Bees and Pollinators – A Commonwealth Concern
Report Launch, Malta, Tuesday 24th November 2015
The big day finally arrived after over a year of planning by CHEC’s Bees and pollinator steering committee. A full house attended the Malta, CHOGM event at the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies and our report was launched “Pollinators: A Commonwealth Concern’ addressing the urgency to find solutions on the decline of bees and pollinators impact on food security across the Commonwealth. Although not all were present, CHEC’s steering committee included the academic Dr Katherine Baldock and Paul De Zylva of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Island. More recently Friends of the Earth Malta joined in and it was their exceptional efforts which made it possible to organise such a successful event in Malta.
Over 100 people attended the panel and launch – from ordinary Maltese citizens interested in how they can help bees, professional academics involved in teaching agriculture, international delegates from the many CHOGM forms and invited representatives of the government of Malta and Elizabeth Stephen, the Political Officer to the Canadian High Commission to the UK.
The chair of CHEC’s Bee and pollinator steering group Jane Samuels was joined on the panel by Clive Harridge, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Association of Planners, Paul De Zylva, Head of Nature at Friends of the Earth UK, Dr Mario Balzan, an eco-systems and pollinator professor at the Malta Institute of Applied Science and Peppi Gauci, the Chairman of the Maltese Permaculture Research Foundation.
Jane introduced the event reflecting on the theme of this year’s People’s Forum on what makes societies resilient and providing the background on why CHEC chose to address the decline of pollinators due to the damaging impact of climate change, loss of habitat and pesticides and impact on food security. In setting out a strategy for CHEC’s steering committee she explained the importance on partnerships with Friends of the Earth and the role of youth. Jane explained how key academics contributed evidence and solutions to the report including Dr Catherine Baldock on Urban pollinators, Dr Simon Potts and his work on global food security for the intergovernmental panel on biodiversity and ecosystems, Dr Wanja Kinuthia, coordinating UNEP pollinator project in Kenya, Dr Nigel Rayne’s contribution on Canada and Dr Mario Balzan case study on Malta. it becomes clear how different species of bees and pollinators play their part in the variety of global crops and how their biodiversity must be protected. The next panelist was Friends of the Earth director of nature, Paul de Zylva on key concern of food security with stark facts on our human ecology response to bees and the risks to their survival. In 2005 pollinators were worth 164 billion dollars to the global economy. They pollinate 87% of the crops we consume. Yet we have lost 20 species of bee since 1900 in the UK and 35 further species are currently under threat of extinction. As Mr De Zylva said – “we have to be the generation that saves the bee”. Paul provided much needed examples of their efforts in England to inspire members of parliament to agree a national pollinator strategy and even the Prime Minister David Cameron helping to plant a wild flower meadow to restore the habitats needed for pollinators.
It was particularly interesting to hear the thoughts of Mr Harridge on how bees could be considered in urban planning. He felt the biggest risk to bees was the threat to urban and peri-urban agriculture and habitats from the current trends of rural-city migration. Clive emphasised how the efforts of the new Sustainable Development Goals including the interconnection of sustainable cities, food security and protection of biodiversity could focus on bees and pollinators. Clive provided possible solutions to protect urban agriculture and necessary ecosystem habitats with both participatory planning for inclusion and implementing planning controls to protect these areas from over development. Clive did not underestimate the complexity and substantial challenges ahead as the rate of urban populations continues to grow.
We were particularly fortunate to have Peppi Gauci on permaculture, the only one on the panel who grows and build permaculture habitats and has won awards for his efforts. Peppi gave clarity that all the work we do has effect. He told us nature will respond almost instantly to whatever efforts we make, describing his own astonishment in seeing how quickly the bees and pollinators respond to newly planted habitats he creates. Dr Balzan from Malta ended the panel’s presentation grounding the discussion in the practical reality and way ahead for Malta. Again he reminded the audience how the biodiversity provided by bees is vital for food security: “you can have the pasta, but you can’t have the pasta sauce”. The fact is around 15 per cent of Malta’s total agricultural produce – or €8 million a year – is dependent on bees and other pollinating species. He also spoke about the moral obligation to save pollinators as well as their contribution to Maltese cultural identity.
After the event there was a chance for the audience to network with each other, taste local honey, drink mead and pastries and ask further questions of the panellists. It was particularly heartening to see the number of young people and students who felt inspired to attend the event. It is the mark of a successful event to see how many people engaged enough to ask questions. Needless to say there were more questions than the panellists had time to field.
This is only the start of our campaign to save bees and pollinators! Stay tuned to the website for further updates.
To read our report on ‘Bees and Pollinators: A Commonwealth Concern’ click here: Malta report.
To read the Times of Malta report on our event click here
National Case Studies
European honey bees (Apis mellifera) were introduced in 1822 and their ubiquity can obscure the need to conserve Australia’s wild pollinator species. There are no native bumblebee species although non-native bumblebees have also been introduced. Instead, Australia has over 1,500 wild species of native bees, the majority of which are solitary bees and 10 of which are social stingless bees. Over 50 Australian crops depend on insect pollination according to the Ecological Society of Australia.
In 2014, the gross value of production (GVP) of the beekeeping industry in 2012-13 was determined as $88 million, with a forecasted GVP of $92 million in 2013-14, by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). The relatively small beekeeping industry GVP probably understates the industry’s value to agriculture and the economy in general through pollination services which have been estimated to contribute between $620-1,730 million to the value of Australia’s annual agricultural production.
A 2008 Inquiry into the Future Development of the Australian Honey Bee Industry led to the report, More Than Honey: the future of the Australian honey bee and pollination industries, from the Government Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources. The Government convened a workshop August 2008 into acting on the report’s recommendations and to address key biosecurity risks affecting pollination-dependent industries. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry agreed to develop a strategy to support the development of viable business continuity options for honey producers and pollination-service providers, and the industries they support should parasitic Varroa mites spread in Australia.
In 2009 the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funded a 5-year national Canadian Pollination Initiative (CANPOLIN) on diverse aspects of pollinator research.
Also in 2009, the Ontario Government implemented a ban on the use of pesticides for cosmetic applications across the province in response to concerns about their potential impacts on human health and wildlife. Then, in 2015, the Ontario Government introduced new regulations to reduce usage and sale of neonicotinoid-treated seed in the province in recognition of significant concerns surrounding their impacts on bees and other beneficial insects. The regulations aim to achieve an 80% reduction in the usage of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soy bean seed from 2014 levels by 2017, and for insecticide usage to be targeted where substantial pest problems are demonstrated.
In 2016 the Ontario Government will launch a comprehensive Pollinator Health Action Plan to help improve the health of both managed honey bees and wild insect pollinators. Meanwhile, Professor Laurence Packer’s group at York University, Toronto, and the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario / University of Guelph is leading the Bee Barcode of Life Initiative (Bee-BOL), an ambitious project to ‘barcode’ all of the world’s 20,000 bee species.
Historically, Cyprus has been a haven for bees with 310 different species of wild bees, including some that are endemic, the Cyprus honey bee (Apis mellifera cypria) a Mediterranean sub-species of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), and an historically wide diversity of plant species for bees to feed from.
However, as bee and pollinator declines have raised concerns about the supply of pollination services, especially for food and farming, a 2014 study into the amount of pollinated crop areas in 41 European countries identified a significant contraction (-39%) in the overall area of crops pollinated by honeybees in Cyprus, raising concern about the ability to cope should there be major losses of wild pollinators.
In November 2014, the UK Government launched its National Pollinator Strategy (NPS), a 10 year plan to reverse bee and pollinator decline in England, in response to high public and political concern about their decline and several public campaigns, including The Bee Cause, Friends of the Earth’s bee campaign.
The Government announced its intention to draw up the NPS at the historic June 2013 Bee Summit hosted by Friends of the Earth, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) and leading food retailers, Waitrose and The Cooperative. The Bee Summit was the first time that such a diverse group of interests keen to play their part in reversing bee decline had been convened – from government, community groups and businesses to scientists and researchers, farming and conservation groups.
Friends of the Earth led a national steering group to guide early development of a draft NPS. With the publication of the NPS the group has been adopted by the Government to advise on implementing the NPS. Together the group is promoting action for pollinators by individuals, communities, businesses, land owners, farmers and others under the banner of Bees’ Needs.
The NPS aims for ‘More, bigger, better, joined-up, diverse and high-quality flower-rich habitats (including nesting places and shelter) supporting our pollinators across the country’, ‘Healthy bees and other pollinators which are more resilient to climate change and severe weather events’ and ‘No further extinctions of known threatened pollinator species.’
Scientific study and disseminating knowledge is essential to ensuring actions taken to aid bees and pollinators are well informed. In 2009 5 funding agencies and research institutions invested £10m over 5 years in the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a network of 9 innovative research projects aimed at understanding and mitigating the biological and environmental factors that adversely affect insect pollinators.
Bees are essential for income and cashew pollination in Ghana. Integrating beekeeping with small-scale cashew farming delivers benefits for rural families from natural pollination increasing cashew yields and from sales of honey and beeswax. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) have been described by many pollination biologists as the most effective pollinator of cashew.
However, studies supported by Bees for Development have identified several species of wild bees that are even more effective and important for pollination – two wild stingless bees (Dactylurina staudingeri and Liotrigona parvula) and seven wild solitary bees (Brausapis sp, Ceratina sp, Compsomelissa sp, Halictus sp, Lasioglossum sp, Lipotriches sp and Thyreaus sp) whose foraging activities indicate their effectiveness in the pollination of cashew flowers.
These two groups of wild bees are known to be heavy feeders of pollen and persistent foragers exhibiting behavioural characteristics which demonstrated their strong affinity to cashew flowers. The cashew plant’s ability to produce large amounts of pollen is probably attractive to insects seeking pollen rather than foraging for nectar. These wild bees are therefore the most effective cashew pollinators in Ghana.
Kwame S Aidoo of the University of Cape Coast’s Department of Entomology & Wildlife School of Biological Sciences says, “The abundance and diversity of the right pollinators in the cashew agro‐ecosystem gives Ghana a comparative advantage over other growing countries.”
Pollinators of Kenyan crops and wild flowers include sunbirds, bushbabies, bats and a huge diversity of insects. Many crops are wholly dependent on pollinators, including passionfruit, cocoa, strawberries, eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, and pumpkin, whilst others, such as avocado, coffee, cowpeas, eggplant, mangoes, pigeon peas, pumpkins, okra, runner beans watermelons and tomatoes, all benefit from animal pollination.
Wild bees pollinate about two thirds of the vegetables and fruits grown in East Africa. Other insects are important too – about 4% of all the plants in Kenya, including papaya and many different African orchids, are pollinated by hawkmoths, and figs have a specialised pollination system which means they can only be pollinated by figwasps. Forage crops for livestock, including cattle and camels, are also reliant on animal pollination. Sunbirds are important for biodiversity – they pollinate giant lobelias that grow high on the mountains of East Africa, red hot poker trees and aloes.33
Animal pollination is crucially important for food production in Kenya. In the Baringo region of Kenya alone, watermelons worth KES 900 million (US $9 million) are produced. All of these watermelons are the result of pollination by wild insects, primarily bees.33
Scientists based at the National Museums of Kenya have been studying pollinators and their importance for biodiversity and crop production. Along with the Insect Committee of Nature Kenya (also known as the East Africa Natural History Society) researchers have been working with farmers to raise awareness of the importance of pollination for crops and promote conservation of natural habitat. Kenyan-based scientists were also instrumental in establishing and promoting the African Pollinator Initiative.
Kenyan researchers were recently involved in the GEF/UNEP/FAO Global Pollination Project “Conservation and Management of Pollinators for Sustainable Agriculture, through an Ecosystem Approach” which also involved researchers in Ghana, South Africa, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Brazil.
Dr Dino Martins has been educating farmers across Kenya on the negative effects of pesticides on pollinators which has led to reduced pesticide use and improved local income and food security due to increased crop yields. He has also been boosting awareness of pollinators and in 2014 produced a handbook of pollinator-friendly farming practices.33
Our Friends the Pollinators – A Handbook of Pollinator Diversity and Conservation in East Africa, has been downloaded over 4,000 times and shared with 600,000 farmers on mobile phone platforms in Kenya.
Comments on the handbook by Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Professor Judi Wakhungu, capture the importance of bees and pollinators in East Africa:
“We live in one of the most diverse and beautiful regions on the planet. In a part of the world where most people make their living from farming, and are directly connected to nature in their daily lives. This book is therefore an excellent effort to engage the general public on the diversity and importance of wild pollinators for agriculture and livelihoods.
“East Africa depends on many different ecosystem services that come from nature for free. These include water resources, fertility of soil, energy from biomass, control of soil erosion, and pollination. To ensure we continue to have these vital services we need public awareness and education – two of the most important tools available for conservation and sustainable development.
“Global awareness about the crisis surrounding the conservation of biodiversity and environment has grown significantly. However, it is important to connect this global movement to local action, and the information presented in this book will enable farmers, teachers, and schoolchildren across East Africa to better understand, celebrate, and conserve pollinators in their farms and gardens.
“This beautifully designed guidebook, reminds us of how much we have to celebrate in pollinators and biodiversity as part of our national heritage.”
Beekeeping and honey production have a long history in Malta, with the most common etymology of the word ‘Malta’ being from the Greek word “meli” – meaning “honey”. The Maltese honey bee is a distinct subspecies Apis mellifera ruttneri with different morphological characteristics from other Mediterranean bees. It is well adapted to the xeric conditions on the islands and to diseases.
Malta’s National Apiculture Programme (2014-16) recognises the importance of beekeeping in pollination services to maintain crop productivity and wild flora, and to the cultural identity of Malta, and aims to provide assistance to bee keepers to improve the production and marketing of their apiculture products.
Wild bees are also important in maintaining plant diversity, crop productivity and food security across the Maltese Archipelago which, though small, harbours a diverse array of habitats and plants, including a several species found nowhere else in the world. These endemic species have persisted throughout the Islands’ long cultural history by agricultural settings providing important floral resources for wild bees.
Papua New Guinea (PNG)
PNG’s many wild pollinators such as the leaf cutter bee Megachile (Creightonella) frontalis which pollinates coffee have existed for millennia before managed honey bees (Apis mellifera) were introduced to PNG after WWII as part of early interest in beekeeping and commercial honey production. Honeybees now exist in the bush in many areas of the country. Concern that an endemic Varroa mite species (V. jacobsoni) discovered in PNG in 2008 may be as harmful to managed honeybees as the Varroa destructor seen in many other parts of the world have prompted a study into the potential economic effects of Varroa on the pollination of PNG’s main crops.
An agriculture-dependent economy New Zealand exports 80 per cent of the food it produces from apples and butter to lamb and kiwi fruit. Wild solitary native bees, other insects and some vertebrates assist pollination of wild plants and farm crops. But managed honey bees are the main pollinator of most commercial crops, including pasture legumes such as clover vital to lamb and dairy production.
Attention is increasing into how to prevent declines and restore the services provided by pollinators. Professor Jason Tylianakis of the University of Canterbury is concerned that production of fruit, clover, canola and honey may suffer with bee decline: “An agricultural economy like ours depends strongly on pollination, and between 60 and 75 per cent of all food crops require animal pollination…We need to manage our agriculture in a way that protects native bees and pollinating flies. We need to reduce the use of insecticides and provide some areas of unsprayed, uncultivated habitat with food and nesting sites in agricultural landscapes.”
Research has identified that New Zealand’s dependence on managed honey bees increases vulnerability to the threats to managed honey bees: pests and diseases such as the varroa mite; the narrowing genetic base for breeding varroa-resistant bees; exposure to pesticides; and, the declining variety of floral resources bees seek for food. A national list has been published of the best plants bees and pollinators seek for nutrition from abundant nectar and high quality pollen across the seasons to help bees feed and resist diseases, pests and exposure to pesticides – all part of improving pollinator resilience and security.
The Welsh Government launched an Action Plan for Pollinators in June 2013 with a vision that “Wales supports healthy populations of wild and managed pollinators to benefit the people, economy and environment of Wales.” The Plan states that, “…the reliance on pollinators to meet future food security needs is likely to increase, highlighting the importance of retaining pollination as a service.” Intensive land use and the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats in Wales are identified by the Plan as “a key reason for the decline of pollinators”. The Plan identifies priority actions and policies including for farming: “Improving conditions for pollinators throughout agricultural land is a key area for action, by providing more flowering plant species, and larger and better connected habitats.”
 Ontario pesticides restrictions www.news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2009/03/ontarios-cosmetic-pesticides-ban.html
 Ontario Pollinator Health Action Plan www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/pollinator/meeting-reg.htm
 Breeze TD, Vaissière BE, Bommarco R, Petanidou T, Seraphides N, Kozák L, et al. (2014) Agricultural Policies Exacerbate Honeybee Pollination Service Supply-Demand Mismatches Across Europe. PLoS ONE 9(1): e82996. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082996 www.journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082996
 National Bee Summit, 2013 www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/bee_summit_report.pdf
 National Pollinator Strategy for England www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-pollinator-strategy-for-bees-and-other-pollinators-in-england
 Insect Pollinators Initiative www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/2009/insect-pollinators-initiative/ Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Scottish Government and Wellcome Trust
 Free & Williams, 1976; Heard et al, 1990
 Bees for Development, Boosting cashew production in Ghana www.beesfordevelopment.org/what-we-do/information-and-education/info/file/1819-boosting-cashew-production-in-ghana?tmpl=component
 African Pollinator Initiative www.arc.agric.za/arc-ppri/Pages/Biosystematics/African-Pollinator-Initiative-(API).aspx
 GEF/UNEP/FAO Global Pollination Project www.fao.org/agriculture/crops/thematic-sitemap/theme/spi/gppp/gppp-home/en/
 Whitley Fund for Nature Award 2009 www.whitleyaward.org/winners/pollinators-and-people-in-kenya/
 Dino J Martins, 2014, Nature Kenya, East Africa Natural History Society, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya UNEP, GEF-UNEP-F