Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box

How Ordinary People Rewrote the Laws to Protect Nature

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
July 7, 2019

Earlier this year, a group of people showed how quickly ordinary citizens could rewrite laws to protect nature and transition to sustainable farming. It took just four months.

Bavaria’s Campaign to Save the Bees

A bumblebee pollinates a flower - Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box
In January 2019, an environmental grassroots petition to protect insects and biodiversity swept through Bavaria, a conservative state in southern Germany. The “Save the Bees” campaign, organized by The Greens, splashed images of iconic honeybees (representing all insects) across thousands of digital and public spaces. Hundreds of volunteers in bee costumes asked citizens to sign a petition for a binding electoral referendum to expand biodiversity protection in Bavaria. The environmentalists needed to gather a million signatures (10 percent of the electorate). Much to the astonishment of the conservative state government, 1.75 million eligible voters (18 percent) signed the petition in a mere 14 days.

Conservative Bavaria

The beautiful mountains near the Hintersee in Bavaria, Germany. Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box

The Hintersee in Bavaria, Germany

Prosperous Bavaria is a beautiful land of mountains, rolling hills, lakes, and forests. Known for high-tech and automobile (BMW) manufacturing, it is also famous for its dairy industry, artisan cheese, and beer. Historically, Bavaria is the most traditional of Germany’s sixteen states. The voters have returned the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) to office continuously for the last 70 years. Political observers consider the CSU’s record on environmental issues to be “business as usual.” That appears to be changing.

Referendum to Preserve Species Biodiversity

In 2017, already alarmed by a decade-long series of climate-related droughts, Germans were shocked by the release of the Krefeld insect study. This investigation in 63 nature preserves in western Germany found insect life had declined by an astounding 75 percent over a 27 year period. Bird populations, dependent on insects for food, fell 57 percent during the same time frame. Research indicated that the main causes were pesticides and loss of habitat to industrial farming. In January 2019, when “Save the Bees” posters began appearing all over Bavaria, the people were ready to change things.

A bee on a yellow calendula flower. Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box.In the face of the people’s overwhelming support for the referendum, Bavaria’s state premier, Markus Söder, bowed to political reality. In early April 2019, he announced that the Parliament would simply pass the referendum directly into law.

Not only would the CSU party fully accept the proposed law as written, Premier Söder went on to explain, they would even go further and add extra measures to require city councils and garden owners to improve biodiversity. Bavaria would establish enforcement mechanisms and invest an additional 50 million Euros in nature conservation each year.

This investigation in 63 nature preserves in western Germany found insect life had declined by an astounding 75 percent over a 27 year period.

How the New Law Strengthens Biodiversity

The new Bavarian law reorganizes agriculture and natural protection through a series of conservation measures:

• Organic Agriculture – The law requires 30 percent of Bavaria’s land to be farmed organically within 10 years (by 2030).

• Networks of Nature – The law sets aside 13 percent of Bavaria’s land to create a linked natural network of flowering meadows, wetlands, and hedgerows to provide habitat for insects, birds, and animals.

• Habitat Protection Along Streams and Rivers – The law establishes a five metre-wide habitat strip along the boundaries of all stream and river banks, and discourages pesticide use in these areas.

• Meadows and Pastures – The law forbids the conversion of pastures and hay meadows to other agricultural uses, and prohibits drainage of existing wetlands and removal of existing hedgerows.

• Limits on Fertilizers and Pesticides Use – The law reduces the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides.

Ecology researchers believe implementing these measures will reverse the decline of insects and birds in Bavaria, and return the region to a sustainable biodiversity.

A wildflower meadow in bloom. Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box

A wildflower meadow. The new law in Bavaria sets aside 13 percent of the land for meadows, hedgerows, and wetland habitat.

Impacts of the Save the Bees Reforms

The “Save the Bees” referendum in Bavaria is already having wide impacts across Germany. In the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Krefeld insect diversity study took place, environmentalists are planning a referendum process for their conservative government. A similar popular initiative in the eastern state of Brandenburg involves farmers, hunters, and environmentalists who want to create nature reserves where pesticides are banned and wildflowers are plentiful. Germany’s federal government is joining these efforts by proposing an insect protection act that incorporates some features of the Bavarian law. Federal funds will be made available for state programs to reverse insect decline.

A Save the Bees Initiative for British Columbia?

If Bavarians could make a profound change in their laws to protect the environment in just four months, what could happen in other places?

British Columbia, Canada and the United States are also seeing a dramatic decline in bees, biodiversity and nature which is essential to the food chain and the survival of humans. People in cities and in the country are seeing the increasing impacts of the warming climate: widespread smoke from wildfires, extreme weather, droughts and flooding.

Normally, in British Columbia, laws are created or changed by the Legislative Assembly. If public concern is strong enough, and the Province fails to act, there are also provisions for a legally binding referendum, or an advisory plebiscite.

Many would say that British Columbia is not ready for such an initiative. On the other hand, they said the same in Bavaria a year ago.

Citizens hold signs and wear bee costumes in the Save the Bees campaign in Bavaria in early 2019. Protecting Mother Nature at the Ballot Box.

Petitioners in the Save the Bees campaign in Bavaria, Germany gathered 1.75 million signatures in a matter of weeks. As a result, Bavaria rewrote its laws to protect biodiversity and establish sustainable agricultural practices. Photo by BUND Naturschutz: Natur- und Umweltschutz in Bayern (Friends of the Earth Bavaria)

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2019 October 9
    Veronica Newman permalink

    I fully agree that here in BC we need a movement like the one they held in Bavaria. There are so many beautiful gardens around the Victoria area and it would be beneficial to promote the health of the bee population in our city as well as the countryside. Many people simply do not understand the importance that comes along with healthy bee colonies and the impact that bees have on our food system.

  2. 2019 July 14
    brian hughes permalink

    excellent information, lets get started in b.c. many people, particularly gardeners, have commented on the scarcity of insects including bees, here in the Victoria area, “city of gardens”.

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