Swarming with ideas

by Simon Terry 17.03.16

We had the great pleasure of welcoming 21 bee health experts to Parma last week to brainstorm topics for research in the EU. The workshop was called by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG-AGRI) to discuss past and on-going EU research projects and provide colleagues in Brussels with a list of priority areas for future work.

After an intense, tightly scheduled day of presentations and discussions, the experts – scientists, coordinators from current and previous EU-financed bee projects, and representatives of international and European agencies involved in bee health – managed to condense a wide-ranging “bucket list” to fewer than 20 recommendations.

EFSA will publish a full report of the event with details on the recommendations discussed, but high on the agenda were calls for: good-quality data to enable assessment of the impact of chemicals on different bee species under different conditions; long-term monitoring of species abundance and habitats that takes into account different landscapes and agricultural practices; and tools for the early detection of infectious agents, pests and predators.

For non-specialists such as me the meeting represented a learning curve of Alpine proportions, particularly when the group embarked on the difficult task of ranking the recommendations. If, like me, you’re not familiar with expert knowledge elicitation (EKE) methodology – using box plots, star plots and the like – you can find out more in EFSA’s guidance document.

And what did the “man from the Commission” make of it all? Jean-Charles Cavitte, representing DG-AGRI, said: “I learned a lot from this workshop. I am not an expert on bees – in fact, I am still not an expert – but I have improved my knowledge considerably. This workshop will contribute directly to the design of research activities in the EU over the next four to five years.”

Mr Cavitte explained that the Commission, in collaboration with EFSA, has included a bee-related topic in its draft work programme for 2016-2017, and this could be fine-tuned in the first part of this year. Further research topics could be considered for future funding under Horizon 2020.

Thanks to everyone for coming to Italy for this important meeting. We need the bees. We need research.

Simon Terry is a communications officer at EFSA.

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