Bees are essential for the pollination of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Sadly, over the past 15 years, the global population of the industrious insects has been declining at alarming rates. Bee Informed Partnership, a collaboration of American insect experts, estimates that between April 1, 2018, and April 1, 2019, the country's managed bee population decreased by 40.7 percent. The numbers are as dire worldwide. Now, some cities in the Netherlands are coming up with innovative ideas to help stem the population decline of these all-important insects.
In the country's capital, Amsterdam, bees can reside for free in specially built "hotels" — tall wooden structures — that are scattered across the city. While they may not look like much to the untrained eye, the nooks and crannies within the stacked branches provide perfect homes for members of the over 200 known species of solitary bees. As the name indicates, the insects spend their lives alone, with each female bee laying 20 to 30 eggs over her lifespan. The smart insects nest inside holes like the ones provided by the insect hotels, marking their occupancy by covering the entrance with a mud “door." Though unable to produce honey, solitary bees are excellent pollinators and perform an essential role in many ecosystems.
Additionally, city officials are also educating residents on the use of harmful pesticides and are providing incentives to encourage developers to build green roofs or exterior walls, and populate them with local plants. In 2015, they also set a goal to convert the foliage in half of all public green spaces to native plants. Geert Timmermans, one of eight ecologists working for the city, says, “Our strategy is when we design a park, we use native species but also the species that give a lot of flowering and fruit for [bees].” Many residents, with help from the government, are also replacing the small strips of pavements outside their homes with small gardens featuring shrubs, flowers, or climbing vines. The city's collective efforts seem to be working. A recent study found that the diversity of wild bee and honeybee species in the Dutch capital has increased by an astounding 45 percent since 2000.
Meanwhile, in the central Netherlands city of Utrecht, bus stop roofs are gradually being transformed into beautiful, living gardens designed to attract a diverse array of bee species. Sprouting only native plants, the green roofs, which naturally collect both rainwater and fine particles of dust, are also beneficial for the environment.
In a testament to the difference an individual can make, Deborah Post, who lives in a rural area 40 miles southwest of Amsterdam, is single-handedly fighting for the cause. Post's concern for the insects started a few years ago when she noticed the honey bees in her aviary dying off. Upon researching further, she found out that the deaths could be attributed to several factors — the use of pesticides and fertilizers, invasive pests, and a shortage of food and habitat.
The budding environmentalist realized while there was not much she could do about the first two issues, she could try to restore the bees' habitat. “Bees and insects have no food because everything is green, everything is grass,” she says of her property which is surrounded by dairy farms.
Post began by populating the area around her neighborhood with native foliage. She also persuaded government officials and developers of a new highway near her home to replace the usual gravel or grass along the roadside with wildflowers. The experiment was a big success, with the bees living in the 11 hives on her family's property, thriving.
She has since expanded her "Honey Highway" initiative and led efforts to plant flowers along many of the country's highways, dikes, and railway tracks. Whenever possible, she tries to include school children in her projects to teach the next generation about the important role bees play in the ecosystem. Perhaps, If more countries adopted the techniques used in the Netherlands, the world would once again be abuzz with bees.
Resources: mymodernnet.com, mentalfloss.com, qz.com, nbc.com