Ecosystems provide a wide range of services, including water purification, recycling of soil nutrients and pollination. The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, a global initiative launched by the United Nations whose report was published in 2005, demonstrated the vital importance of ecosystem services for human well-being and found that two thirds of them are in decline or threatened. The on-going initiative on "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" (TEEB) analyses the value of ecosystems and biodiversity to the economy, to society and to individuals. It underlines the urgency of action, as well as the benefits and opportunities that will arise as a result of better taking into account the value of ecosystems and biodiversity in policy decisions.
Pollination services are among the most crucial of the ecosystem goods and services provided by our natural environment. 84% of European crop plants rely, at least in part on pollination via insects, such as wild bees, honeybees and hoverflies (Williams 19941), in particular fruits, vegetables and fodder crops. Bees play an important role in this web by providing a service which has a significant economic impact and contributes to ensure food security. The estimated value of insect pollination for European agriculture is 22 billion Euros per annum (Gallai et al. 20092). However, indicators show a severe decrease in the populations of many pollinators such as honeybees, wild bees, butterflies, moths and flies (Biesmeijer et al. 20063 ; Potts et al. 20104). Habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and pathogens are some of the potential factors behind this trend. Other drivers may be the disruption of pollination timing due to climate change and the spread of invasive insect species outcompeting native pollinators and invasive plants drawing native pollinators away from native plants.
The European Union and its Member States are contracting parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and EU Heads of State and Government undertook in 2001 to halt the decline of biodiversity in the EU by 2010 and to restore habitats and natural systems. In 2002, they also joined some 130 world leaders in agreeing to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss globally by 2010. Recognising the dimensions of a "pollination crisis" and its links to biodiversity and human livelihoods, the Convention on Biological Diversity has made the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators a priority. At the Fifth Conference of Parties (COP V) in 2000, an International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators (also known as the International Pollinator Initiative - IPI) was established (COP decision V/5, section II).
A number of regional initiatives, programmes and projects such as the European Pollinator Initiative (www.europeanpollinatorinitiative.org) and STEP project (Status and Trends of European Pollinators; www.step-project.net) are working toward a common goal of promoting the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems.
The significance of ecosystems goods and services was clearly recognized by the Commission in its Communication of 2006 on «Halting Biodiversity Loss by 2010 and Beyond: Sustaining ecosystem services for human well-being».
The Communication underlined the importance of biodiversity protection as a pre-requisite for sustainable development, as well as setting out a detailed Biodiversity Action Plan to achieve this. The EU Biodiversity Action Plan specifies a comprehensive set of priority actions and outlines the responsibility of EU institutions and Member States in relation to each. It also contains indicators to monitor progress and a timetable for evaluations. Two key objectives are particular important in addressing ecological elements that can benefit pollinators in general – and bees in particular – in the EU:
- To safeguard the EU’s most important habitats and species, through the completion of the Natura 2000 network, and
- To conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in wider EU countryside, for example by integrating biodiversity into Rural Development Programmes, taking into account that Europe's natural landscape and habitats have suffered human-induced fragmentation and that it is essential to enhance and restore connectivity between sites and with the wider environment.
The EU Biodiversity Action Plan also addresses the challenge of integrating biodiversity concerns into other policy sectors in a unified way. In the context of agriculture, the Rural Development Programmes provide different types of agri-environmental measures in favour of biodiversity which are relevant also to beekeepers, such as providing plants to attract wild bees, honeybees and other pollinating insects. Such measures have been proved to generate substantial environmental benefits and in particular support biodiversity.
In March 2010, the Environment Council unanimously agreed a post-2010 EU vision and target for biodiversity. The Council agreed on a long-term vision that by 2050 European Union biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides -- its natural capital -- are protected, valued and appropriately restored for biodiversity's intrinsic value and for their essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity, and so that catastrophic changes caused by the loss of biodiversity are avoided. For this vision to be achieved, the Council further agreed on a headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.
The STEP project (Status and Trends of European Pollinators; www.step-project.net, FP7, 244090-STEP-CP-FP) is assessing the current status and trends of all pollinators in Europe, quantifying the relative importance of various drivers and impacts of change, identifying relevant mitigation strategies and policy instruments, and disseminating this to a wide range of stakeholders.
The LIFE Biodiversity project LIFE08 NAT/F/000478 URBANBEES aims to carry out a demonstration project on the conservation of wild bees in a greater urban community in France. It hopes to promote actions that will conserve and enhance the biodiversity of wild bees in urban habitats across Europe.
Biesmeijer J.C., Roberts S.P., Reemer M., Ohlemueller R., Edwards M., Peeters T., Schaffers A., Potts S.G., Kleukers R., Thomas C.D., Settele J., and Kunin W.E. (2006) Parallel declines in pollinators and insect-pollinated plants in Britain and the Netherlands. Science 313: 351-354
Gallai, N., Salles, J. M., Settele, J. & Vaissiere, B. E. (2009) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics, 68, 810-821.
Potts S.G., Roberts S.P.M., Dean R., Marris G., Brown M., Jones R. & Settele J. (2010) Declines of managed honeybees and beekeepers in Europe. Journal of Apicultural Research 49: 15-22
Williams, I.H. (1994) The dependence of crop production within the European Union on pollination by honeybees. Agricultural Zoology Reviews 6: 229-257.