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Proteggiamo le api, proteggiamo il nostro futuro.


Le api rappresentano una risorsa fondamentale per il mantenimento dell’equilibrio dell’eco-sistema. La loro funzione di impollinatori è alla base della produzione agricola, tradotto il nostro cibo dipende dalla loro infaticabile attività e dalla loro raffinata organizzata competenza. Ad esse si aggiunge il lavoro di bombi e farfalle.

Purtroppo la sconsiderata e prolungata azione invasiva dell’uomo sul sistema natura ha compromesso in modo drastico la loro esistenza. A partire dagli anni novanta gli apicoltori notano questo fenomeno e ne segnalano l’ingravescenza. La diminuzione delle colonie di api è motivo di preoccupazione. La causa è imputabile per lo più all’uso dei pesticidi ma anche ad altri fattori concomitanti come i cambiamenti climatici che stravolgono l’assetto utile alla vita delle api e di altri insetti. In particolare, alcuni pesticidi come i neonicotinoidi, determinano un rischio diretto per gli impollinatori.

A questo tema si sono applicati studiosi e scienziati, e tra questi anche Dave Goulson*, che dopo gli studi a Oxford, è ora professore di scienze naturali e ambientali all’Università del Sussex. Il Prof. Goulson ha fondato nel 2006 il Bumblebee Conservation Trust nel 2006 e per la sua straordinaria opera a difesa dei bombi e degli insetti in estinzione ha vinto nel 2010 il premio di innovatore sociale dell’anno assegnato dal Biology and Biotechnology Research Council.

In Italia è stato pubblicato il suo libro Il ritorno della Regina (Hoepli 2019) incantevole testimonianza ispirata alla grande passione dello studioso per le api e i bombi. Goulson ci narra dei risultati di uno studio e di una lunga applicazione su campo, nel tentativo di reintrodurre il Bombus subterraneus nella sua terra nativa e gli sforzi per proteggerlo in vista delle future generazioni. Goulson combina racconti spensierati della sua passione crescente per la Natura a uno sguardo approfondito all’importanza cruciale dei bombi. Dettaglia i particolari della vita nel nido, spiega gli effetti dell’agricoltura intensiva sulla popolazione delle api e i pericoli che siamo destinati a incontrare se non invertiamo la rotta.

Noi di ZEST abbiamo rivolto al Prof. Goulson qualche domanda, e lo ringraziamo per aver concesso questa intervista.

di Antonia Santopietro

Interview with Dave Goulson

Your life and studies are based on the passion for bees and wildlife around us. When did this passion start?

From as far back as I can remember I loved insects. When I was about 5 years old I remember collecting caterpillars from some weeds on the edge of the school playground, taking them home in my lunchbox, and rearing them until they hatched into beautiful moths. I was hooked, and have been very lucky to manage to make a career in studying insects.

Why are pollinators important for our eco-system?

87% of all the world’s plant species require some sort of animal pollinator, usually in insects of some sort, a bee, wasp, butterfly, beetle or fly. Without them, these plants would set no seed, and would eventually disappear. Life as we know it on Earth would end. From a human perspective, roughly 75% of the crops we grow require insect pollination; without them we would not have tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins, coffee, chocolate, and much more. Many people would starve, and life would be miserable.

What are bumblebees? And what’s the difference between bumblebees and honey bees?

Bumblebees are big, furry, colourful bees found mostly in cool parts of the Northern Hemisphere, where they tend to be the most common of the wild bees. There are about 250 species in total. They are social bees, with short-lived colonies founded by a queen in spring, who rears daughter workers to help her. The nests are usually underground, and die out at the end of the summer when they produce new queens and males. Only young, newly mated queens survive the winter.

Scientific literature showed that pollinators number is dropping. How can bees collapse be connected to the use of pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids?

Neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides such as fipronil are extremely toxic to bees and other insects. For example it takes about 4 billionths of a gram of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid to kill a honeybee. We are applying thousands of tonnes of pesticides to the landscape every year. Soils, streams, and the pollen and nectar of wildflowers are all contaminated with these toxins, many of which can persist for years. It is surprising that any wild insects survive at al.

How can we act in order to protect the Bombus subterraneus queen for the future of human beings?

To protect all of our wild insects, and more generally so that we can hand over a healthy planet to our children, we need to do many things: greatly reduce or eliminate pesticide use in farming; stop using all pesticides in towns and gardens; grow pollinator-friendly plants, and make our gardens into mini nature reserves; buy local, seasonal, organic produce; and avoid eating grain-fed red meat.

How can you comment this awful pandemic event in relation to the climate crisis?

This century we face the biggest challenges humankind has ever faced; in particular, we must work out how to feed our growing population without destroying our planet in the process. With the help of governments, it is also vital that we tackle climate change, as this is set to have huge impacts on the environment, on biodiversity, and on food production. Bumblebees in particular, being creatures of cool climates, will be very hard-hit by likely future climate scenarios. Only if people and governments unite do we stand any chance of overcoming these challenges.

*Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology at University of Sussex, specializing in bee ecology. He has published more than 290 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects. He is the author of Bumblebees; Their Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press, and of the Sunday Times bestseller A Sting in the Tale, a popular science book about bumble bees, published in 2013 by Jonathan Cape, and now translated into fourteen languages. This was followed by A Buzz in the Meadow in 2014, Bee Quest in 2017, and The Garden Jungle in 2019. Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity which has grown to 12,000 members. He was the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Social Innovator of the Year in 2010, was given the Zoological Society of London’s Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2013, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013, and given the British Ecological Society Public Engagement Award in 2014. In 2015 he was named number 8 in BBC Wildlife Magazine’s list of the top 50 most influential people in conservation.

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