Alumna Deborah Post: on the sustainability highway
According to a recent study, three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in just 27 years. Globally, scientists believe insect life has declined by 45 per cent. The dramatic implications for ecosystems accelerate the urgency of initiatives such as one of the world's first “honey highways”, which has been established in the Netherlands by RSM alumna Deborah Post (Doctorandus Bedrijfskunde 2002).
Story by Lyn Drummond
Sustainability champion Deborah Post's idea to establish one of the world's first honey highways in the Netherlands has global reach as insect populations decline and nine per cent of all bee species in Europe are threatened with extinction.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has already warned that increased farming intensification has led to degradation of bee habitats. It says that vigorous silage production – at the expense of haymaking – causes losses of herb-rich grasslands and season-long flowering, important sources of forage for pollinators. Insecticides also harm wild bees and herbicides reduce the flowers they depend on.
The honey highway was one of 17 Dutch innovations at this year's Ideas for Europe event held at the Afsluitdijk in the Netherlands. Deborah told guests, including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, how this honey highway, a seven-kilometre stretch of the A4 highway between Delft and Schiedam, aims to save 350 species of wild bees and the original Dutch honey bee. The solution to saving bees was, she said, ‘as old as the road to Rome – sowing wild flowers.’
Deborah is contracted to Rijkswaterstaat, ProRail and dyke wardens who allocate land for her work. She promotes their sustainability agenda by giving bags of honey highway seeds to neighbourhoods, sowing wild flowers with schoolchildren and placing biodynamic beehives on land near the highway. She also organises biodynamic bee courses. Biodynamics is an alternative form of farming which includes concepts based on the ideas of philosopher Rudolph Steiner.
Steiner's book Bees, which forecast insects would die out, prompted Deborah's mission. She was also influenced by Professor Piet Zonderwijk's book De bonte berm, which espoused the idea that wild plant species grow in greater abundance when the berm is correctly managed.
Deborah acquired her first swarm after attending a biodynamic beekeeping course but the insects began to die. ‘I was sad because the trees and flowers were in bloom, but still the bees couldn't find enough food. I got another swarm and 100 organic apple trees from a friend.’ After a golf club gave her land for the trees she let the bee colony swarm. Another colony arrived and the hives expanded. Determined to extend food supplies, she developed organic wild flower seed that contains 44 types of flowers and herbs.
Deborah's idea to sow the roadsides of the A4 was enthusiastically encouraged and the honey highway opened in November 2015. Annual organic bee dinners, which Deborah holds at her family's country house in Schipluiden, between Rotterdam and The Hague, have convinced hundreds of people of her vision.
‘There is clean soil and no pollution on 17,000 kilometres of dykes and 14,000 kilometres of railways and no pollution at roadsides,’ she says. ‘We have 20,000 km of highways and in each of the 11 regions of the Netherlands there are about 500 kilometres of provincial ways. We always choose the right places for sowing.’
When studying at RSM in 2001, she wondered why fellow students were often more concerned with a career than the environment. ‘It's different now because the honey highway is already part of an educational programme at high schools. A university student can get study credits if they sow roadsides in Friesland.’
A call to alumni
On the annual national sowing day on 7 June, thousands of school children plant at roadsides, dykes, in their own gardens, and on grounds next to schools. Deborah hopes alumni will ask their employers to help fund the projects or offer land. Autumn projects included sowing roadsides in a sustainable neighbourhood in Rijswijk, on land owned by an organic vegetable grower in Brielle, and a roadside in The Hague. Land is being prepared on highways in Friesland, as are dykes in South Holland and the South Holland islands. With the support of entrepreneurs and landowners, Deborah is also readying unused nutrient-poor soil.
Reflecting on her motivations, Deborah says, ‘I have an ideal, a purpose. I pushed away huge obstacles. I received encouragement because I believed in myself, and because what I am doing is good for Mother Nature, people and society.’