Thanks to the efforts of Slovenian beekeepers, May 20 has officially become World Bee Day. Now, it’s up to everyone else to advocate for the protection of bees everywhere as pesticides, starvation, and especially climate change lay waste to hives around the world.
“In Slovenia, beekeeping is a way of life,” writes Time magazine. “In this small European nation of two million, one out of every 200 people is a beekeeper.” And while bees may vital to the economy of Slovenia, the extraordinary pollinators are also necessary to all of human existence as we know it.
“Bees are responsible for one in three of every spoonful of food we eat,” Time explains. “They play an essential role in balancing our ecosystems globally.”
But bee-built connections are fraying badly, with Europe’s bumblebee populations plunging by 17% between 2000 and 2014. In North America, “the population dropped by 46%, rates scientists say constitute a mass extinction.”
While domestic honey bees have not reached that point, they, too, are in decline around the world. American beekeepers reported a 37% loss in colonies in 2020. Habitat loss and pesticide use are partly behind the die-off, but the number one foe of bees is the climate crisis, Time writes. “Unpredictable seasons can impact pollen production, and higher-than-average temperatures can disrupt the bees’ ability to regulate hive temperatures.”
Slovenia, however, is one the world’s few remaining sweet spots, and has seen small population increases where other regions have had losses. The difference is the country’s conservation laws, and the preservation of generational knowledge on beekeeping practices—for example, the tendency of imported populations both to damage indigenous species and to fail themselves.
“In 2002, the government gave conservation status to the Carniolan honey bee, Slovenia’s native bee,” explains Time. “It banned the import of other honey bee species to avoid the introduction of new diseases and funded a breeding program for the species. Today, the Carniolan honey bee is the only protected native bee species in the European Union.”
Small apiaries—a few hundred hives, rather than the thousands common in U.S. bee farms—and specialized hives have also proven to be successful for the Slovenian industry.
Finally, beekeepers are accorded serious respect in the country—which has boosted their ability to protect their tiny charges. In 2011, for example, Slovenian beekeepers successfully lobbied for a federal ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, armed with only anecdotal evidence to present to legislators.
Now, North American conservationists are hoping to learn from the masters. “North America, generally speaking, is following suit by thinking about bees as charismatic creatures,” said Geoffrey Williams of the University of Maryland-based Bee Informed Partnership.
“Slowly, there is huge interest developing in preserving bees,” he told Time. “We’re following their early steps.”