Europe to Create Protected Areas for Endangered Bees

December 04, 2008 10:23 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

EU Parliament Votes to Protect Bees

The measure to create areas where bees will be provided with diverse, pesticide-free habitats was voted on late last month, and passed with a majority of members.

The zones are a simple and old-fashioned concept, said Raffaele Cirone, president of the Federation of Italian Beekeepers, to the Christian Science Monitor.

“They are just grassy lands left uncultivated and unfertilized, where flowers can grow freely, to the benefit of insects who feed on them,” Cirone said. “Leaving areas uncultivated is part of the farming and beekeeping tradition in Italy and many other European countries.”

The EU is hoping that, in addition to benefiting the insects, the protected zones will aid agriculture, as they call for “bee-friendly” production that alternates crop fields with uncultivated areas, as opposed to harmful modern farming practices.

The mysterious decline of the world’s bees, called Colony Collapse Disorder, has been spreading across Western Europe since it was first noticed in North America several years ago. The continent’s honey production has been cut in half, and agriculture has suffered due to the fact that many fruit and vegetable crops depend on bees for pollination.

The zones are just one suggested solution to the problem—last summer, researchers at the University of Warwick in England suggested that fungal foot baths would be an effective, nonchemical way to kill a parasitic mite that is believed to be a major culprit in decimating bee populations worldwide.

Scientists at the university say that naturally occurring fungi may help fight the varroa mite, a honeybee parasite suspected of contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder. They are hoping to further examine the four fungi that were found to kill the varroa, but say that the application of the fungi could prove difficult due to the complex environment of bee hives. Scientists are exploring different methods to distribute the protective fungi thoughout bee hives—testing everything from powder sprays to fungal foot baths placed at the entrances to hives.

The varroa mite, or Varroa destructor, feeds on bees’ circulatory fluid and also weakens hives by activating and transmitting other diseases. The mites are currently kept under control with chemical pesticides, but there is concern that they are developing resistance to the chemicals.

Background: Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder causes bee populations to suddenly abandon their hives, including their queen and eggs, leading to mass deaths. The problem has led to an alarming decline in bee populations worldwide in recent years. It has attracted widespread concern, as more than 90 crops rely on bees for pollination, without which harvests of widely consumed fruits, vegetables and nuts could fail.

In May, a survey found that 36.1 percent of America’s commercial beehives have been lost since last year. “That’s an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the Apiary Inspectors of America, the group that commissioned the survey.

The first reports of the disease became known in 2004, and in June 2007 the Department of Agriculture called it “the biggest general threat to our food supply.”

Research has implicated a variety of theories as to the disorder’s cause, including pesticides, fungi, parasites, cell phones, genetically modified crops and viruses.

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