Pollinators in Estonia

Eneli Viik, who works for the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge (METK) is our guest blogger today. She develops and promotes activities aimed at preserving the biodiversity of agricultural landscapes and has made a major contribution to the biodiversity monitoring of agri-environmental measures. Eneli is a valued speaker at international and domestic events and has prepared a publication introducing Estonian bumblebees.

Adult hoverflies are important pollinators while larvae contribute to natural pest control. There is very little data about hoverflies biology and abundance in Estonia and only a few experts. (c) Arne Ader.

“The most important natural pollinators in Estonia are bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) but butterflies, hawkmoths and hoverflies also contribute to pollination. How are they doing in Estonia?

“There are 276 species of natural bees known in Estonia. According to the fifth IUCN evaluation of species vulnerability 5% of them are extinct in the region, 3% critically endangered, 4% endangered, 12% vulnerable, 6% near threatened, 64% least concern, 1% data deficient and 5% not evaluated.

Bombus veteranus has decreasing trends in Estonia and belongs to IUCN category „near threatened“. Bumblebees have got quite a lot of attention through monitoring, studies and projects in Estonia.
(c) Urmas Tartes. 

“More specifically, the list of bumblebees contains 21 species of true bumblebees and 8 species of cuckoo bumblebees. According to IUCN criteria 16 species of true bumblebees were evaluated in 2020 to be of least concern, 2 near threatened, 1 vulnerable, 1 endangered and 1 extinct in the region (Bombus laesus). Out of the 8 cuckoo bumblebee species 6 are least concern, 1 is near threatened and 1 was not evaluated.

“Bumblebees have been monitored in the context of national environmental monitoring since 1996, and since 2020 with updated methodology across more sites. Since 2006, bumblebees have been monitored also in connection with Rural Development Plan agri-environment schemes with evaluation focusing on agricultural landscapes. This work has been coordinated by the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge. Bumblebees have also been studied under different national and EU funded studies and projects. 

“True bumblebees have received more attention than cuckoo bumblebees. Based on available data the status of bumblebees generally is quite stable. On the other hand, some species (including Bombus veteranus and two long-tongued species B. distinguendus and B. hortorum) have decreasing trends and have become more vulnerable.

(247 solitary bee species have been found in Estonia but there are only a few experts and no monitoring. 
(c) Margit Mõttus.

“At the time of fifth IUCN evaluation in Estonia there was a shortage of data about solitary bees. To improve the knowledge, a revision of Estonian bee fauna was carried out in 2018—2020. Based on the results of 247 solitary bee species found in Estonia, it was concluded that 12 species are endangered, 6 critically endangered and 13 extinct in the region. The endangered and critically endangered species are very rare local species with very few findings recently. In general, the knowledge about solitary bees is still scarce: there are only a few experts available and no monitoring currently.

 Inachis io is a common species in Estonia. Butterflies are quite well known and noticed in Estonia.
(c) Arne Ader.

“103 butterfly species out of Estonia’s known 116 species were evaluated in 2017—2018 according to IUCN criteria: 87 butterfly species are least concern, 3 near threatened, 2 vulnerable, 7 endangered, 1 critically endangered and 3 extinct in the region. Species in the endangered and extinct categories are there due to climate changes and/or because they are associated with habitats like dry alvar meadows and heaths — areas which in Estonia have decreased. Valuable input for the evaluation was received from Estonian butterfly distribution mapping carried out in 2016—2017 which included more than 1200 sites across Estonia. According to butterflies communities monitoring in the frame of national environmental monitoring programme the abundance trend in 2004—2019 was even slightly positive. Since 2020 monitoring methodology was changed and more sites are monitored annually.

“In case of hawkmoths 11 species from 17 were evaluated according to IUCN criteria (6 are rare migratory species). All evaluated species were of least concern. Actually, only 4 species of hawkmoths can be considered as considerable pollinators in Estonia and according to the monitoring of moths communities in the frame of national environmental monitoring programme since 2003 these species trends are stable.

“There are 221 species of hoverflies known in Estonia but there is very little data about their biology and abundance. Therefore, it was not possible to evaluate the IUCN vulnerability status of most of the species and the trends are currently not known. There are only a few experts on hoverflies and no monitoring in Estonia.

“At the moment there is no strategic document for natural pollinators in Estonia, but in the frame of LIFE-IP project ForEst&FarmLand national pollinators’ action plan will be worked out by the end of 2024.

“So far, the actions to favour pollinators are mainly related to agricultural land where different measures can be applied in the sphere of EU common agricultural policy. 

“A list of some examples of measures, requirements and restrictions up to 2022 would include the following: 

  • obligation to grow leguminous crops, 
  • leaving 2—5 m wide grassland field margins, 
  • limitations to the use of glyphosates or other pesticides, 
  • compulsory trainings to raise awareness, 
  • supporting organic farming, 
  • supporting the management of semi-natural habitats, 
  • including biodiversity elements in horticulture, 
  • maintaining landscape elements, 
  • maintaining certain share of permanent grasslands. 

“There is also a measure ‘establishing foraging areas for bees’ the main target of which is honeybees. So, there are actually no measures specifically targeted at natural pollinators. Pollinators are indirectly favoured also through the legislation related to pesticides.

“There are also some other small-scale activities outside agricultural land. For example, in recent years, the city of Tartu has started activities promoting urban biodiversity: flower-meadows have been created in the city-centre and spring-flower patches in shady parks to raise public awareness about the importance of species diversity. 

“An important factor in maintaining pollinators is also citizen science and interest in pollinators. There are some materials about bumblebees and butterflies of Estonia but none for solitary bees, hawkmoths and hoverflies. A citizen science project about bumblebees was carried out in 2014 to raise citizens´ awareness and as a result of the project a Facebook group “Our bumblebees” was created (later renamed for “Our bumblebees and solitary bees”). In the group people can share photos, get support in assigning the species and share other relevant information (more than 1200 members). 

“Another similar Facebook group is for “Butterflies and moths of Estonia” (more than 3300 members). The Estonian Fund for Nature focused in 2018 on their voluntary actions related to semi-natural habitats restoration as well as on bumblebees and along with giving some lectures made bumblebees movies. 

“There are some citizen science platforms where nature observations, including pollinator observations, can be entered. Observations of protected species are cross-checked by an expert and entered into the Estonian Nature Information System. Popular science articles also help to raise public awareness about natural pollinators and give suggestions how to favour these useful insects – for example, suggestion not to mow the lawn so often and let the flowers bloom but also growing food plants specifically for pollinators in their garden.

“During 2020—2021 the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge participated in a project financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Countries participating were Norway (the lead partner), Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and this cooperation was called the North-European bumblebee network. The project included different awareness raising activities: producing online and hand-out materials, movies and webinars.

“In order to maintain Estonian pollinators’ populations, it is necessary to consider their species-wise characteristics. Thus, diverse landscapes are needed to ensure many different habitats with nesting sites but also diverse and abundant food resources throughout the activity season.”

Thanks to Eneli for a fantastic insight to what’s happening regarding pollinators in Estonia. We will keep a close eye on how things develop and wish our counterparts in Estonia all the best with their projects.