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Let's Use All that Pollinators Have to Tell Us to Improve Future Policies

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

As European institutions and Member States continue to shape the future Common Agricultural Policy, some measures must be safeguarded and improved. The future CAP will use tools to monitor its impact on the environment. One such tool to monitor the status of pollinators within the CAP framework, in conjunction with other policies affecting the landscape, is the Pollinator Index. This tool is currently in development by the European Commission's DG Environment as established in the EU Pollinators Initiative [1]. The current proposal, however, does

not exploit fully the potential of the environmental information pollinators can provide us.

Participants in the trilogues not only need to ensure that the Pollinator Index is an integrated monitoring component in the CAP, but they also need to ensure it is sufficiently ambitious to understand conditions in the field correctly. This goal is only achievable by including both wild pollinators and honeybees in a future Pollinator Index.

DG ENVI's proposal for a Pollinator Index is conservative because there are many other parameters we get from pollinators that could be integrated. We consider the division of wild and domestic pollinators artificial because all pollinators are subject to the same environmental stressors. Furthermore, valuable complementary information can be achieved from working also with managed honeybees. Beekeepers and scientists have used honeybee colonies as environmental samplers for many years.

One of the reasons for DG ENVI to dismiss honeybees is their role in producing food and derived colony products, thus allegedly falling beyond its institutional competence. However, this is a too narrow perspective of honeybees. Managed honeybees also provide essential pollination services with a significant beneficial impact on the overall environment, and provide a way of living in an economic sector. More importantly, managed honeybees are key monitoring partners of the abundance and quality of resources on which other pollinators depend.

Currently, monitoring in the Commission’s proposal focuses on mapping the presence and abundance of a limited number of wild pollinating species. These are necessary parameters in monitoring the status of pollinators in Europe, and it is a minimum standard that Member States should accept in the future CAP. Nevertheless, pollinators (including honeybees) can provide much more important information.

We highlight three of our proposed parameters to analyse honeybee colonies that allow extrapolating overall conditions for wild pollinators:

  • Annual winter colony losses: The winter colony loss rate is a parameter that provides an indication of the economic health of the beekeeping sector. Historically, average annual colonies loss rates reached up to 50%, which means that beekeepers lost a production capacity of 50% to produce beekeeping products and provide pollination. This obliges beekeepers either to multiply their colonies (which involves a loss of production), to buy new colonies (if there are), or to keep many more colonies knowing that during the winter half will die.

  • The botanical richness of bee collected matrices (e.g. pollen and honey analyses): The number of different botanical origins and abundance of each of them is a great indication to evaluate the plant diversity in wide-field areas (typically of a radius of 3 km). The available resources are pertinent for bee and overall pollinator health. There is clearly a direct link between the availability of nutritional resources and the abundance and well-being of both managed and wild pollinators. This indicator provides an efficacy indicator of the measures promoting the availability of resources in agricultural land (AECM, buffer strips, etc)

  • Pesticide abundance and richness in bee collected matrices: The number of different pesticides found in bee collected matrices, their quantities and risk associated are indicators evaluating the compliance of farmers with pesticide regulation and good farming practices. This parameter can and should be included while also recognising the persistence of some pesticides in the environment and their chronic and sublethal effects on pollinators that directly affect their survival rates [2] [3].

The previous parameters clearly go beyond the evaluation of honeybee health. They are the means to monitor both honeybees (including their economic dimension) and wild pollinators while providing robust methods of analysis. Additionally, monitoring schemes based on honeybee matrices are feasible. They can profit from in-place projects and initiatives at local and European levels, such as the European Food Safety Authority's MUST-B project [4].

Future policies and the goals to tackle environmental challenges that affect all pollinators can benefit from an integral perspective, one that acknowledges the variety of pollinators and the valuable information we can gather from different sources. Different pollinators provide us with different information, so let's take advantage of this diversity to improve policies and ensure better public spending!

You may also find our full proposal for a Pollinator Index below.

Article on our proposal for a Pollinator Index:

Report on the Future of CAP:



[2] Simon-Delso, N., Martin, G. S., Bruneau, E., Delcourt, C. & Hautier, L., 2017, The challenges of predicting pesticide exposure of honey bees at landscape level, Scientific Reports 7, 3801.

[3] Porrini, C. et al., 2003, Honey bees and bee products as monitors of the environmental contamination, Apiacta 38, 63–70.

[4] European Food Safety Authority. Bee Health - MUST-B Project A Holistic Approach to the

Risk Assessment of multiple stressors in honeybees.


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