6 Februar 2019

Insect decline is a huge issue, and luckily, this awareness is arriving in a wider public and even politics. However, the path from almost total neglect to taking action is a stony one. There are various reasons for the decrease in insect populations. A recent reviewvery impressively shows that we actually almost know nothing – especially at a global scale. However, this paper also clearly states that in the regions where we have data, over 40% of insect groups are threatened by extinction. As the main cause, it states habitat loss due to intensive agriculture. Pesticide use, together with climate change and invasive species, are additional causes.

This is alarming and shows how necessary it is to implement measures to stop this development. Here’s where politics comes into the scene. These days in Germany, we can observe an example of how this can get really complicated.

A regional referendum for biodiversity

For a few months now, things are happening in Bavaria. Initiated by a small ecological party, a large coalition of associations and organisations started a referendum for changing the natural conservation law. The citizens of Bavaria are called to sign for the conservation of biodiversity in their state from January 31st to February 13th, 2019. The slogan for this referendum is “Save the bees!”. As a reason, the initiators say that everybody understands the value of pollination, and, therefore, they chose “the bees” as a poster child. Of course, I stumbled upon this. However, I decided not to be petty this time and see what the whole thing was about.

At a first glance, the whole proposal reminded me very much of the federal action plan against insect decline. They talk about connecting habitats, about decreasing pesticide use and reducing light pollution. Yet, there are some demands that are different. For instance:

  • More transparency about the application of the nature conservation laws
  • More classes about biodiversity in schools and during the qualification of farmers
  • 20% of the agricultural area with organic management by 2025, and 30% by 2030
  • 10% of grassland should be flowering meadows

The prestigious Max Planck society endorses the referendum, as well as the organic agriculture unions. So are the farmers on board?

Farmers starting a counteraction

Of course, things aren’t that easy. The farmers’ association in Bavaria talks about “farmer bashing” and feels attacked. Instead, they ask for recognition of the efforts and the engagement already shown by their members and for cooperation at eye-level, instead of giving farmers all the responsibility of biodiversity loss. They also started a counteraction called “No to the referendum!”. That escalated quickly.

To be honest, I first read this as an overreaction. I couldn’t find a direct attack or something like “farmer bashing” from the referendum’s side. On the contrary, there is the explicit will to help small farms. But, except for light pollution, all factors listed as causes are related to agriculture. The proposed measures affect farmers most, by the fixed ratio of organic management and flowering meadows etc. The Bavarian Farmers’ Association prefers to enhance already existing measures, developing the market for organic products before fixing a ratio of organic farms etc.

This is the usual discussion of how much regulation is necessary to get the results. If we can trust voluntary commitments instead of specific requirements. I obviously don’t have an answer to this. Of course, I would prefer discussions on eye-level and everyone acting according to pure reason. But interests are different and what farmers classify as great efforts others may see as merely “not enough”. As often, I think there is a severe communication problem going on.

From the regional to the national scale

As I mentioned above, insect decline is on the agenda also on the federal level in Germany. Last October, the Federal Ministry of Environment published an action plan for insect conservation proposing a whole series of measures. At the same time, a public discussion started online. The results of these discussions will enter a draft of the federal program. According to the environment minister, this year will be crucial for the relationship of nature conservation and agriculture in Germany. The action plan against insect decline is an important element in this development. This summer, the government will decide on the proposed measures of the action plan. We will see what finally gets implemented.

Three of the nine main points of the federal program refer to habitat conservation. It also includes minimizing pesticide use or reducing light pollution. What I really like and hope for is the promise for more research – and financing it. The scientists at the Krefeld Entomological Society, for instance, will be able to continue their work on insect decline. Their results will also influence the national insect monitoring which is also part of the program.

I usually don’t get into German politics in this blog. However, I thought that these examples of initiatives for insect conservation could show how difficult it is to get things on track. The political level is a very important one in conservation as it’s always about balancing interests. Sometimes even interests in different environmental areas. However, I’m following the developments with cautious optimism.

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