The importance of bees for the world

Bees are an essential animal for both the ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. Sadly, as a result of human activities, the quantity of bees and the number of bee species are decreasing alarmingly. It’s time to create a ‘buzz’ about the significance of bees!
For years, bees have carried the reputation of a dangerous bug, often mistaken for aggressive wasps. Today we know better than to fear for their sting. Bees (and insects in general) are indispensable because of their unique role on Earth: 80% of all edible plants and almost 90% of wild plants depend on bee pollination for reproduction or evolution.
According to the Intelligent Living website, there are 358 different bee species in the Netherlands, but more than half of them are already endangered and placed on the Dutch Red List of threatened species. (The Red List Index shows trends in the threat status of all European flora and fauna species).
As nature programme Vroege Vogels explained: “Without bees, no vegetables, no nuts, no chocolate, no coffee, and no fruit. So, we need them”.

Why are they in danger?
The decrease in bee numbers has various causes. According to Koos Biesmeijer, scientific director at the national museum of natural history Naturalis, one of them is the lack of nature areas in which they can live: “Bees need two things: bed and breakfast. They need a place to nest, such as a bee hotel. And they need flowers. So, tiles out and flowers in.”

Another significant cause that contributes to bee extinction is the use of pesticides in agriculture. Romée van der Zee, a specialist in the subject, in 2015 studied the effect of a pesticide called neonicotinoid and concluded that it appears to have a significant share in bee mortality. The EU introduced a plan to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, the European bee guideline. The proposal states that no new pesticides can enter the market unless tests have shown that they do not pose a danger to bees. However, Minister of Agriculture Carola Schouten decided not to impose stricter requirements on producers of pesticides; instead, she introduced a watered-down version of the proposal.

Municipalities set the example
Despite this, the situation regarding bees has positively changed in the Netherlands, according to insect expert Vincent KalkmanL “The results indicate that bees are certainly not doing badly in the urban environment. Awareness among residents and municipalities for bees seems to help.”

Municipalities set the example by taking action. For instance, some have adjusted their mowing policies, leaving more flowering plants for bees. But the best response to the decline in the bee population was introduced in Utrecht, which turned to urban beekeeping by transforming a total of 316 bus stops into “bee stops”. These are standard covered bus stops with grass and wildflowers planted on the rooftops to encourage pollination. This creative nature policy supports the city’s biodiversity by attracting honeybees, bumblebees and other bee species.

Bee by bee
De Nationale Bijentelling (National Bee Count) is a project by various nature associations that aim to find out as much as possible about the state of the bees in the Netherlands, in order to help protect the species. As stated on its webpage: “The more we know about bees, the better we can help the bee. That is why we ask everyone to participate in the national bee survey.” Researchers use the National Bee Count results to see where the different bee species occur in the Netherlands and whether those numbers are increasing or decreasing.

In 2019, more than 5,000 people participated in the National Bee Count, and counted almost 54,000 individual bees. Biesmeijer indicated that it is necessary to compare about five years in a row to determine trends in bee populations in private gardens.

Want to bee involved?
If you feel like joining the cause, there are many easy ways to do so:

  • Plant native plants, which flower at different times of the year;
  • Buy raw honey from local farmers;
  • Purchase products from sustainable agricultural practices;
  • Avoid the use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in the garden;
  • Protect wild bee colonies (when possible);
  • Make a bee water fountain by leaving a water bowl outside.

In short, remember that there is no need to fear the busy little bees. Instead, we should be protecting them, as they represent an essential element in Earth’s survival.

Written by Bárbara Luque Alanis