Wednesday, 24 August 2016

It's not just about bees.....

Looking back through my blog posts and social media feeds, it is obvious that I write and talk a great deal about bees; their importance as pollinators; their beauty; the fascinating relationship they have with flowering plants; the differences between species; reasons for their decline (pesticides, habitat loss, climate change etc); and how we can help them survive.

Despite how it may appear on the surface though, these issues and the concerns they raise are neither as insular nor are they as 'bee-centric' as they seem. In fact, the issues affecting bees are simultaneously affecting all life on earth. Here are a few examples.....


1. At the same time that scientific advice and research supporting a call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides is often ignored or buried, information and research addressing myriad other issues is also ignored and buried. 

2. Pesticides (including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) don't only harm bees. They harm other wildlife and, of course, human beings. They do this directly and indirectly.

3. Habitat loss and intensive agriculture do not just affect bees. They affect all other wildlife and are causing loss of biodiversity on a catastrophic scale.

4. As we continue to lose bee populations/species we will simultaneously continue to lose the plants rely upon them for pollination. This, in turn, will bring about the loss of more wild flowers, farmland birds, small mammals and, ultimately, the collapse of entire eco-systems.

5. Whilst multinational agrochemical corporations like Bayer & Syngenta continue to manufacture toxic bee killing chemicals like neonicotinoids, other equally powerful corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, BASF and Dow Chemical are manufacturing similarly toxic and damaging substances that are gradually poisoning our planet.

6. Climate change is already causing irreversible problems for some bee species…. but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Bees are just one of the many canaries in this particular mineshaft.

7. Disease & infection in bee populations (honeybees & wild bees) is symptomatic of what is happening on a wider scale with birds, bats, amphibians, human beings etc. etc.

So, it's not just about bees. But... planting flowers for pollinators, getting to know and recognise the bees and other insects in your garden, not using pesticides, signing petitions asking our government to listen to our views on the neonicotinoid issue etc.... are all part of a far bigger picture. Those of us who campaign to raise awareness of bee decline may appear to be focussed on just one single issue, but nothing works in isolation.

Everything is interconnected and if we get it right for bees, it follows that we will get it right for ALL life on earthLearning to fall in love with bees is just one of the many ways we can re-establish our relationship and disconnection with the wonderful world around us.
Vive les abeilles!




Wednesday, 27 July 2016

When is a bee not a bee?

If you were to read an article about lions, but the photograph accompanying it was one of a tiger, you would probably notice straight away.... and you'd be surprised. But would you notice if an article about bees were accompanied by a photograph of a hoverfly? Possibly not. However, the internet is awash with wonderful, well researched, articles about bees that have been illustrated with photographs of hoverflies. In fact it's not just internet articles that get this wrong; one of the best reference books on the world's native bee species sports an image of a hoverfly on its front cover. Christopher O'toole and Anthony Raw must have been dismayed when the first edition of their wonderfully informative book hit the book shops in this guise!

So why do certain hoverfly species manage to dupe us into thinking they are bees.... and how can you tell the difference between a bee and a hoverfly?

A few years back, I spotted something that looked like a bumblebee and flew like a bumblebee, foraging on the flowers just outside my kitchen window. There was something unusual about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on, so I took a quick snap shot and uploaded it to my laptop for a closer look.

Lo and behold, it wasn't a bumblebee at all! Although it had been difficult to tell from a distance, I could see straight away from the image on my laptop that this insect had large prominent 'fly' eyes that almost joined together in the middle of her head and that her antennae were short and stumpy; entirely unlike a bumblebee who would have ovoid eyes on the side of her head and whose antennae would be long and beautifully elegant. On further examination I noticed she was missing the 'waspish' waist that characterises all bee species and I could also see that she only had one set of wings, rather than two.

Meredon equestris - photo Ed Phillips

I was most surprised. For all the world this creature had looked and acted like a Red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) but clearly she wasn't. She turned out to be Merodon equestris (Narcissus fly) one of our 250 or so UK hoverflies. A fly pretending to be a bee…..


Batesian Mimicry

'Batesian mimicry' is where a harmless species has evolved to mimic the warning signals given out by a harmful species. One of the most obvious examples of this form of mimicry is where hoverflies imitate wasp coloration in an attempt to avoid predation by birds and other predators. My understanding previously however, had been that whilst bees 'flew' - hoverflies 'hovered. Not so this hoverfly! Merodon equestris has taken Batesian mimicry to its extremes. Not only does it look like a bumblebee with its long hair and chunky striped markings, but it has actually evolved in such a way that it flies and buzzes like a bumblebee too….. although of course there are differences once you know what to look for. Incredible.

To discover more about our wonderful and diverse UK hoverfly species, please check out All About Hoverflies. It contains loads of interesting information and lots of great photos and illustrations to help you identify the hoverflies visiting your garden…..

If you are interested in learning more about insects in general….or in helping prevent their decline  …..do please consider joining BUGLIFE . For as little as £2 per month you can help this charity make a real difference.

Many thanks to Ed Phillips for allowing me to use his beautiful photograph of Meredon equestris. You can find more of his wonderful photographs here - Ed Phillips Wildlife

Thank you for reading this post x



Episyrphus balteatus (marmalade hoverfly

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Positive News

This morning I turned the radio on as usual to listen to the news.  It occurred to me that if I were a visitor from another planet listening to this news (assuming I'd been allowed to land on Planet Earth in the first place without a visa of some sort) I would probably catch the next spaceship home. I wouldn't want to stay on a planet where everything sounded so negative and sad. I am acutely aware that the world is in crisis (and I'm not just talking about the results of the referendum) but what about the positive news? Is there any? If so, why is it not being reported too?

Half an hour later and still no good news, so I turned the radio back off again and decided to make a list of my own 'news' instead.

Thursday 30th June 2016:

Life is challenging, I'm exhausted, money is tight, sad and troubling things are going on in the world and I haven't seen any leafcutter bees yet this year. The lack of leafcutters concerns me because tomorrow is the first day of July and they are usually well into their nesting season by now.

BUT..... the sun came out today(!), the Cottoneaster beneath my bedroom window is alive with the buzz of bumblebees, I can hear Sue (one of my neighbours) laughing out loud in the street outside, children are chattering away with their parents as they walk past on their way to school and the rambling roses on the cottage opposite are blooming. There is half a 'rhubarb, ginger and polenta' cake sitting on a green and white spotty plate in the kitchen, and lots of yummy leftover salads from last night in the fridge. The slugs haven't found the sunflowers or cosmos we planted in the big commercial olive tins outside our front door. We have a front door..... and a roof over our heads! I don't need to water anything because it has been raining so much recently. It's Thursday, so I can stock up with fresh local produce from the weekly market in Shaftesbury. The fact that I can chose to buy fresh local produce from the market puts the 'money is tight' thing in perspective and the walk up there will wake me up and make me feel less exhausted. Also, we have an allotment and because we remembered to net the beans in time this year (birds got them last year) we now have a crop of delicious broad beans to harvest and eat. I love and I am loved. Shaftesbury Town Council have stopped using Glyphosate in our parks and open spaces and lots of people are starting to plant bee friendly flowers in their gardens. I finally caught a glimpse of the tawny owl who has been calling every night for the last two and a half years from the trees behind our house, as he glided silently past our roof light a couple of evenings ago. It was magic. I am alive. I have friends to talk to. I can talk. And as if all that isn't enough, I  have three beautiful grandchildren who I love to the moon and back.....

I don't like all the negative news. It affects me as much as the next person and my heart breaks for those who are less fortunate than myself.  But I don't think it is healthy when the bad news completely drowns out the good, positive things that are still happening in most of our lives. No matter how small and seemingly insignificant they are.... I wish the people who produce the radio and TV news would end their broadcasting with a few more positive news items. Of course this wouldn't cancel out, negate or belittle all the bad things that are happening, but it would at least give people the motivation to want to get up in the morning.

Thank goodness for Positive News Magazine!

Sending love, strength and healing to all who need it x

P.S. The beautiful uplifting sunflower pic was taken by Olga Lipatova (thank you Chris for this information)

Monday, 27 June 2016

A New Day

I've been struggling with all the negativity and anger over the last few weeks and thinking "I'll be glad when this referendum is over and we can get back to normal."  I'm sure I'm not the only one to have expressed this sentiment, but of course very few of us, including those who voted to leave, actually expected the result we woke up to on Friday morning..... and it is clear that things are definitely not going to get back to normal; whatever 'normal' is.

But we know that nothing stays the same. It never has and it never will. Change is one of life's inevitabilities and if we look hard enough we will always find silver linings and opportunities. I have to admit it's a bit of a challenge to find many silver linings in this case, but they are most certainly there.

Silver linings come in many different guises and in this case I believe (and hope) they may come in the form of 'realisations'.

One such realisation may come from the 'powers that be' who might finally understand (realise) that they cannot continue to ignore the wishes and voices of the people. History has shown again and again that people who are ignored and trampled upon will rebel and that those who have ignored and trampled upon them will be shocked and surprised by this.  Most of us (those who live in the real world) already know that the chasm dividing the rich and the poor; the haves and have nots; the North and the South; is untenable. Our leaders, however, have become so detached from reality that they have dangerously, arrogantly and foolishly ignored the wishes and fears of the people they were elected to govern. They have forgotten how to 'listen' so they have not 'heard'. They have forgotten how to 'see' so they have not 'seen'. They have forgotten the true meaning of words like 'truth', 'honesty', 'humility', 'integrity', 'honour' and 'duty' and in isolating themselves in the bubble that is Westminster, they have completely and utterly failed the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, the young, the sick and the environment. They have failed the relationship.

It seems to me that voting 'leave' has been the only way people have been able to express their feelings of (to put it mildly) frustration and desperation with a government that just doesn't listen. The fact that some of the most vulnerable 'leave' voters may ultimately suffer more as a result of us leaving the EU (although we don't know this will be the case for sure yet) is ironic, but the point is, by voting 'leave' their voices have finally been heard.

Maybe, just maybe this result will prove to be the wake up call our politicians so desperately need! Maybe something good will come from the leave vote. Even though it will involve the breakdown of a relationship, if may spawn a new generation of leaders who learn from the mistakes and failures of previous leaders that they cannot ignore the people they have been elected to govern.

Every day is a new day..... and new days bring with them new beginnings, new challenges and new opportunities. Ok, so we have bigger challenges today than we did yesterday, but the sun is still shining (at least today it is!) the birds are still singing, and I am/we are still alive. It's time to roll up our sleeves and move forward instead of (or as well as) looking back. We are where we are, so we will just have to speak louder and fight harder; not only for the vulnerable people who some on this island would close their doors to.... but also for the environment and the diverse and amazing wildlife we share it with. Our voices, votes and actions will count more than ever now.

Edited to add: I am not suggesting that we bypass the process of coming to terms with the changes that are yet to pan out, or that those who are more deeply affected than others (emotionally, financially or otherwise) should 'get up and get on with it'.  I am just trying to find some kind of silver lining to focus on because that is what always works best for me when a situation is extremely challenging and beyond my control.

It scares the living daylights out of me when I look at the mess our political parties are in and wonder who on earth is going to have time to put the environment and the wildlife we share this world with anywhere near the top of their agenda...... but I feel we are better equipped and able to deal with this is we can find something positive amidst all the negatives. I hope that makes sense?


x




Monday, 30 May 2016

Creating a Buzz in Shaftesbury

Pollinator Parade
We have just held our very first and highly enjoyable 'Bee & Butterfly Bonanza' in the hill-top town of Shaftesbury in North Dorset!

Our aim was to celebrate the wonderful and extraordinarily beautiful diversity of the UK's pollinators: bumblebees; solitary bees; honeybees; butterflies; moths; beetles; hoverflies etc; as well as the equally beautiful and diverse plants these insects rely upon for their survival. We wanted to use the day to provide information and inspiration to everyone who attended the event by offering a range of talks, walks and activities to help raise awareness of the enormous importance of pollinators and plants. We decided to try and make this information as colourful, interesting and accessible as possible and to pitch the event so it would appeal to all age groups and levels of interest.

One of the other things we want to achieve over a period of time, is to map all the Bee Friendly gardens and Open Spaces in the town. Local resident Bernard Ede has kindly created a landscape map for this purpose, which we started to fill in on the day and hope to add to now on an ongoing basis.



We're fortunate in Shaftesbury to have an area just off the high street that can be used for community events; although I don't think many people realise it is available to be used in this way.  Park Walk has hard standing for stalls as well as a lovely garden, much used by locals and tourists alike, with views overlooking the Blackmore Vale. The whole space is backed by the ancient walls Shaftesbury Abbey, whose beautiful gardens amidst the Abbey's ruins are full of herbs and other bee friendly plants. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect place to put on our event.

Our Bee & Butterly Bonanza was the result of a collaboration between Dorset Wildlife Trust , members of Shaftesbury Tree Group, and local residents. We worked together, collaborating and communicating in much the same way as honeybees do (minus the waggle dance!) to try and create something for the greater good of the whole. It was an absolute joy to organise this day, as at no time during the months we've been working together did any one individual stand out more than another....nor did any one individual or organisation seek to take control of, or credit for, the day. I thought it important to mention this because this is not always the way that such events come together. Maybe the chilled out organisation had something to do with the fact that we held most of our meetings in Turnbulls Deli where they serve very delicious coffee, herbal teas and cakes.....

Anyway, whatever the reason for it being a joy to work with each other on this project, the other thing that helped was the decision we made, from the very beginning, that although we would do everything we possibly could to make the event a success, none of us would lose sleep about the outcome. Of course we hoped the sun would shine and that lots of people would come and support us, but attaching so much importance to the outcome that you don't enjoy the journey and/or allow yourself to be open to last minute changes in plans is a sure recipe for sleepless nights!

We had absolutely no budget to work with, so relied completely on volunteers and donated/borrowed tables, chairs, marquees etc.... together with stall holders who supported the event for the sake of being involved rather than to make big profits.

A lovely local couple, Nick and Philippa Forrest, lent us their marquee... and members of the Tree Group kindly put it up and took it down; Dorset Wildlife Trust brought chairs for people to sit on during the talks; The Friends Meeting House lent us a few tables; Shaftesbury Country Market came along with butterfly cakes and lots of bee friendly plants for sale and my lovely friend Anne came down from Herefordshire with an amazing selection of wild plants and barely broke even because she gave so many away.


Dorset Wildlife Trust

We had cider and mead from Tim at Marshwood Cider  and Fairtrade tea and coffee from Paul McDougall's 'The Italian Connection';  Local Wildlife artist and author Sara Westaway designed some beautiful colouring in sheets for children to take away and Elizabeth Ingam and Natasha Boyle, friends of friends who I have never met before, answered my last minute call on facebook for face painters.

The very lovely Sally Rainbowchild from The Space lead a 'Bee & Butterfly Yoga' session and local Neal's Yard consultant Janet Pegrum came along with their gorgeous 'Bee Lovely' range of lotions and potions. My wonderful partner Rob brought som top bar and warre bee hives and talked to people about Natural Beekeeping....as well as helping with lots of collecting, lifting and carrying; Gillingham Brownies came along dressed as bees and other pollinators to take part in our Pollinator Parade (which was led by Dorset Wildlife Trust's giant butterfly); Shaftesbury Abbey opened it's gardens on a donation only basis; Hunny-bears brought their honey...... and the universe, despite what the BBC weather forecast told me on its website, pitched in with loads of sunshine and absolutely no rain or thunderstorms!

Best of all was the fact that lots of lovely interested people came to support the event..... to buy plants, do yoga, eat cake, drink cider, tea & coffee, ask questions, attend talks and walks and generally celebrate all that we owe to our amazing and diverse pollinators.

So a HUGE thank you to all the above!!! But special thanks to Angela, Sue, Rob and Briony x

Although the focus of this event was very much on celebrating the wonderful diversity of pollinators and plants, we hope it will mark the beginning of a series of ongoing wildlife events in and around the town of Shaftesbury....so one of the aims of the day was to gather names and contact details of people who might be interested in coming to talks, workshops, walks etc.... or becoming involved in local wildlife groups and projects. This we achieved and it was hugely encouraging to meet so many like minded people who, we hope, will get involved with (or attend) future events and projects.

Shaftesbury is one of a growing number of towns and villages in the UK who's residents and council are working together to make their open spaces and gardens more bee/pollinator friendly. Wouldn't it be amazing if every village, town and city did the same....?

 Bee Walk in the Abbey Gardens
Sara Westaway's colouring in sheets
Rob Howard, Beekeeper
Marshwood Cider & Mead
Pollinator Parade
Elizabeth Ingham Face Painter
Paul McDougall 'The Italian Connection'
Natasha Boyle Face Painter

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Dear UK Government.....

I have read your National Pollinator Strategy and although it shows forward thinking and understanding in some areas, I find it lacking in others. You are simply not doing enough to help bees and other pollinating insects and it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why, given the enormous importance and significance of bee decline, you don't do more.

You talk about 'needing to do more research' before you will consider implementing a proper ban on neonicotinoids. You search in vain for new evidence, apparently desperate to find something to support your hope that these pesticides are NOT harming bees, whilst in the mean time, evidence that neonics do harm bees (as well as other invertebrates and wildlife) continues to stack up... and bees continue to decline in numbers and species.

Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? Or common sense? It does not take a rocket scientist to see the connection between neonicotinoid pesticides and bee decline and no amount of 'further research' is going to change the fact that these highly dangerous neuro-toxins, which are now saturating our agricultural landscape and waterways, are doing far more harm than good.

Why do you ignore existing research that shows clearly how damaging neonicotinoids are to bees? Why do you accept such inadequate research from the pesticides industry when you authorise these pesticides in the first place? Where is the research to discover how long these toxins stay in the soil? What is being done to discover the impact they are having on our aquatic invertebrates? And why are you not monitoring pollinator populations more closely....if at all?

There are so many wonderful organisations and individuals in the UK working their socks off to help our beleaguered pollinators who are already suffering the consequences of habitat loss, climate change, disease and parasites. They need your help and support.  I can only conclude that you are more interested in saving the pesticides industry than you are in saving bees. Nothing else comes close to explaining your stance on this issue. You are playing russian roulette with our pollinators.

Yours sincerely, Brigit Strawbridge

N.B. To anyone reading this blog post: the above is just my own personal view based on what I read, hear and see. I try to keep an open mind and always search for good, for common sense and for reason. I can find none of these in the UK's stance on neonicotinoids.

Others, with a greater understanding of science and politics are better able to convey the shortfalls in the National Pollinator Strategy. Please read the Bee Coalition's report  Policies for Pollinators to gain a clearer understanding of what I am writing about.

Please also read this article by Sandra Bell (Friends of the Earth) - Government must do more to protect our bees 

And check out the work being done by Buglife and Pesticide Action Network



Thursday, 15 October 2015

Dear Human Friend...can you hear me?

The natural world is reaching out to us, trying to tell us that something is terribly wrong. Birds, bees, butterflies, fish, amphibians, wildflowers, trees; all are disappearing in some shape or form, unable to compete with (or withstand) the onslaught of human 'progress' and 'economic growth'.  Species are declining in both numbers and range at an alarming rate as they struggle to survive on a planet that is gradually being taken over and poisoned species by species... flower by flower... tree by tree... river by river... and ocean by ocean.

Once these species have gone, they will be gone forever, and with their passing we will lose the sights, sounds and smells of the seasons we take so much for granted. What will mark the passing of the seasons if not the snowdrop, primrose, catkin, bluebell, swallow, and autumn leaves? What will replace the innate joy and elation we feel when we hear our first cuckoo or chiffchaff of the year, the distant sound of a woodpecker hollowing out it's nest, the dawn chorus or the gentle buzzing of bees? And in places where there are no longer trees or wildflowers, what will replace the rustling of the leaves in the wind and the smell of wild honeysuckle in the hedgerows? Or the hedgerows themselves for that matter?

If you are of a like mind you will grieve for these losses. Perhaps you are grieving already. I am. But I still have hope; hope in the Great Turning, hope that all is not lost and hope that more people will begin (are beginning) to realise that we are inextricably connected to these wild things and that without them we are not and cannot be 'whole'.

I hope for change, for new realisations, for connections and reconnections... and for a deeper understanding and respect for that which sustains and nurtures us. Most of all I hope that more people will begin to open their eyes and their ears... to allow their senses to fill with the sounds, sights, smells and sensations that abound in the natural world.

It's never too late to fall back in love with the natural world and be filled to the brim with wonderment. All you need to do is take a little time out to be still. And listen. And hear. And watch. And see.......

And if we fall back in love with the wild things, we will not harm them, for we cannot harm that which we love