Spotlight

Help the wild bee

6 April 2018

Half of all wild bee species are under threat of extinction in the Netherlands. 188 of the 358 species found here are currently on the red list (Dutch) of threatened species. A large number of hoverflies are also disappearing at an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Why is it a problem? And what can we do about it?

Many different kinds of bees

Bees come in many different shapes and sizes. The most famous bee is the honey bee, which is kept by people. In the wild you’ll find mining bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and bumblebees. Their differences are apparent in their names. Mining bees love dry and warm areas and love to mine in open, sandy soils near bushes. Mason bees use mud, saliva and water to create a type of cement that they use to build nests in hollow spaces such as holes in window and doors frames, abandoned beetle burrows and holes in tree-stumps. Leafcutter bees are named for the habit of the females to decorate their nest cells with pieces of leaves that they cut out using their jaws. And finally, the bumblebees which are round, furry, colourful buzzers.

“With simple measures such as sowing indigenous flowers and not cutting everything at the same time, you can already help the wild bees a great deal”

Arjen de Groot, ecologist at Wageningen Environmental Research

Different needs

One of the reasons that so many species of bees are disappearing, is that they cannot find sufficient food or opportunities to nest. In addition to various nesting requirements, some bees also prefer certain flowers. Furthermore, certain flowers require various types of pollinators. Wild bees tend to be more efficient pollinators than honey bees while many wild bees will also not fly further than 150 to 500 metres between their food sources and their nest. This means that their food sources and nest must be within a short distance of one another, which is not often the case these days. Moreover, pesticides and climate change also play a role in the decline of bees.

Loss of biodiversity and pollinators

If half of the bee species were to disappear, that would be a significant loss to biodiversity. It is also a problem for nature and agriculture. Wild bees are important pollinators for wild flowers, bushes, trees and for many food crops. For example, they are responsible for more than half of the total harvest in the cultivation of Elstar apples. These pollinators are also an important part of the cultivation of pears, strawberries and blueberries.

The solution

In order to create enough living space for bees, we need to make adjustments to our landscape. We need more flowers and places to nest, more ‘messy’ edges and corners.

Government and a wide variety of organisations have developed the Nationale Bijenstrategie (Dutch) (national bee strategy) to counter the loss of our bees. More than fifty parties have joined this initiative and this number continues to grow.

Researchers from Wageningen University & Research support anyone who wants to help wild bees through the Kennisimpuls Bestuivers (Dutch) (knowledge boost for pollinators), by providing knowledge about what you should do at which spot and which types of bees you can help with which plants and which type of management. They work with colleagues from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten (Dutch) to do so.

Activities

Help the wild bee - initiative highway flowers and plants‘Farmers may predominantly benefit from having more pollinators around, but it is clear that bees and hoverflies need far more living area than farmers can offer them. It is therefore incredibly important that as many people as possible undertake activities that help our pollinators’, explains ecologist and project leader Arjen de Groot from Wageningen Environmental Research. ‘There is already a great deal of knowledge about what bees need, but for people who want to do something, this knowledge is still too fragmented and complicated. Therefore, we adapt and combine this knowledge for specific target groups.’

They are going to compose a manual with basic rules for choosing and creating a living area that is suitable for wild bees. For example, if you want food crops to be pollinated, it is important that there is plenty of food for the bees before and after flowering. ‘It’s not all that complicated and you can already make a significant contribution with just a few simple measures. But there are some details to which you need to pay attention’, warns De Groot.

Five tips:

  1. When planting flowers, use indigenous plant species (Dutch) and avoid exotic garden plants, as our bees are often unable to extract nectar from these plants.
  2. Use perennial plants. These are more valuable to bees and don’t have to be replanted every year.
  3. Ensure that you cut vegetation regularly and dispose of the cuttings, or your flowerbed will turn into a patch of grass in just a few years.
  4. But don’t cut everything at the same time, so that insects can always find food and shelter. Bee-friendly cutting (Dutch).
  5. Create nesting dikes (Dutch). Just a few bee species nest in bee hotels, most nest underground.

The researchers are also heading up six regional initiatives in which various parties work together. These include a practical network of apple growers in Betuwe and a bee preservation landscape project (Dutch) on the Brabantse Wal (wall of Brabant). ‘We are testing measures here as well’, says De Groot.

Help desk

Through the Kennisimpuls, WUR also offers a help desk (Dutch) for questions about creating, managing and organising landscapes for wild pollinating bees. Researchers can always stop by for advice.

This year, researchers consulted with Leidingenstraat Nederland (LSNed). This company manages a barrier-free pipeline route between the industrial areas of Rotterdam and Moerdijk towards Vlissingen and Antwerp. This underground highway of pipelines is 80 kilometres long and 100 metres wide and is mostly used as meadowlands or arable land. The recommendations concerned the construction of a wooded bank and how to build it and what trees to use and a cutting regime.

Funding

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality funds Kennisimpuls Bestuivers. The Ministry also funds the Kennisimpuls Groene Gewasbescherming (Dutch) (knowledge boost for green crop protection) which focuses on making crop protection more sustainable and faster. Within this context, Wageningen University & Research is developing new cultivation systems which make strawberries, lilies, apples and arable crops far less reliant on chemical crop protection.

Further reading

Learn more about biodiversity and the research that is being conducted by Wageningen University & Research in this longread.


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Arjen de Groot

Arjen de Groot

De Groot has been working as an ecologist at Wageningen Environmental Research (WENR) since 2012. He researches the services that insects such as pollinators and natural pest controls provide for humans and the preservation and improvement thereof. De Groot is also involved with the WENR laboratory for ecological genetics.

There are 9 comments.

  1. By: Ad Verwoerd · 08-04-2018 at 08:39

    Can you send me the story in Dutch ?

  2. By: AHMED · 08-04-2018 at 09:24

    GOOD

  3. By: Christopher Dapaah · 08-04-2018 at 10:11

    Good. The concerns are relevant to the crop production. How to we work together . In Ghana bees are facing bushfires and chemicals sprays challenges

  4. By: Kalyango Francis · 08-04-2018 at 17:18

    Good ideas there to save the Indigenous bees. Let’s also thinks about reduce the use of synthetic chemical/ pestcides in the flower gardens, opt for organics because as we know these chemicals accumulate in their bodies and kill or mutate them (bio accumulation)

  5. By: Esther Roest · 09-04-2018 at 14:36

    i have just bought 20 cocons of Osmia rufa, flower seed for the garden and a bee hotel. Love those little busy friends.

  6. By: Kim Snoek · 09-04-2018 at 18:50

    I plant bee friendly plants and flowers. Vary them regularly and have several fruit trees too. Garden is always full of different bees(and butterflys)

  7. By: Muhereza Mark · 10-04-2018 at 14:12

    I’m so impressed by the initiatives. Just wondering how I acan adapt I it to our local tropical conditions. I’m in Uganda and the most affecting factors to the pollinators is excessive and careless use of Agro chemicals..Some farmers spray herbicides in their lawns up to the door step!

  8. By: mahboobe · 11-04-2018 at 13:56

    Dear Madam/Sir,
    This is mahboube golafshan. I had graduated in agricultural entomology at university of Tehran in Iran.
    As you know, the importance of insects — which make up around 70% of all animal species — is underestimated in my country.
    I am interested to research about insects and especially global insect decline in Iran and monitoring some habitat.
    I want to ask if your organization tend to support such project in another country.
    I’m getting in touch to ask if you can give me any advice or direction about that
    Please let me know, if you require any further information.
    Best regards
    Mahboube golafshan

  9. By: MUHAMMAD KAMILU AHMAD · 12-04-2018 at 16:08

    In discriminate bush burning and application of chemicals lead bees species loss in sub-saharan region. Your initiative is a welcome idea World wide and should be adopted in Nigeria.

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