Biodiversity: Protecting bees and insects

Both natural biodiversity and agrobiodiversity, i.e. biodiversity created and used by humankind, are in decline. This development is evident all over the world – including in Germany. Protecting and maintaining species diversity and biodiversity are key future challenges, also for food production.

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

The reasons for the decline in insect populations are manifold and complex and have not yet been fully researched. Key factors include sealing and building on land for commercial, infrastructural and residential purposes, traffic and transport infrastructure, pollutant entry into soils and water bodies, light pollution and increasing changes in the climate.

However, other factors play a role in this as well, for example changes in the 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 particularly rely on biological diversity to ensure the supply of high-quality food for the population and to remain productive and competitive in the long term. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity safeguards ecosystem services (e.g. pollination and soil fertility) and production potential in a changing environment.

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. A balance must be struck or maintained between agricultural and forestry use on the one hand and the protection of biodiversity on the other.

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.

As early as 2007, the Federal Government adopted a National Biodiversity Strategy: an overarching and ambitious action programme for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This strategy also includes targets and indicators for the agricultural sector. The BMEL sectoral strategy on agrobiodiversity and targeted technical programmes for genetic resources complement the national strategy and are primarily aimed at promoting the long-term conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for the farming, forestry, fisheries and food sectors.

The aim is to bring this target more into line with biodiversity requirements based on the idea of “protection through use”.

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.

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 EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) adopted in late 2013 has geared the CAP even more than before towards remunerating the provision of services to society. So-called greening calls for concrete services to be rendered by the farming sector for climate change mitigation, biodiversity, diverse cultural landscapes and sustainable production.
  • Farmers are not only required to cultivate a variety of crops and to maintain permanent grassland but also, for example, to dedicate 5% of their arable land to so-called ecological focus areas. This includes productive land use such as the cultivation of nitrogen-fixing crops and intercrops, and also, in particular, non-productive land use such as fallow arable land, buffer strips and landscape features such as hedges. Since the 2018 application year, farmers have had two new options that are of importance to the protection of bees and insects: fallow land with flowering seeds as ecological focus areas and the cultivation of Silphium perfoliatum.
  • Other important instruments to promote agricultural biodiversity include the agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs) under the 2nd pillar of the CAP. They provide remuneration, for example, for diversified crop rotation, the cultivation of blossoming areas/strips and buffer strips, extensive grassland farming and the maintenance of hedges, boundary hedges, tree rows, woody plants and meadow orchards, as well as the conversion to and maintenance of organic farming. In addition to this, the federal states promote region-specific measures aimed at the preservation of specific plant varieties and animal species.
  • In addition, the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK) has also allowed for the promotion of investment-related nature conservation measures and contract-based nature conservation. Agriculture and nature conservation are working together closely in this regard. Moreover, the Federal Government has, together with the federal states, established a special framework plan on "Measures to promote insect protection in agricultural landscapes" (SRP I) under GAK. This plan can be used, for instance, to provide additional funding for blooming strips and species-rich permanent grassland. For 2021, the Federal Government earmarked 85 million euros for this special framework plan. Together with 40 percent co-financing by the federal states, a total of up to 141 million euros will be available for the promotion of insects. This is a measure under the Insect Protection Action Programme.
  • With regard to the post-2022 development of the CAP, the BMEL intends to use targeted measures to better support and remunerate agricultural services aimed at conserving and promoting biodiversity, protecting the environment, promoting animal welfare and conserving natural resources. The direct payments will continue to help protect and stabilise incomes but will also be more oriented towards maintaining the societal functions of agriculture, such as the preservation of biodiversity. The 2nd pillar of the CAP will also continue to provide targeted funding for climate stewardship, the sustainable development of natural resources and the protection of biodiversity.
  • The BMEL supports further initiatives to improve the habitat conditions of bees and other insects. These include, on the one hand, 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" plant encyclopedia offers them a selection of suitable plants for balconies and gardens. Here, those interested will also find further information on the importance of bees and other pollinators and tips on bee-friendly planting.
  • In addition to this, the BMEL supports two projects aimed at increasing species diversity on agricultural land. One example is the so-called F.R.A.N.Z project (For resources, agriculture and nature conservation with a future [Für Ressourcen, Agrarwirtschaft und Naturschutz mit Zukunft]): this project was launched in early 2017 and is jointly managed by Umweltstiftung Michael Otto (environmental foundation, UMO) and the German Farmers' Association (DBV). Another example is the "FInAL" project – Promotion of insects in agricultural landscapes (Förderung von Insekten in Agrarlandschaften): In this project, which was launched in late 2018, farmers work with scientists and agricultural advisors to develop insect-friendly agricultural systems in so-called landscape labs (900 ha). The Thünen Institute is in charge of coordinating the FInAL project.

Organic Farming

Organic farming makes an important contribution to promoting biodiversity. This has also been confirmed by a comprehensive meta study carried out 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% higher for field flora, up to 35% higher for field birds and up to 26% higher for insects when compared with conventionally farmed areas.

The BMEL supports organic farming as a particularly resource-conserving type of farming, with the aim of having 30% of agricultural land in Germany farmed organically by the year 2030.

Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL)

With its Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL), the BMEL also promotes 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 (BMEL also provides funding for relevant projects via two other BMEL support schemes). The BMEL's “Feed bees now” campaign is also funded through the BÖL scheme.

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.


  • penetrate and loosen the soil;
  • serve as humus accumulators and carbon sinks;
  • extend the crop rotations; and
  • provide food for bees and wild insects when in bloom.

But legumes have been under pressure due to the higher physical and monetary yields of competing crops. Cultivation of legumes has declined across the board. The BMEL developed its Protein Crop Strategy in 2012 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.

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

  • In late 2019, the BMEL presented a discussion paper on the "2035 Arable Farming Strategy", which also included further measures to promote biodiversity and insects in dialogue with agriculture. An arable farming strategy is currently being drawn up on the basis of the discussion paper and the subsequent public debate.
  • 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. The special framework plan on "Insect Protection in Agricultural Landscapes" provided additional funding in order to support agriculture in providing practical insect protection.
  • Many measures included in the Insect Protection Package adopted by the Federal Cabinet in 2021 are aimed at protecting and creating specific habitats. They are intended to
    • protect the habitats in national nature reserves (national parks, nature reserves, national nature monuments, natural landmarks and protected biotopes) from being used more intensively by prohibiting herbicides and certain insecticides;
    • promote the biodiversity of grassland in fauna-flora-habitat areas - also by prohibiting the use of herbicides and specific insecticides;
    • strengthen water bodies as connectors of biotopes by creating extensively managed field margins (by banning plant protection products); and
    • designate certain hay meadows (lowland hay meadows, mountain meadows), meadow orchards, dry-stone walls and clearance cairns as legally protected biotopes.
  • Other projects such as the Livestock Husbandry Strategy, in conjunction with the promotion of pastoral farming, also help protect insects.

Monitoring and research

The Federal Government co-finances with the federal states the German Bee Monitoring (DeBiMo) project with a view to reducing the periodic losses of bee colonies in winter. The monitoring activities since 2004 have provided valuable insights into the complex issue of bee health, beekeeping and apiculture. The BMEL and the federal states will continue to support DeBiMo by earmarking 400,000 euros per year.

The dimension of the German Bee Monitoring project 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. In 2018, the BMEL provided an additional 6 million euros for research on the subject of insect protection.

The BMEL supports the Monitoring of Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes project – MonViA, which was launched in 2019. The broad-based monitoring in the project is designed to complement the existing nature conservation monitoring. MonViA 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 help collect data for MonViA. 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, method standards are being developed that will, in the long run, be used to record wild bees in a way that protects bee populations. These are already being tested in Germany with the help of numerous volunteers.

The scientific work is conducted 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 competent for processing the findings for policy-makers and the public. In addition, the Federal Government founded a scientific monitoring centre on biodiversity (NMZB) based in Leipzig.

Another key point is digitalisation: If agricultural machinery is controlled by satellites and sensors, farmers can work more accurately and apply plant protection products and fertilisers in a more targeted way and thus reduce the amount they use. A total of 14 digital trial fields in agriculture have been established throughout Germany. Trial fields are digital test fields on agricultural holdings used to perform analysis tests, 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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