Biodiversity Protecting bees and insects

Both natural biodiversity and so-called 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 biological diversity are key future challenges.

Both natural biodiversity and so-called 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 biological diversity are key future challenges.

Bees, wild bees and other pollinators play a particularly important role in this respect. They conserve, for example, biological diversity by pollinating wild and cultivated plants, thus securing good harvests. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) is therefore committed to their protection.

The decline in insect populations is currently being intensively discussed. There are many reasons for this decline, e.g.:

  • climate change
  • changes in the structures of landscapes, such as fewer field edges, hedges or graduated forest margins, and settlement development resulting in destruction of habitats and loss of food sources
  • management and use of countryside, including by agriculture (e.g. water bodies, meadows and fields)
  • occurrence of harmful substances and light pollution
  • traffic and traffic infrastructure
  • improper use of plant protection products

Agriculture and biological diversity

The agricultural and forestry sectors also rely on biological diversity to ensure the supply of high-quality food to 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, 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.

Activities to promote biological diversity in agricultural landscapes

The BMEL advocates improved measures to protect biodiversity and structural diversity in agricultural landscapes and forests without endangering the sustainable use of these ecosystems e.g. for the production of food or raw materials.

In 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 concerning the agricultural sector. The BMEL sectoral strategy for 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 the requirements of biodiversity under the motto “protection through use”.

With a view to supporting the implementation of the strategy and the complementing technical programmes, the BMEL is investing approx. three million Euros per year in the promotion of model and demonstration projects in the field of conservation and innovative use of biodiversity and in specific surveys 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, among other things, 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 it also includes, in particular, non-productive land use like fallow arable land, buffer strips and landscape features such as hedges. Since the 2018 application year, farmers have 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 orchard meadows, 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.
  • Since 2017, the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection has also allowed for the promotion of investment-related nature conservation measures and, since 2018, for contract-based nature conservation. Agriculture and nature conservation are working closely together in this regard, especially in the latter case.
  • With regard to the post-2020 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. Measures will in the future be checked for effectiveness with the help of indicators.
  • The BMEL supports further initiatives to improve the habitat conditions of bees and other insects. This includes consumer communication. Everybody can contribute to the protection of bees and other insects. To this end, the BMEL has launched the "Feed bees now” initiative together with more than 500 DIY stores and garden centres. This initiative is aimed at everyone who loves plants and would like to help bees. The BMEL bee app and brochure present plants that are particularly good for bees because they provide food for them. Since summer 2018, beehives have been located on the BMEL premises. The BMEL has invited other ministries and the federal states to also make an active contribution towards providing food sources for bees and insects.
  • In addition to this, the BMEL supports a project aimed at increasing diversity on agricultural land, the so-called “F.R.A.N.Z” project for future-proof resources, agriculture and nature conservation. This project was launched in early 2017 and is supported by the Umweltstiftung Michael Otto (UMO) environmental foundation and the German Farmers' Association (DBV).

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 achieving a 20% share in agricultural land by the year 2030 (German Sustainable Development Strategy, Strategy for the Future of Organic Farming). With its Federal Scheme for Organic Farming and Other Forms of Sustainable Agriculture (BÖLN), 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 “notice on the promotion of research projects on the protection of bees and other pollinator insects in the agricultural landscape”: This is intended to specifically promote the development and testing of innovative and practice-oriented products and methods to improve the resilience of honey bees, pollinator-friendly plant protection and arable production methods, and corresponding measures in agricultural areas. The BMEL “Feed bees now” campaign is also funded through the BÖLN scheme.

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

Legumes

  • penetrate and loosen the soil;
  • serve as humus accumulators and carbon sinks;
  • diversify 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 these crops is declining. The BMEL developed its Protein Crop Strategy in 2012 to counter this trend, boost the competitiveness of legumes and 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 industrial production, transportation and the application of nitrogen fertilisers can be saved when legumes and their follower crops are cultivated.

Authorisation of plant protection products

Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) were not able to rule out the possibility that the use of certain neonicotinoids posed a risk to pollinators. In 2018, the BMEL therefore agreed to the EU Commission's proposal to restrict the use of neonicotinoids to greenhouses. Since 19 December 2018, neonicotinoids which have clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam as active substances are prohibited from being either used in the open air or sold for use in the open air. And unlike other Member States, Germany will not grant emergency authorisations for these substances which could then harm bees. At present, the EU-wide authorisation of the neonicotinoid substance of thiacloprid is being stopped by the EU Commission. Within the EU, this substance will thus not be used any more in significant amounts, from 2022 at the latest.

In addition to that, the federal government adopted the National Action Plan on Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products (NAP) in 2013. The Action Plan is part of the implementation of the EU Pesticides Framework Directive 2009/128/EC establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides. The NAP aims to further reduce the risks to humans, animals and the ecosystem that might result from the application of approved plant protection products.

Other political initiatives

  • The BMEL is currently working on an Arable Farming Strategy which will also include further measures to promote biodiversity and insects in dialogue with agriculture.
  • In addition to that, the coalition partners agreed to launch an Action Programme for Insect Protection. With this programme, the federal government intends to improve the general living conditions for insects. A key issues paper was adopted by the cabinet in June 2018. The action programme itself was then adopted by the cabinet on 4 September 2019. The implementation of this political programme must now be discussed with the agricultural and nature conservation actors.
  • 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 insect habitats that react sensitively to excessive nutrient inputs.
  • Other projects such as the Livestock Husbandry Strategy, in connection with promotion of pastoral farming and support for organic farming, also contribute to the protection of 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 the DeBiMo with € 400,000 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 for research on the subject of insect protection.

The BMEL is working on a system for monitoring agricultural biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. This allows the causes of the decline in species and the effects of the measures taken to be more reliably assessed, as well as new countermeasures to be formulated. In addition to that, the federal government is establishing a scientific monitoring centre for biodiversity.

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. Such projects and research agendas to improve beekeeping are also financially supported through the Programme for promoting innovation.

Support for beekeepers

The EU Member States can establish three-year programmes under the aid scheme for the apiculture sector in order to support measures aimed at improving the production and marketing of apiculture products (apiculture programmes). These programmes are funded equally by the European Union and the Member States. The responsibility for implementing and financing the German apiculture programme (with an overall volume of approx. € 3.2 million per year) lies with the federal states. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture coordinates and monitors the implementation.

The eligible measures under this programme comprise:

  • technical assistance for beekeepers;
  • control of beehive enemies and diseases, especially varroatosis;
  • rationalisation of transhumance;
  • analysis of apiculture products in laboratories;
  • restocking of beehives;
  • cooperation with scientific organisations;
  • market monitoring; and
  • improvement of product quality with a view to exploiting the potential of products on the market.

International exchange and conferences

Under the motto “Many actors – a single goal” for the protection of honey bees, three national bee conferences were held in 2016 – in cooperation with the German Beekeepers Association (DIB) – to which stakeholders from politics, administration, agriculture, science, industry and the beekeeping sector were invited.

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