In Germany, hope is growing for wild bees and insects. Surprisingly, it’s taking root in the country’s large urban cities, thanks to wildflower meadows being planted precisely to reverse precipitous declines in insect populations.
Insects around the world are in danger. A 2020 study published in Science estimated that global bug populations are down 25 percent on land. Populations declined 9 percent every decade, meaning nearly a quarter of all insects have gone extinct in the last 30 years. The figure jumps to over half in the last 75 years. A different report estimated that all insects could be gone within 100 years.
According to the BBC, the losses are the worst in the West and Midwest of the U.S. and in Europe — especially Germany. The Guardian reported that Germany is home to about 580 species of wild bees. More than half are endangered or on the verge of extinction. The news report cited a 2017 study by the Entomological Society of Krefeld which showed a 75 percent decline in total flying insect biomass in protected areas in Germany since 1989.
Both the BBC and The Guardian listed the main causes of insect loss as climate change, the use of insecticides, land-use changes and pollution from chemicals, exhaust, light and sound. In Germany in particular, a loss of diverse habitats was listed as the main reason for the sharp decline, The Guardian reported.
The anticipated biodiversity loss has been dubbed the “Insect Apocalypse,” and scientists are warning against it and the ripple-out effect that such a loss would have because bugs are the “fabric of life.” They serve vital ecosystem functions such as aerating the soil, pollination and the recycling of nutrients, the BBC reported.
In the case of bees and other pollinators, the “perfect storm” of parasites, air pollution and other threats currently decimating insect populations could also lead to crop shortages and affect food security. The list of popular foods we would lose without pollinators includes everything from apples and strawberries to avocados, coffee, onions and tomatoes.
To combat this catastrophic decline in bee and insect populations, Germany has undertaken a country-wide project to plant urban wildflower meadows. The Guardian reported that more than 100 flowers and wild grasses have been planted throughout Germany’s largest cities over the last three years, and more are on the way. Many of these included endangered plants that take two to three years to mature, mixed in with annual blooms.
At first, local neighbors were dubious about the floral additions, especially at the expense of vast grass patches and lawns.
“I was quite skeptical at first,” said Derek O’Doyle, an Irish citizen living in Berlin, to The Guardian. “It looked disorganized. And I resented the loss of a large patch of grass where I could play catch with my dog.”
With the German summer now in full swing and the meadows buzzing with color and activity — literally — even the most reluctant city-dwellers have been persuaded.
“I’ve changed my mind,” said O’Doyle. “It’s become an incredibly attractive addition to our neighborhood. You experience the seasons in a whole new way.”
Longer-term efforts to save bees and other insects must move beyond city limits to address agricultural land use and pesticides, Christian Schmid-Egger told The Guardian. Schmid-Egger coordinates Berlin’s wildflower meadows on behalf of the German Wildlife Foundation. Still, he hoped the urban effort would help raise awareness of the importance of preserving wild spaces, even within cities, and of protecting the insects we all rely on.
“Eventually, many such hotspots could create a network of wilderness right inside our cities,” he said.