Citizen engagement and biodiversity protection - the case of wild pollinating insects
The decline in numbers and diversity of pollinators has been identified as a major biodiversity issue, threatening both many wild ecosystems and agricultural production. The issue has attracted a lot of public attention especially in the aftermath of the launch of the European Red List of Bees in 2014 and a number of alarming scientific publications showing a sharp decline in insect pollinators (e.g., Hallmann et al., 2017; Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys, 2019). Good examples of public mobilisation are the Save Bees and Farmers European Citizens’ Initiative, which has gathered 1.2 million signatures, and the Save the Bees petition in Bavaria, which after gathering 1.7 million signatures in the southern German region alone was passed into law.
The recognition of this public interest is built into the Pollinators Initiative, a Commission Communication setting up an EU-wide framework for short-, mid- and long-term actions to reverse the decline and ultimately support the recovery of pollinating insects. Specifically, the third priority of the Initiative focuses on ‘Mobilising the society and promoting strategic planning and cooperation at all levels’. In this context, the Competence Centre on Participatory and Deliberative Democracy has been supporting the work on pollinators of the Directorate-General for Environment by exploring innovative ways of engaging citizens that go beyond awareness raising, education and citizen science.
The pilot projects coordinated by the Competence Centre have varied in terms of specific topics, target groups and aims. What they did have in common was the focus on material co-creation and deliberation, i.e., the exploration of non-discursive forms of articulation and collaboration taking into account the emotive, embodied, sensorial, relational and meaning-related aspects of the issue.
During our first Makers-in-Residence programme, four makers worked on the theme of pollinators, developing several prototypes: a sensing kit and pollinator hotel for exploring coexistence with insects in urban areas; a filmmaking workshop for imagining different biodiversity futures; tools for insect photography; and an interactive pollinator habitat simulator. All these prototypes offered material points of entry into discussions on different aspects of pollinator conservation.
A project with young environmental educators and activists focused on capacity building in environmental advocacy and citizen science for youth. Working with a peer-to-peer approach, young experts experimented with methods and workshop formats, explored the content to be included and ways of approaching different groups (from school students to youth NGOs’ members). During these activities young people had an opportunity to explore the issue using systems thinking, co-create ideas following theory of change approach and identify connections between their existing passions and pollinator conservation. The overarching purpose of these activities was to ground the learning in the everyday life of young people, their existing activities, interests and concerns.
Another project focused on citizens-famers relations. Farming is central in the issue of pollinators decline: while certain farming practices are a major driver in the declines, food production is also crucially dependent on pollination services and many farming methods and practices can support pollinating insects. Thus, we ran a series of participatory processes across five European countries to explore how citizens and farmers can start working together to build trust, expand the public debate to include in it their concerns and matters of care, and ultimately develop together place-focused interventions grounded in local culture, needs and capacities.
Looking into the next months, we are kick-starting a new project, this time exploring how cultural institutions, like museums, can become focal points for the engagement of citizens around pollinators decline in the context of urban biodiversity. We will take as our point of departure the Pollinator Park, a dystopic virtual reality experience developed by DG Environment, and move on to explore how we can work in our city neighbourhoods towards better futures for biodiversity and people.
The insights we have gathered across all these projects will be collected into guidelines on engaging citizens in addressing biodiversity issues, with pollinators decline acting as the entry point into wider environmental issues. The publication will include a protocol for designing participatory processes, toolbox of methods, implementation recommendations and a series of case studies.
Watch this space for more info in the coming months!