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chapter two

2 The global and European situation with bees and other pollinators “If wild pollinator declines continue, we run the risk of losing a substantial proportion of the world’s flora.” – Ollerton et al, 2011

Bees and other pollinators, both natural and managed, seem to be declining globally, particularly in North America and Europe (Potts et al, 2010). There is considerable debate about this perceived decline, however, mostly due to lack of robust regional or international programmes designed to monitor the current status and trends of pollinators (Lebuhn et al, 2013). Nonetheless, where they have been documented, the scale and extent of the losses are striking. In the US the loss of 30-40% of commercial honeybee colonies, which has occurred since 2006, was linked to “colony collapse disorder”, a syndrome characterised by disappearing worker bees (see references in Lebuhn et al, 2013). Since 2004, losses of honeybee colonies have left North America with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the last 50 years (UNEP, 2010). China has 6 million bee colonies; about 200,000 beekeepers in this region raise western honeybees (Apis mellifera) and eastern honeybees (Apis cerana). In recent years, Chinese beekeepers have faced inexplicable colony losses in both Apis species. These losses were largely inexplicable and the associated symptoms highly complex. Egyptian beekeepers based along the River Nile have also reported symptoms of colony collapse disorder (UNEP, 2010).

“Since 1998, individual beekeepers in Europe have been reporting unusual weakening and mortality in colonies, particularly in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Mortality has been extremely high when activity is resumed at the end of winter and beginning of spring.” – UNEP, 2010 In recent winters, colony mortality in Europe has averaged about 20% (with a wide range of 1.8% to 53% between European countries)1. Over the 2008/09 winter, honeybee losses in Europe ranged between 7% and 22%, and over the 2009/10 winter between 7% and 30%. For countries that participated in both years’ surveys, winter losses appeared to significantly increase from 2008/09 to 2009/10.2 In addition to managed bee colonies, a decline in native wild pollinators has also been widely reported in specific locations across the globe (Cameron et al, 2011; Potts et al, 2010). Well known examples include the UK and the Netherlands (Biesmeijer et al, 2006). Set against these observations is the fact that global honey production appears to have been growing over the last few decades. This has led to suggestions that honeybee declines are very localised, mostly in North America and Europe, and that these declines are compensated for by increases in the major honey-producing countries (China, Spain and Argentina) (Aizen and Harder 2009).

In central Europe, estimated losses since 1985 point to a 25% loss of honeybee colonies, with a 54% loss in the UK (Potts et al, 2010). 1 Proceedings of the 4th COLOSS Conference, Zagreb, Croatia, 3-4 March 2009, available at: as cited in Williams et al, 2010. 2

Bees in Decline Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report (Review) 01/2013 17

Bees in Decline  

A review of factors that put pollinators and agriculture in Europe at risk

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