(Beyond Pesticides, December 3, 2008) In an effort to boost declining bee populations and to stave off further agricultural losses, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a measure to create bee recovery zones across the continent. The recovery zones will provide bees places to forage that teem with a diversity of plants rich in nectar and pollen, as well as free of pesticides.
The resolution does not set specific quotas for areas to be set aside as safe havens for bees, but its main proponent, British Member of Parliament Neil Parish, says he hopes European governments promote the creation of enough recovery zones within their borders to transform at least 1 percent of the continent’s cultivated areas into havens for bees.
“They are just grassy lands left uncultivated and unfertilized, where flowers can grow freely, to the benefit of insects who feed on them,” says Raffaele Cirone, president of the Federation of Italian Beekeepers. “Leaving areas uncultivated is part of the farming and beekeeping tradition in Italy and many other European countries.”
The resolution also promotes the idea of “compensation zones,” which would be cultivated with protein-rich flowers. Poor nutrition from monoculture crops is believed to be one factor contributing to bee population decline. The use of pesticides in many modern agricultural practices has also reduced the amount of bee-friendly landscapes, according to scientists. Switzerland already has a law setting mandatory quotas of “environmental compensation zones,” ranging from 1 to 2 percent of cultivated areas.
“In the past two decades, the improper use of pesticides has forced most of us to leave the areas close to cultivated fields and to move to the hills,” says Mr. Cirone, who is also a beekeeper. He welcomed the EU measure because it would encourage farmers to go back to traditional practices that benefit bees. “It’s the least we can do if we want to stop this emergency.”
The rapid decline of bee populations, also known as colony collapse disorder or CCD, continues to baffle scientists. Discovered by U.S. beekeepers two years ago, CCD has since spread across much of Western Europe. The causes of the disorder are not thoroughly understood but several suspects have been named including pesticides, mites, pathogens and even climate change. Some studies have pointed to a lack of nutritional food for bees. Certain kinds of flowers, including white clover and wild mustard, produce nectar that is particularly rich in protein and other nutrients that are useful to the well-being of insects, according to research. However, the cultivation of crops and vegetables that are favored by humans, but poor in nutritious nectars has deprived bees of a major protein source.
Europe-wide, an estimated $1.25 billion in agriculture has already disappeared with the bees. Many fruit and vegetable crops — from almonds and pears to soybeans and cucumbers — depend on bees for pollination. In fact, about three-quarters of all food grown in Europe is somehow dependent on bees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that one out of every three mouthfuls of food is dependent on bee pollination, and globally up to two-thirds of all major crops relies on pollination, mainly by bees.
For more on CCD and the plight of the bees, read “Pollinators and Pesticides” published in the Fall 2008 issue of Pesticides and You.
Source: Christian Science Monitor