No bees, no resilience
Where would human beings be without #bees? Much of the world’s #food supply could be at risk if nothing is done to protect these important insects. Bees and other pollinators provide a crucial link for the continual supply of #crops.
Feeding on nectar and pollen from flowering plants and trees, bees #pollinate as they collect their food, allowing plants to reproduce. Built-up areas can provide a diverse source of forage for pollinators in gardens, parks and roadside verges if #bee-friendly flowers are grown.
Some plants rely on birds, bats and other animals to be pollinated, but nearly 90 per cent are pollinated by bees and other insects. Over 75 per cent of Malta’s temperate plants rely on #pollination by animals.
Root vegetables and leafy greens do not need pollinating but there is a long list of crops that depend on natural pollination, including nuts, fruits, coffee, cocoa, melons, coconut, eggplant, beans, tomatoes, green pepper, spices and sunflower seeds.
A report on the need to protect pollinators was drawn up by the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council to coincide with CHOGM 2015 where it was noted that resilience to challenges facing countries of the Commonwealth and the rest of the world must be cultivated in order to safeguard our future.
Speaking at the launch of the report on pollinators last month, Paul de Zylva from Friends of the Earth UK painted a startling picture of what life without bees and other pollinating creatures might be like if steps are not taken soon to protect them and their habitats.
The public awareness event was held parallel to last weekend’s CHOGM meeting where resilience of small states in particular featured as an overlapping theme. A number of delegates joined Maltese #beekeepers, agricultural researchers and members of the public.
“Pollination is key to resilience. You can’t talk about resilience without pollination; anything else would be flawed,” insisted De Zylva.
At times the quality of our green open spaces may be questionable. Are they always designed in a way that is good for nature? De Zylva advised design and care plans for landscaped areas.
Rather than being content with keeping some wildflowers such as borage for pollinators at the edge of their farms, farmers should look at their whole farm. Installing a border of wildflowers at the side may not be enough if attention is not given to the quality of water coming off the soil. De Zylva appealed for people to go beyond just being concerned and move toward active thinking and doing something to help bees.
The first ever assessment of European bees this year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has found that one in 10 wild bee species face extinction in Europe, while the status of more than half remains unknown.
Around 87 main crops worldwide that the human race uses for food, #medicine and materials rely on pollination. Globally this represents an economy of €153 billion.
The UK national planning policy framework mandates that the purpose of planning is to achieve sustainable development. Among its 12 key principles are protection and enhancement of the natural environment to improve biodiversity, respect for agricultural land and developing ecological corridors.
One in 10 wild bee species face extinction in Europe.
The status of more than half remains unknown.
Around 87 main crops worldwide that the human race uses for food, medicine and materials rely on pollination
Clive Harridge, secretary general of the Commonwealth Association of Town Planners, named three existing sustainable development goals (SDG) backing the protection of bees: SDG 2 – food security, SDG 11 – making cities and communities sustainable, and SDG 15 – safeguarding the use of ecosystems and halting biodiversity loss.
One of the main challenges to food security and biodiversity is the rate of urbanisation. The annual rate of population growth in Commonwealth countries is over 25 million a year. Half live in slums where planning is virtually non-existent, or at best, inefficient.
Harridge prescribed the drawing up of strategies and plans to protect agriculture, involving communities and a “move away from top-down planning where decisions are forced on people. We need new approaches to how we look at urban areas and their role in food production. Badgers, bats and newts are all protected species in the UK – they have to be planned around. Bees should be included on that list.”
Rapid urbanisation and unplanned growth is occurring massively across the Commonwealth, threatening bees and food security.
Our ability to grow watermelon, peaches, plums, bambinella and marrow, so important to Maltese cuisine, would be seriously harmed if bees disappeared.
Mario Balzan, senior lecturer on terrestrial ecology at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology’s Institute of Applied Sciences gave some insights on how biodiversity contributes to our welfare. The institute carried out a preliminary study to establish the economic value of pollinating insects in Malta based on the dependence of different crops on insect pollination; it found that pollinators contribute around 15 per cent of the total value of Malta’s agricultural produce.
A number of studies carried out in different parts of the world have shown the benefits of #crop pollination. Open pollinated strawberries are larger, and have a longer shelf life, and apples pollinated in the open grow bigger and sweeter.
Research results obtained from ongoing research indicate that planting carefully selected flowering plants close to crops can increase the abundance of natural enemies of pests, leading to improved crop yields. Maintaining plant diversity in agricultural landscapes can have multiple benefits as this improves the conservation of insects that regulate agricultural crop yield.
Apart from having an impact on the food we eat, what would our rural landscapes look like without bees to pollinate wildflowers?
Balzan called for an improved understanding of the threats to bees and pollinators and the important contribution they make to our well-being and the economy. Developing our knowledge on bees and pollinators can help formulate evidence-based policies for their protection and sustainable use.
As bees provide us with such an important service, creating a network of protected areas for pollinators would be a good start.
Besides #honey bees there is a high diversity of wild bees in Malta that are probably important for crop pollination though there is still much to be discovered as to which pollinators are essential to which crops.
Speaking on the way we build our homes and grow our food, Peppi Gauci of Baħrija Oasis referred to permaculture as a useful design science, mimicking patterns and cycles found in nature.
“When we work closely with nature in this way, nature is giving us feedback – being responsive, showing us what we can do better.”
As the discussion was opened to the floor, Antoine Gatt, an Mcast lecturer in integrated garden design and manager for the University’s EU Life Med green roof project, commented on how quickly an area filled with plants attracts a range of helpful insects. The project, which has been set up on the roof of the Faculty of the Built Environment, has undergone successful trials. Every effort is made to avoid the use of pesticides because beneficial insects visit the test beds on a regular basis, including bees.
John Portelli, vice president of the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, noted that the flower industry could be an important insect haven for organic agriculture.
A local beekeeper pointed out that some of the low-maintenance indigenous species that contractors are encouraged to plant in landscaping of roundabouts may not be the most suitable for bees and that chemicals are destroying beneficial floral species. Malta’s #beekeeping association is tired of being ignored by the authorities.
All over the world, climate change is affecting the global range of some bees, yet habitat loss, followed by unnecessary use of pesticides, remain the main threats to these essential winged service providers.