Biodiversity: Protecting bees and insects

The biodiversity crisis, i.e. the rapid loss of natural and anthropogenic (agro-biodiversity) biological diversity is one of the major global crises of our time. Conserving and promoting biodiversity is key to sustainable and future-proof food production.

Honey bees, wild bees and other insects play a major role in this respect. They not only pollinate both wild and cultivated plants, thus safeguarding harvests, but also form part of a healthy and diverse environment.

The reasons for the decline in insect populations are manifold and complex and have not yet been fully researched. Key factors include land sealing, building construction, pollutant entry into the air, soils and water bodies, the use of pesticides, light pollution and the climate crisis.

However, other factors play a role in this as well, for example changes in agricultural landscape structures as a result of the decline in species-rich grassland, field margins, hedgerows, meadow orchards and other field copses, and the associated loss of habitats and feed sources..

Agriculture and biological diversity

The agricultural and forestry sectors are particularly dependent on biological diversity to ensure a supply of high-quality food and biogenic raw materials for the population and to remain productive, competitive and resilient in the long term. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity safeguards ecosystem services (e.g. pollination and soil fertility) and food production in a changing environment.

In accordance with the principle of “protection through use”, the presence of many species in farmed landscapes is directly linked to agriculture. Excessive reduction or even cessation of agricultural activities would also threaten the existence of these species. This is why what is needed is not just a balance between agricultural and forestry use on the one hand, and the protection of biodiversity on the other, but also a minimisation of land loss.

Activities to promote biological diversity in agricultural landscapes

The BMEL advocates improved measures to protect biodiversity and structural diversity in agricultural landscapes and forests with the aim of maintaining the sustainable use of these ecosystems e.g. for the production of food or raw materials.

The National Biodiversity Strategy – an ambitious inter-ministerial action programme – was adopted in 2007. This strategy also includes targets and indicators for the agricultural sector. The Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUV) is currently developing the strategy further.

The BMEL-developed National Strategy on Genetic Resources for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which was published in March 2024, picks up on the political developments and regulatory framework of the past few decades as well as on the SDGs, agreements on biodiversity, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, the Farm-to-Fork Strategy and others, and expands these to include the area of species and varietal diversity in agriculture and food. The measures addressed in this strategy and in the targeted technical programmes for genetic resources complement the national strategy, especially in its aim to promote the long-term conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for the farming, forestry, fisheries and food sectors.

To support the implementation of the strategy and technical programmes, the BMEL is investing approx. three million euros per year in the promotion of model and demonstration projects on the conservation and innovative use of biodiversity and in specific surveys aimed at recording and describing biological diversity in the German agricultural sector.

Organic farming

Organic farming means a lot of diversity in our fields and no chemically synthesised pesticides or fast-dissolving mineral fertilisers. This helps weedy plants, insects, farmland birds and soil biota, for example earthworms and micro-organisms in the soil. One of the aims that the National Strategy for 30 percen Organic Food and Farming by 2030 (2030 Organic Farming Strategy) pursues is to promote more vigorously than before the biological and genetic diversity in agricultural landscapes, crop plants and livestock for a more environmentally compatible agri-food industry.

The loss of biological diversity has disastrous consequences and is viewed as one of the greatest threats to humanity and the environment, second only to the climate crisis. Organic farms, in particular, counteract this by using long crop rotations and lots of clover grass on their fields. Long crop rotations means that each year, over many years, a different crop is cultivated on the same field.

The fact that the resource-conserving farming method of organic farming makes major contributions to promoting biodiversity has been confirmed, for example by an extensive metastudy by the Thünen Institute. The evaluation of over 500 international scientific comparative studies has shown that organically farmed areas have species numbers that are, on average, 95 percent higher for field flora, up to 35 percent higher for field birds and up to 26 percent higher for insects when compared with conventionally farmed areas.

Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL)

With its Federal Scheme for Organic Farming (BÖL), the BMEL also promotes a number of projects aimed at developing innovative, ecological and sustainable solutions for a pollinator-friendly management of agricultural areas. The BMEL also issued a call for research proposals on the protection of bees and other pollinating insects in the agricultural landscape. This was intended to attract research projects that develop and test innovative and practice-oriented products and methods for the improvement of honey bees’ resilience, for pollinator-friendly crop production and for measures for farmed landscapes (the BMEL also provides funding for relevant projects via two other BMEL support schemes).

Protein Crop Strategy

Legumes such as peas, beans, soybeans and lupins make a particular contribution towards environmentally sound and resource-conserving land management. In the organic farming sector, in particular, they are indispensable for maintaining and improving soil fertility.


  • offer food for bees and other insects even at times when other arable crops are no longer in bloom;
  • penetrate and loosen the soil;
  • serve as humus accumulators and carbon sinks;
  • fix atmospheric nitrogen through syntrophic bacteria; and
  • extend the crop rotations.

Legumes have been under competitive pressure due to the higher physical and monetary yields of competing crops (e.g. wheat, maize, sugar beets). The cultivation of legumes declined across the board until 2012. The BMEL initially developed its Protein Crop Strategy to counter this trend, to boost the competitiveness of legumes and to increase the area under cultivation again. Different measures and incentives to promote the cultivation of legumes have stopped the downward trend and significantly improved the attractiveness of the cultivation of legumes in recent years. In 2024, the Protein Crop Strategy will be developed into the BMEL’s new Protein Strategy, which will also incorporate non-leguminous protein crops such as flax, broomcorn, rapeseed and nuts.

Expanding the range of crop species has a positive influence on agrobiodiversity, i.e. species diversity, genetic diversity and the diversity of ecosystems in agricultural landscapes. And it also contributes to climate change mitigation, as the energy required in the industrial production, transportation and application of nitrogen fertilisers can be saved when legumes and their successor crops are grown.

Other political initiatives

  • One of the guidelines in the 2035 Arable Farming Strategy focuses on conserving and promoting biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. The field of action devoted to biodiversity lists targets and measures in this area.
  • The Fertiliser Application Ordinance serves the purpose of implementing the EU Nitrates Directive and has been amended with the aim of reducing the risks associated with fertilisation, especially the discharge of nitrate into water bodies. Indirectly, this also serves to protect important insect habitats that react sensitively to excessive nutrient inputs.
  • The Insect Protection Action Programme (API) is designed to improve the living conditions of insects. The programme pools a host of measures, including in agriculture and forestry. These range from increasing structural diversity and reducing nutrient input in sensitive areas to restrictions on the use of plant protection products.

Improving the habitat conditions of bees and other insects

Many measures aimed at conserving and fostering biodiversity have positive effects on a wide range of organisms, including insects.

  • The reform of the post-2023 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union marks a step towards greater sustainability in agriculture. The introduction of “green architecture” is at the heart of this. This term refers to the design of and interplay between regulations, requirements and support measures that aim to significantly increase the services of agriculture to environmental protection and climate change mitigation. This includes the new environmental schemes and the conditionality with fundamental obligations, e.g. concerning the maintenance of land under permanent pasture, the protection of peatlands and wetlands, and of landscape features in the first pillar. In addition, multiannual environmental protection and climate change mitigation measures, including organic farming, are funded within the scope of the second pillar. Measures include diversified crop rotations, the planting of blossoming areas and buffer strips, the growing of perennial wild plant mixtures, the use of extensive grassland farming and the maintenance of hedges, boundary hedges, tree rows and orchard meadows. The promotion of non-productive nature conservation measures and contractual nature conservation is also possible. Agriculture and nature conservation are working together closely in this regard.
  • In addition to the CAP funding, some of the measures listed here are funded by the Federal Government within the scope of the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agriculture and Coastal Protection (GAK). The 2024 federal budget has over one billion euros earmarked for the GAK.
  • The BMEL supports further initiatives to improve the habitat conditions of bees and other insects. This includes consumer communication. The “Feed bees now!” initiative launched by the BMEL in 2014 is aimed at everyone who loves plants and would like to help bees and other pollinating insects. The “Bee-friendly plants” encyclopedia offers them a selection of suitable plants for balconies and gardens. Interested readers will also find further information on the importance of bees and other pollinators and tips on insect-friendly planting.
  • The BMEL supports several projects aimed at increasing species diversity on agricultural land. The following are two examples: One is the F.R.A.N.Z project (For resources, agriculture and nature conservation with a future) and was initiated in early 2017. It is headed jointly by the Umweltstiftung Michael Otto environmental foundation (UMO) and the German Farmers’ Association (DBV). Another example is the “FInAL” project, which is dedicated to promoting insects in agricultural landscapes: In this project, which was launched in late 2018, farmers work with scientists and agricultural advisors to develop insect-friendly agricultural systems in “landscape labs” (900 ha). The Thünen Institute is in charge of coordinating the FInAL project.

Monitoring and research

The Federal Government co-funds the German Bee Monitoring project (DeBiMo) with the federal states. The DeBiMo project was initiated in 2004 to investigate the periodic losses of bee colonies in winter. Since then, it has been prolonged, while being continually adapted to the current situation. The data collection in the DeBiMo project provides valuable insights into the complex topic of the health, keeping and breeding of honey bees. The project’s dimension is unique in Europe and shows that we are breaking new ground for the successful organisation and implementation of scientific research and the understanding of causes.

Since 2016, the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) – Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants – has had its own specialised institute for the protection of bees. The research activities of the scientists there focus, for example, on the interactions between bees – including wild bees and other pollinators – and agriculture.

The BMEL supports the Monitoring of Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes project (MonViA), which was launched in 2019. In 2024, the second phase of the project was launched, during which the indicators that have been developed are set to be consolidated. The broad-based monitoring in the project is designed to complement existing nature conservation monitoring. The MonViA project develops innovative indicator systems and methods that will in future provide a scientifically robust data base at national level in order to:

  • record the state and development of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes;
  • assess the influence of agricultural production, land use and agricultural structure on biodiversity;
  • assess changes in biodiversity in terms of the performance and stability of agricultural ecosystems; and
  • evaluate the impact of agri-environmental policy support instruments on biodiversity.

Citizen science-based monitoring enables farmers, associations and interested citizens to actively contribute to the collection of data for the MonViA project. In addition to the diversity and quality of agricultural habitats, the monitoring covers different groups of organisms, with a focus on insects and the ecosystem services they render. As part of the MonViA project, methodological standards are being developed that will, in the long run, be used to record wild bees and help protect bee populations. These are already being tested in Germany with the help of numerous volunteers.

The scientific management is handled by the Thünen Institute and the Julius Kühn Institute. The Information and Coordination Centre for Biological Diversity at the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food is responsible for processing the findings for policy-makers and the public. In addition to this, the Federal Government founded a scientific National Monitoring Centre on Biodiversity (NMZB), headquartered at the branch office of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Leipzig. The NMZB is steered by an inter-ministerial steering committee as well as a technical committee consisting of experts. Members of the steering committee include representatives of the Federal Ministries for the Environment (BMUV), Agriculture (BMEL), Research (BMBF), Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and Finance (BMF) as well as of the federal states.

The digital transformation of agriculture can also contribute to promoting biological diversity. State-of-the-art digital technology supports farmers in working even more precisely, for example to optimise the application of pesticides and fertilisers, and therefore use smaller amounts, which helps species diversity. To support this development, the BMEL set up a total of 14 “digital trial fields in the agricultural sector” and eight “trial fields for farms of the future”. These are digital test fields on agricultural holdings where analysis tests are carried out, for instance on how digital technologies can best be used for the protection of the environment and for enhancing animal welfare and biodiversity. They are also points of contact for interested practitioners to support the transfer of knowledge and information into practice.

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