21 Sep 2021
Bees are hugely important for our environment. They pollinate nearly all wild and agricultural plants and ensure incredible diversity in our ecosystem. But for many years now, the number of bees dying has been increasing dramatically. With our sponsorship, we hope to help protect honeybees and promote their welfare.
Bees are irreplaceable
Albert Einstein already warned us in 1949: “If bees disappear from the earth one day, then humanity has just four years left to live. No bees mean: no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more people.”
1.1 million bee colonies and 550 species of wild bees live in Germany. We currently have around 160,000 beekeepers – most of whom do it as a hobby, just 2% of them are professional beekeepers. Germany is one of the largest consumers of honey in the world – on average we each eat around 1 kg of honey per year. Because German beekeepers cannot supply all of our honey, almost 80 % of the honey on supermarket shelves is imported.
Bees are hugely important for maintaining our culture and agriculture. In addition to valuable products such as honey or propolis, bees perform a vital task: pollinating flowers. This is essential for many types of fruit to grow. One food item in three is directly or indirectly dependent on pollination by bees. This makes bees the third most important type of livestock, after cattle and pigs. One bee colony can pollinate up to 30 million flowers every day.
For almost no other type of food are such long distances travelled as for honey. To produce one jar of honey, a bee colony flies 150,000 km, or around three times around the Earth.
Dying bees – why are the busy helpers disappearing?
The existence of bees has been severely threatened for years now. Beekeepers first reported remarkably high loss rates of bee colonies in the winters of 2002/2004. This kicked off a debate about bees dying. A study by the German be monitoring project (DeBiMo) investigated the increasing number of incidents and determined a variety of causes:
Pesticide – In previous decades there has been an increased use of pesticides. Neurotoxins in particular threaten the existence of many insects – including bees.
Varroa mites – Varroa mites were introduced to Europe from Asia at the end of the 1970s, to the considerable detriment of the native bee population. The mites penetrate the eggs’ brood cell, where they lay their own eggs and hatch their larvae. The bees cannot defend themselves from the parasites and die early.
Destruction of habitat – Monocultures take up enormous areas and eliminate a huge range of flowering plants, trees and hedges. On top of this, green areas in cities are becoming smaller or disappearing completely. This means the insects have fewer places to live.
The climate crisis – Changes to the climate bring the bees out of their natural equilibrium. Strong variations in temperature make them more susceptible to varroa mites. What’s more, mild winters result in them becoming active too early, before there is any pollen for them to collect. This costs the colony unnecessary energy which could lead to the bees starving.
Wild bees: endangered
Very often, when people say “bees” they are talking about honeybees. But due to industrial agriculture, more than 550 species of wild bees are endangered. They are just as indispensable to ecological diversity as honeybees are, and help pollinate wild plants.
How can we protect bees?
Bees play a critical role in our ecosystem. Two thirds of crops rely on pollination by bees. However, there are several measures which can be taken to help protect bees better:
- Strips of wildflowers are areas set aside for the growth of many different types of flowering plants, offering biological diversity for insects.
- Frequently, honey must be imported from non-EU countries such as South America, China etc. In those countries, plants are often genetically modified and their pollen can get into the honey. Plus the long transport routes result in increased carbon dioxide emissions. This is why we should always buy regional honey, or directly from the beekeeper.
- Bee-friendly plants on our balconies and in our gardens can also help protect insects.
- There is another problem with imported honey. They import diseases, such as American foulbrood. Spore residues in jars of honey can infect native bee colonies. This is why it’s important to thoroughly clean the honey jars before recycling them.
- The food we choose to eat can also help protect bees. Organically produced seasonal and regional food generally does without harmful pesticides.
- There are fewer and fewer nesting sites for wild bees. Insect hotels help create more possibilities for wild bees to nest.
- By sponsoring bees we are supporting the work of regional beekeepers. This helps to protect bees and promote their welfare.