results.

NGOs highlighted the last EU environmental report, which demonstrates that the EU policy on biodiversity has failed. They questioned the flexibility of Member states regarding the Ecological Focus Areas and monoculture. Finally, they reaffirmed the opportunity to integrate the sustainable use of pesticide directive within the CAP.

MEPs said bees are a main political issue. We do not need more alarms, we need to work in a more efficient way and create a strategic partnership with bees and beekeepers. A holistic and cross sector approach (involving farmers, beekeepers, researchers, veterinarians, committed policies…) must be developed and implemented in the entire EU territory.

At the conference, Bee Life has highlighted the link between bee health, environment quality and agricultural practices. Bee Life encourages the Commission - DG SANTE, DG ENVI, DG AGRI - to work together to tackle the pollinators and environmental health challenges.

For more information access the IUCN article

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