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The National Pollinator Strategy

The Netherlands is second only to the United States in terms of the export of agricultural products. The relatively small European country is a powerhouse of produce, is the world’s largest producer of flowers, and has a strong history of tailoring its land to suite its needs.


The Netherlands is also a very densely populated place and is in the midst of severe housing shortages which continuously plague the population and constitutes a major point of political friction. This has put it on a grand path towards restructuring its cities and dispersing the population in order to maintain the quality of life it has achieved while still welcoming newcomers. Yet even amidst its heavy urbanisation, The Netherlands strives to preserve its wild sides. Nature reserves are sprinkled throughout its territory, and many initiatives are dedicated to the upkeep and preservation of the country’s natural landscapes and wildlife.


However, there are still many issues to be resolved. For a country that relies greatly on agricultural and flower production, there is substantial anxiety regarding the health of its insect population. Akin to many nations, the effects of heavy urbanisation and surgical agricultural (mis)management has brought about a severe decline in insect population over the years; and most worryingly, the decline of the wild bee population.


Pollinators are indispensable for more than 75% of Dutch food crops -especially fruit and vegetables- and for more than 85% of wild plants. The most important pollinators in the Netherlands are approximately 360 species of bees, 370 species of hoverflies and 2400 species of butterflies. Many of these species are in the danger zone: they are endangered or close to extinct.” Red lists have been drawn up on behalf of the national government regarding species that have disappeared or are in danger of disappearing from the Netherlands. The initial study investigated 181 species of bees (55% of the total number of bee species considered).  Of these: 46 species were marked as “Disappeared”, 30 species as “Critically Endangered”, 42 species “Endangered”, 38 species as “Vulnerable”, and 25 types as “Sensitive”. And when pollination levels drop, there are subsequently fewer seeds and fruits and ultimately less food for people and wild animal species. Efficient pollination is therefore necessary. Wild bees are particularly key to having efficient large-scale pollination.  The country has decided to take swift action in order to remediate the problem.


In 2018 The Netherlands announced the National Pollinator Strategy, with the main goal of stabilizing and/or achieving positive growth levels of pollinator populations by 2030. For this, it is key is to promote the coexistence between nature and the country’s heavily urbanised environment and the intensity of its agricultural sector.


This has given rise to many environmental solutions, large and small, to help wilds bees and other pollinators thrive, starting by providing them with better nesting and feeding opportunities. From the push to sell small & cheap wooden “bee hotels” to the everyday consumer (found in many supermarkets), to the construction of large, buried structures in the middle of big cities for bees to nest in during the winter months, to the changing of the types of plants set up in public spaces to more bee-friendly species; The list is long.


A most famous example is found in the city of Utrecht, where bus stops have been transformed into bee stops: their roofs are coated with a mix of moss, plants, and flowers in order to provide pit stops for bees wandering through the city. An organisation called the Honey Highway wants to take things nation-wide, by inciting the transformation of many kilometres of barren roadside real-estate into havens for bees. In the city’s Science Park, Utrecht University has stopped mowing its lawns as part of their Biodiversity Recovery Plan and has installed many bee hotels on campus. All these are examples of how The Netherlands is taking steps towards the conservation of its pollinators through intelligent initiatives that blend the urban and natural environments in a more harmonious manner. And there’s a lot more in the making.


2023 marked 5 years since the launch of the National Pollinator Strategy. The number of partners involved in the strategy grew to more than 100, and the number of known initiatives also increased from 80 in 2018 to almost 120 in 2023, and the results of the nation-wide effort are streaming in:


In West Brabant, municipalities carry out bee-friendly mowing management on over 2,500 hectares of roadsides, 60 hectares of water features and 9,000 kilometers of waterways since 2022. Across The Netherlands, the number of garden centers selling native plants increased from 20 in 2018 to 150 in 2023. It is important for pollinators that native plants are found in gardens and public gardens. Beekeeping has been professionalized and currently 80 beekeepers have been trained as Biodiversity Ambassadors. The Province of Overijssel has sown 50 kilometers of roadsides with pollinator-friendly crops since 2020, and subsidizes municipalities for ecological roadside management for a total of 3900 kilometers. This is a clear display of how partners actively lobbied to include pollinator protection in programs, policies, and regulations, so that now many places in the Netherlands have been redesigned and are now managed in a bee-friendly way.


Thanks to these activities, the country is already seeing promising effects. In South Holland, the number of pollinators increased by 34% between 2015 and 2021, while in South Limburg, the once-believed extinct forest bumblebee was observed again in 2021, and the number of observations of 2 other critically endangered species increased significantly.


With these actions and results, The Netherlands has become a guide country by being a key member in the Promote Pollinators international network. It consists of the EU plus 31 countries spread over 4 continents that are committed to the protection of pollinators. The network exists to facilitate the sharing of knowledge through international meetings, newsletters and webinars, and scientific research collaboration programs. The network also supports members in developing their own national strategies. An example of this is the collaboration with various countries regarding Theory of Change (ToC) approach that is the backbone of the Dutch National Pollinator Strategy. “The great thing about the strategy is that it provides a perspective for action, and everyone can do something about it”. The ToC elucidates the positive and negative feedback from specific actions, thereby ensuring that there is a connection in the actions done for pollinators and a clear identification of what is still not going well or getting worse. After its success in the Netherlands, the ToC formula has now also been applied in Portugal, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago.


“Together we have achieved a lot, including raising awareness of the pollinator problem. Pollinators and their importance are regularly featured in the media, and bees and butterflies in particular have a high 'cuddliness factor', which encourages people to take action. We can be proud of what has been achieved in 5 years of the National Pollinator Strategy! However, it is not enough to achieve our goal - the sustainable conservation and promotion of pollinators - in 2030 through the chosen approach. More has to be done!”


You can lend a hand yourself by participating in the National Bee Count that takes place every April, allowing for a survey and a day filled with educative and awareness raising activities. Last year, 3,500 people managed to count 58,512 bees in a single day.

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