Is Fear Holding Back Bee Conservation?
Bees need our help; there’s no denying it. However, could it be that fear, disgust, or apathy towards bees are hampering conservation efforts? Scientists in Bavaria, Germany, wanted to understand the link between attitudes towards bees and willingness to protect them, which resulted in the following study.
The researchers used two major groups: novices (students) and experts (beekeepers). The novice group consisted of students in primary (elementary) school, secondary (middle and high) school, and university. Beekeepers were surveyed at a beekeeping convention in Bavaria. Primary and secondary students were from towns and suburbs in Bavaria. Participants were surveyed to gauge their level of interest in bees, perceived danger of bees, perceived usefulness/necessity of bees, and attitude towards conservation of bees.
Unsurprisingly, beekeepers were more interested in bees than students were, and viewed bees as being less dangerous and more important. Within the student groups, primary students were the most interested in bees – perhaps because children of that age are more fascinated by all living things. Secondary and university students were less interested in bees, but there was no difference in level of interest between these two subgroups.
Regarding fear of bees, there was no real difference between the three novice subgroups. There was a slight decrease in the fear of bee stings among the older population, but the overall perception of the danger of bees remained similar throughout the various age groups. Despite the perceived danger and lower interest, most students agreed that bees are extremely important animals and should be protected, for various reasons.
Primary students were more concerned with bees’ usefulness to humans through products, like honey and beeswax. Older students were more concerned with the ecological and agricultural role of bees through pollination. However, some secondary students were misinformed about the importance of bees, believing that a disappearance of bees would cause human extinction (while agricultural output would be reduced, bees are not the only pollinators around, nor do all plants require external pollinators). Beekeepers rated bees as more useful than students did, and were mostly concerned with pollination. Interestingly, beekeepers were less interested in bees’ usefulness to humans than students were, despite many beekeepers earning a living through bee products.
While both novices and experts believed it to be important to protect bees, the strength of this belief was weaker in novices, something that could be remedied with education and exposure. Perceived danger of bees can be lowered by introducing students to proper bee-handling techniques, as well as making them aware of how to avoid disturbing them. In addition, educators can teach students to differentiate between bees and other stinging insects like wasps and hornets, as bad experiences with the latter may reflect badly on the former (unfortunately, I can vouch for this through personal experience).
Above all, education regarding bees must keep people interested. Primary students are naturally curious, and that curiosity needs to be nurtured and sustained throughout their lives. Exposure to the natural world is crucial to instilling an environmentalist spirit in younger folks, and while everyone loves to protect cute, friendly, or majestic animals, many crucial species are odd-looking, ill-tempered, or timid.
Lions, pandas, and dolphins need our help, but so do bees, ants, and bats. Environmental education should focus on the inherent value in all organisms in order to raise a generation of environmentally friendly adults.