Bavaria sets tone for farming changes with bees petition
By Nadeem Gill

A wildlife campaign in the southern German state of Bavaria has broken records, with 1.75 million people signing a petition to call for a referendum to "save the bees."  

The move is said to have far-reaching consequences for environmental protection and the farming industry in the country. 

Organized by the Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP), the campaign surpassed the target in two weeks, securing 1,745,383 signatures from 18.4 percent of the eligible voters who participated in the petition for the protection of species diversity in Bavaria.

It set a new record for referendum participation in the state, which is home to Siemens, Audi, and BMW, and known for its Oktoberfest.

Farmers have been calling for such a measure for decades.

The petition seeks detailed amendments to the state's nature protection laws as well as fundamental changes to farming practices.

The plan aims at taking drastic measures to keep the struggling bee population from declining further.

For non-organic farmers, the successful referendum would mean that they would have to decrease the use of pesticides. 

A bee collects pollen from a Christmas Rose (Hellabore) blossoms on a sunny morning in Hanau, 30 km (18.6 miles) south of Frankfurt, Germany, December 26, 2015. /Reuters Photo

A bee collects pollen from a Christmas Rose (Hellabore) blossoms on a sunny morning in Hanau, 30 km (18.6 miles) south of Frankfurt, Germany, December 26, 2015. /Reuters Photo

All farmers will be asked to take up measures to better support wildlife by:

- achieving a target for 20 percent of farmland meeting organic standards by 2025, before reaching 30 percent by 2030.

- creating more diverse habitats within their agricultural areas. 

- creating strips of land five meters wide along river banks.

- to grow more hedges and trees.

- to expand natural grasslands.

- to grow flowering meadows. 

What next?

The petition, under the direct democracy system of the state, needed at least one million signatures to pave the way for a referendum within six months.

The ruling coalition, led by the right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU) which is allied to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in the federal parliament and the government, will now put forward a cross-party bill and organize a referendum. 

The state government is expected to start discussions next week to prepare for the referendum. 

The plan is going through despite Bavaria's agricultural association arguing against the campaign, saying it could increase costs for the industry.

The state's environment minister Thorsten Glauber on Thursday said everybody who owns the land is responsible for protecting wildlife. 

“City councils have to get on board,” he was quoted in the local media as saying, adding municipalities as well as the Catholic Church owns the vast swathes of land and should to do their part.

“The farmers can't do it on their own,” he said. 

“Our goal is a social consensus,” Markus Söder, the Bavarian state premier tweeted. 

“We don't want to protect nature against the farmers, but with them.”

A similar campaign in Britain is urging people to grow their own plants to save the country's dwindling bee populations. 

Children at a Church of England primary school in Havant are running the campaign – ''Pollinator Promise.''

They are urging parents, businesses and nursing homes to set aside just one square meter of land to grow plants that will provide vital shelter and food for bees and other pollinating insects. 

(Cover Photo/ AFP)