Monday, 22 September 2014

Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Why Have They Still Not Been Banned?

Alongside many other concerned individuals, I have been posting, blogging, talking & tweeting for years about the terrible effects neonicotinoid pesticides are having upon bees and other wildlife. They are still the world's most widely used pesticide, they are still killing bees, and I still struggle to understand why the 'Powers That Be' are so short sighted that they appear to prioritise short term economic health over the long term health of the entire planet's ecosystems.  

But weren't they 'banned'?

If I had a penny for every person who's said "I though neonicotinoids were banned last year" I'd be a rich woman. But they haven't been 'banned'. Far from it! Three of them, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, were partially and temporarily restricted by the EU (very much against the wishes of the UK govt by the way) in December 2013. This restriction is due to be lifted in December 2015.

In the mean time things are getting worse. Much worse.

At first, this was all about honeybees, but for a few years it has been clear that bumblebees and other invertebrates are also being affected which, in turn, is having a knock on affect on the small birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, that rely on these creatures for food. We know, too, that neonicotinoids are directly poisoning birds; for instance just a few neoicotinoid coated wheat seeds can prove lethal if ingested by a partridge.

Who knows what else is being affected? We were (are still) assured by the companies who manufacture these pesticides that they are safe for bees, much in the same way as we were told back in the 60's that DDT was safe for humans…..

I appreciate that my ongoing posts, blogs, tweets etc., on this subject might sometimes sound ranting and boring, but as Henk Tennekes says, this truly is 'A Disaster in the Making' and we cannot afford to be complacent. If neonicotinoids become yesterday's news and people stop campaigning to have them banned, we will reach a tipping point, and there will be no going back. Life on planet Earth is underpinned by the invertebrates and other small creatures that are being destroyed in their millions by neonicotinoid (and other) pesticides, so this issue is every bit as important and as pressing as any other environmental issue.

I am not a scientist. I am just someone who cares enormously about the flora and fauna we share this planet with….but my instincts and my common sense are screaming out to me that the continued and indiscriminate poisoning of our invertebrates, not to mention the air, water and soil we rely upon to sustain life itself, is horribly, horribly wrong. So again I say, we simply cannot afford to be complacent about neoicotinoids - and we cannot keep relying on a few individuals and organisations to sort this out for us. This problem needs to be owned and addressed by all of us. Now.

The following links provide more in-depth information from those who research and understanding of this issue is far more informed and in-depth better than mine.  Do please click on the links and read what they have to say. I have chosen these links carefully and they are all extremely readable.

If you buy just one book this year, please make it  Dave Goulson's 'A Buzz in the Meadow' 

If you sign up to just one charity, please make it BUGLIFE 





With thanks to artist Anna Suveges for giving me permission to use her 'Pesticides Killed my Family' poster


N.B. Neonicotinoids and other pesticides are not the sole cause of declining biodiversity. Habitat loss is every bit as important an issue.  Both need to be tackled simultaneously to reverse the decline.











Friday, 19 September 2014

Why Solitary Bees are Such Amazing Pollinators:

Leafcutter bee on Ragwort
Bees are by far the most important pollinators on Planet Earth. Their relationship with flowering plants goes back to the early Cetaceous period and different species of bee have, over 100 million years, developed a number of different physiological adaptations and behavioural traits to enable them to collect pollen.

Pollen carried by honeybees and bumblebees is visibly quite obvious. Both species have become extremely adept at  packing their pollen loads carefully, and neatly, into the smooth, widened pollen baskets (corbicula) situated on the sides of their hind legs. 

Solitary bees however are far less fastidious. These bees collect their pollen on 'scopa'; stiff, branched hairs, located on their legs or under their abdomen. 

As the female solitary bee collects pollen, she packs it onto her scopa less carefully and without the addition of saliva to moisten it. This means it is far more likely to fall off when the bee visits the next flower. 

Added to this, is the fact that solitary bees carry less pollen in each load, so need to make many more trips back and forth from the flowers to their nests than do honeybees and bumblebees. These extra foraging trips mean that many more flowers get pollinated in the process.


Perhaps the easiest way to explain the difference between bees various pollen collecting apparatus is with photographs….  


Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed bee) on Buddleia
Bumblebees and honeybees can carry up to 90% of their weight in pollen! 

You can see from this photograph of a Buff-Tailed worker bumblebee, how neatly she has packed the pollen, which she has moistened with saliva, into her pollen baskets. Honeybees do the same.


Most of this pollen will make its way back to the nest, where it will provide developing larvae with the protein they need to grow.





Halictus rubicundus female
Most ground nesting solitary bees collect pollen on scopa situated on their back legs. 

This image shows the pollen collecting hairs of the ground nesting bee 'Halictus rubicundus' BEFORE pollen collection. Note how hairy her legs are. 





This is another photograph of the same bee, H. rubicundus. This time her leg scopa are laden with pollen which she is about to take into her nest beneath the ground. 

A large amount of this bee's pollen load will never make it back to her nest as it will have been lost as she visited other flowers.









Most cavity nesting solitary bees, like the Leafcutter bee pictured here, collect pollen on their abdominal scopa. This method of collecting pollen is extremely messy and is one of the reasons why some Mason bees (close relatives of the leafcutter) are around 100 times more efficient as pollinators than honeybees.








So, there you have it. Solitary bees are in fact the unsung heroes of the pollinating world!

N.B. There are a few solitary bees that, unusually, carry pollen back to their nests in their crops.

Bumblebees and honeybees are, of course, also wonderful pollinators, but in different ways and for different reasons. More about this another day….



Monday, 8 September 2014

Gardening for Bees

Feb 2014
Our tiny wildlife garden, on the outskirts of Shaftesbury, Dorset, featured on  BBC2 Gardeners' World  earlier this month - and I've had lots of emails asking me about the flowers we've planted for bees. So, I though I'd jot down a list of all the flowers we've planted to attract pollinators - and also write a little bit about our aims and the underlying structure of the garden.

I'll write a separate blog post about the Leafcutter and Wool-carder solitary bees who featured in the program another time.

When we moved in earlier this year, there were only three plants growing in the garden; Crocosmia, Hedge Woundwort and Enchanter's Nightshade. There were also a couple of Leylandii, a Hawthorn, a Walnut, an Elder, brambles and loads of Ivy.

The garden is small and mostly paved. It is enclosed by an old red brick South East facing wall and a victorian privy with riled roof, all in poor repair; a North West facing stone wall with crumbling mortar; and larch lap fencing on either side.

When we told the landlord we wanted to turn it into a wildlife garden, he said he was happy for us to do whatever we wanted. So, the first thing we asked to do was cut down the Leylandii!

The Hawthorn, Walnut and Elder proved a dilemma. They cause an enormous amount of shade from early afternoon onwards, but are massively important for birds and other wildlife, so, apart from removing a couple of overhanging branches, and the lower canopy of Ivy from the Hawthorn, we decided to leave them as they are. It makes the planting more of a challenge, but was the right decision for us.

My partner, Rob, made half a dozen bird boxes from hollowed out tree trunks and reclaimed wood and we attached these to the trees and the back of next door's shed before the nesting season started. These attracted nesting tits straight away, and we also had wrens nesting behind the Ivy, but nothing in the sparrow boxes yet. Hopefully next year! We hung bird feeders on every available branch and on the washing line.

The fact that both the red brick wall and the old stone wall are in disrepair is wonderful. Nothing is more attractive to many of our solitary bee and wasp species than the nooks and crannies created within old walls. So all we needed to do with these was leave them well alone! We also build a rockery and piled up old terracotta pots and over miscellaneous items to provide habitat for other insects, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

We dug a little pond in a semi-shady part of the garden and now have at least four frogs and one very handsome toad helping us keep the slugs at bay. We've also had a number of dragonfly and damselfly species investigating the pond and we're keeping our fingers crossed that it might eventually be discovered by the local newts.

Other than keeping a few bramble stems for insects to nest in, we mostly removed it all as it's far too invasive for such a tiny space, but, apart from the lower canopy on the Hawthorn that I mentioned earlier, we have left the Ivy alone. Ivy is amazing! Its flowers provide much needed pollen and nectar, late in the season, for all manner of insects, and its leaves provide excellent cover for birds and other small animals throughout the year.

The only other man-made habitats we have added are Bee Hotels, to attract solitary Mason and Leafcutter bees. More about those in my next blog post.

All that is left to add for the purpose of this post is a list of all the flowers we've planted. We spent yesterday making the list and were really surprised by how many we've got. Most of them have been grown from seeds or cuttings….and some popped up of their own accord….but we also bought a few (thanks to my mother's generosity) from the thursday morning farmer's market in Shaftesbury and from Brian's fabulous Hill Top Garden at Stour Provost, near Gillingham.

So, here's the list, in no particular order.


Purple Loosestrife **
Yellow loosestrife
Gooseneck loosestrife
Nepeta x 3 **
Pulmonaria *
Dwarf comfrey **
Honeysuckle x 2 (details later today)
Clematis 'Paul Farges'
Verbena bonerensis *
Verbena hasata rosea
Field scabious *
Devil's bit scabious
Small scabious
Garden Valerian
Wild valerian
Hyssop **
Bird's foot trefoil
Bugle white
Bugle blue
Self heal
Sedums  **
Foxglove **
Hemp agrimony **
Welsh poppy *
Orange poppy
Centurea **
Borage **
Viper's bugloss **
Cerinthe **
Sunflower *
Nicotiana
Geranium x lots of different kinds **
Viola
Stachys (Lamb's Ears) *
Hedge woundwort **
Alliums
Chives **
Wild Marjoram **
Thyme *
Crocosmia
Dahlia Honka red *
Wild larkspur *
Enchanter's nightshade
Ivy **
Mint
Francoa
Helianthus
Jacob's ladder (pulemonium) *
Bergamot *
Cosmos **
Nasturtium
Marsh marigold
Salvia **
Runner beans
Knapweed *
Corn cockle
Nipplewort
Harebell *
Betony
Veronica **
Lathyrus (ever lasting sweet pea)
Linaria **
Lithium
Perennial foxglove
Solid aster
Agapanthus
Evening primrose
Dead nettle *
Californian poppy
Primula
Water lily
Forget-me-not *
Perennial borage
Plant from james
Rudbeckia
Campion
Echinops *
Penstemon
Herb robert
Mallow x 2 *

N.B. I've added a * to those flowers that were frequently visited by more than a couple of species of bee and ** to those that have been covered in numerous species throughout their flowering time. It is important to note that the more of each plant you group together, the more likely it is that the bees will find them.

I'm not really a gardener so some are common names and others latin.

Our planting scheme was planned for continuous flowering throughout the seasons.

Next year we'll be adding the following plants because they are all amazing plants for bees and other pollinators!

Knautia
Echinacea
Lavender x intermedia
Crocus
Rodgersia
Rosemary

Finally I'd like to recommend my favourite book and favourite website for anyone who is interested in making their garden bee friendly.

The book,  Plants for Bees is in my opinion unsurpassed as it is a collaboration between bee experts and gardeners. You can't get a better combination than that.

The website,  The Pollinator Garden , has been compiled over many years by Marc Carlton. It is based on his own experience and I have learned more from this wonderful resource than from any other.

Thank you so much for your interest, and here's a link to iPlayer in case you missed the program and would lie to watch it. Our garden is about 7 minutes in, and is followed by a totally inspiring piece about a sensory garden at a spinal injury unit in Salisbury  Gardeners' World episode 23

Brigit x

A few photos of some of the visitors we've had this year…..






















Monday, 11 August 2014

Mass Insect Extinction; the Elephant in the Room?


Life on planet earth has evolved over billions of years and has, to date, endured five major mass extinctions

Billions of species of flora and fauna have been and gone, but one class of species has proved extremely resilient (so far) to whatever changes have occurred on the planet and - apart from losing a few of their orders and suffering a reduction in diversity during the end-Permian period - has been the only class species to have survived all these extinctions.

I am speaking of course about the class 'Insecta' - Insects to you and me.

Insects are amazing - in every sense of the word. There are currently over 900,000 known species in the world, each performing different roles within our eco-systems. Not only do they form essential ecological links as predators and parasites, but they are also responsible for the vital roles of decompositionsoil processing and, of course, pollinationInsects have also contributed to the evolution of many other species; the most notable being the relationship they have formed with the flowering plants with which they have co-evolved over the last 100 million years.

Many insects are 'keystone species'. This means a number of other species depend upon them for their existence. If you were to remove a keystone species from any given eco-system it would upset the balance and that eco-system would collapse. Nature is all about balance. 

Given the fact that many of the planet's keystone species are insects, it's most fortunate that they have proved so resilient to change. So far.

Insects Facing Mass Extinction

Unfortunately, over a period of just 100 short years, things have changed so dramatically that this amazing class of species is now under threat. For the first time ever, INSECTS ARE FACING MASS EXTINCTION. 

Let me ask you a question......

When did you last have to stop your car during a long journey to clean away dead insects from the windscreen? 

When I was a child (back in the 60s) we used to travel up the A1 to Yorkshire to see my grandmother and I remember my father having to make regular stops to wash the windscreen - which was splattered with so many dead insects that the wipers alone couldn't keep it clean.

I also remember seeing huge flocks of birds following the farmer's ploughs in the fields alongside the road; all of them feeding on an abundance of worms and other invertebrates or micro organisms living beneath the surface of the soil that had just been exposed by the farmer's plough.

These days there are so few insects that our windscreens remain clear from Land's End to John O'Groats. And there are no longer flocks of birds following the tractors, because there's no life left in the soil.

How can this have happened in such a short period of time? Simple. It is down, unequivocally, to Man's chemical poisoning of the land, the oceans and the biosphere. That, and our obsessive desire to tame, manage, degrade, fragment, destroy and 'mow to within an inch of it's life' the once rich and diverse habitats that used to support insects and other biodiversity.

I say this because it needs to be said. Again.

We were warned of this scenario in the 1960's by Rachel Carson in her book 'Silent Spring'. We are being warned again by Henk Tennekes author of 'A Disaster in the Making' and by organisations such as Pesticides Action Network who campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and other toxic substances.

But why is this issue not being addressed as a matter of urgency in the media? Why do I not see any evidence that mass insect extinction is being taken seriously by the powers that be? And why are so few NGOs prepared to speak out about it? Most of our wildlife organisations tackle the issue of habitat loss as a matter of course. However, from what I can see, the only wildlife organisation campaigning specifically against pesticides and the impact their use is having upon invertebrates, is BUGLIFE - the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.....

Having raised this issue myself on numerous occasions with people from all walks of life, I'm tired of hearing the same old arguments from those who advocate that we 'need' these toxic substances to survive.

The arguments range from "We can't feed the world without the use of pesticides" to "What about all the jobs dependent on the pesticides industry…. people can't afford to lose their jobs" - and many more arguments besides.

These arguments are unbelievably short sighted. Without insects (not to mention unpolluted soil, water and atmosphere) man will not survive anyway. Very little will survive. We are destroying our tomorrow for the sake of our today. And the craziest thing of all is that it doesn't need to be like this because small scale, organic and sustainable farming CAN & WILL feed the world. 

Of course it's not just the agri-chemical and pharmaceutical industries doing the damage...insects need habitat to survive too. They need environments where they can forage, nest, breed and hibernate - and this is something we can all help to provide.

Do something about it....

It is time for us to face the facts, however uncomfortable they may be. We can only effect change if we know and understand that change needs to happen. Burying our heads in the sand isn't going to solve anything....it never has.

Humans are amazing, resourceful beings. All we need to do is wake up to the reality of the damage we are causing, shift our mind sets a little and  DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!

Ways you can help:

Make your garden a haven for pollinators

Join Buglife

Get involved with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Become a Bees, Wasps & Ants recorder

OR.... simply spend some time lying in the undergrowth getting to know your local insects. They are utterly mesmerising. Once you're hooked you'll wonder how you ever managed not to notice them before and you will be motivated to do everything you can to help them survive.

B x

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bee Decline: as important & urgent an issue as Climate Change

Solitary male bee Andrena nitida
I'm feeling hugely frustrated this morning.

A handful of charities and a number of passionate individuals have been campaigning to raise awareness of the existence, importance and decline of wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) for YEARS. Some of these have crashed and burned in the process because they have lacked the funding and support they so desperately needed to continue with their awareness raising.

Why then, has it taken so long for the national press and some of the larger conservation/green/wildlife organisations to recognise and speak up for these unsung heroes? Where were they ten years ago, or earlier?  Of course it's absolutely wonderful that so many organisations are now running campaigns to help bees and other pollinators, but I do so wish it hadn't taken till 2013/14 for them to start making their noise.

Bee decline, and its consequences upon the pollination of human food crops and around 80% of the world's flowering plants IS NOT NEWS. The world has had access to research about the dire effects of intensive agriculture, with it's complete reliance upon pesticides, and the destruction it causes to habitat, for decades. We were warned about these consequences by Rachel Carson in her book 'Silent Spring' ... FIFTY YEARS AGO.

I simply cannot understand why those individuals and organisations who have it in their power to effect change have not shown an earlier interest in the global decline of pollinators, not to mention the little matter of the possibility of mass insect extinction. I also struggle to understand why so many individuals and organisations are still sitting on the fence about the neonicotinoid issue. It reminds me of the days when the world was in complete denial about the negative effects of smoking….or when DDT, which is nowhere near as toxic to bees as neonicotinoids are, was still considered safe to use.

I know there are many many other issues that need to be addressed with equal urgency, but to my mind 'Bee Decline' should be up there with 'Climate Change' as one of the most urgent and important issues of our times. The thing about pollinator decline is that it is relatively easy for us all to do something to help. If we get it right for bees, we begin to get it right for all life on earth…and the thing about pollinator decline is that it is relatively easy for us all to do something to help.

All we need to do is plant more pollen & nectar rich flowers, stop using pesticides, and create a world full of Bee Friendly Zones - it's that simple!

Anyway, that's enough of a rant for today. I'm going to close my computer now, put my energies where my mouth is, and spend the weekend taking advantage of this beautiful weather to see if my partner and I can turn the little concrete yard behind our cottage in Dorset into a haven for pollinators and other wildlife.  More about that project later :-)

In the mean time, here are some excellent resources and ideas for anyone who'd like to help pollinators and other wildlife.

My favourite website -  THE POLLINATOR GARDEN

My favourite wildlife gardening book -   THE WILDLIFE GARDEN - by Kate Bradbury

My favourite charity - BUGLIFE

Have a lovely sunny weekend x



Thursday, 28 November 2013

It's good to be alive


dandelion clock

I love bees and I love trees. I also love butterflies, woodlice, dragonflies and shield bugs; lemon verbena tea made with freshly picked leaves from the garden; sunset and sunrise; and sunshine; moonshine; watching solitary leaf cutter bees building their nests; starlight; living in Cornwall; grasses; beetles; the weather and the fact that it is so wonderfully unpredictable and changeable in the UK; my friends and my family; wild flowers (especially the ones that grow between paving slabs because they show how resilient nature is); birds, bats, mice and toads; making nature mandalas; reference books illustrated with beautiful photographs and drawings; native hedgerows; figs from the fig tree outside my back door; Glennie Kindred's beautiful new book 'Letting in the Wild Edges' (if you haven't already got it, put it on your Christmas list now!); mosses and lichens; live music; speaking to people about the unbelievably amazing world of wild bees; seaweed and sand; walking barefoot on the beach; rainbows; unicorns; raging rivers full of huge rocks and boulders and streams so small that they are almost hidden by the undergrowth; juicing apples; walking along the Cornish coastal paths; being a mother and a grandmother; old man's beard; moths, caterpillars and spider's webs; hazel nuts and fungi; the beautiful hand crafted things that people have gifted me; ginger flavoured dark chocolate; discovering bumblebee nests in the compost heap; the aliveness of water; clouds that look like dragons for a moment or two before they shift shape into hippopotami: knowing that you are never too long in the tooth to fall in love; loving and being loved; grass snakes; sitting by the wood burner with a bowl of porridge on a cold winter morning; letting the chickens out of their run so they can wander around the garden; winter squashes; summer squashes; sowing seeds, saving seeds and swapping seeds; dandelion clocks; carving wooden spoons; greater stitchwort; nice surprises; meeting friends in Pinky Murphy's Cafe in Fowey for a cup of tea; collecting sea glass and driftwood from the beach; bees (did I already mention that?); swimming in the sea; curly kale.......


It's good to make lists of all the things you love and appreciate every now and then. It reminds you how wonderful it is to be alive!

Wishing everyone who reads this a beautiful day/week/life x



Greater stitchwort

Common blue butterfly
Old man's beard

























Nature mandala



Friday, 26 July 2013

We Need Action - not Words!


It frustrates me enormously that we are only recently reading the *breaking news* that artificially bred bumblebees are being imported to the UK - and that they are carrying diseases that are endangering our native bumblebees when the artificially bred bees escape into the wild.

This is NOT breaking news, it has been going on for YEARS but the media have not been interested!!! All of a sudden, now that 'bee decline' is worrying people from a human crop pollination view point, everyone seems to be reporting on this situation. Although they very rarely tell the whole story.

Of course it is in many ways a wonderful thing that this is finally being reported in the media because more people will sit up and take notice....but it's no good closing the stable door after the horse has already bolted. News like this needs to be disseminated much earlier if it is to make a difference to the bumblebees that are being bred and used for the purpose of pollinating our mono crops of tomatoes etc....and to the native bees that are, in turn, being exposed to the diseases that are already rife in artificially reared colonies.

I notice that most of the reports don't mention the fact that these beautiful, hard working little creatures are often reared on pollen and nectar substitutes and are artificially overwintered by exposing them to carbon dioxide. Worst of all, when they have finished doing the job of pollinating the tomatoes, they are not allowed to be released into the wild, or returned to Eastern Europe where they were bred, so they are DROWNED or FROZEN to death.

Breeding bumblebees artificially to pollinate our mono crops is, to me, abhorrent on every level. It reminds me of the battery chicken industry.

I'm also stunned that it is considered 'news' that cocktails of pesticides are contributing to bee decline.  Of course they are contributing to bee decline!!! This, also, has been known for decades. I remember reading research published many years ago telling us that dead bees have been found to contain up to 27 different pesticides in their poor little bodies. this is not rocket science and it didn't need millions of ££££s or $$$$s to be spent to tell us what we already know. This money would have been far better spent supporting farmers to switch to organic methods of farming when growing their crops.

Rachel Carson highlighted the problems that pesticides were causing for wildlife back in the sixties in her book 'Silent Spring', which is sadly as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

What is wrong with the media, our government and the population in general, that we wait till things are so dire that our pollinators are in danger of becoming extinct before we even begin to discuss what we should do about the situation?!  I have had conversations with people recently who tell me they have read recently about bee decline, and that it all sounds very awful, but that they can't stop using pesticides because their roses would suffer and they couldn't possibly leave their lawns to grow longer to allow the clovers, vetches and self-heals to flower because it would look untidy. I can only conclude that these people are suffering from some kind of collective madness.

Apologies for the rant, but seriously, what is it going to take for people, organisations and governments to take this issue seriously enough to actually DO something about it instead of just talk about it? I'm delighted that it IS finally being reported in the media and that so many organisations (including many environmental and wildlife NGO's) that have ignored the issue of pesticides & bee decline till recently are finally speaking up, but we need ACTION to be taken immediately otherwise it will be too late.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

First and foremost we must all plant more pollen and nectar rich flowers. All the advice you need to create a pollinator garden can be found on this website

Please sign  THIS PETITION CALLING FOR A BAN ON IMPORTED BUMBLEBEES

If you are someone who uses insecticides, herbicides or fungicides on your garden, please look for alternatives. There are plenty out there and they are not difficult to find. All you need to do is search on google for 'Natural alternatives to pesticides'

Thank you for all that you do!

Brigit x

*Breaking news* about imported bumblebees - report in Telegraph 

*Breaking news* about cocktails of pesticides contributing to bee decline 

Taking Bees for Granted Interesting article