Thursday 22 August 2019

'Dancing with Bees'

Dancing with Bees: A journey Back to Nature published by Chelsea Green Publishing .  Illustrated by Dartmoor naturalist and wildlife illustrator John Walters

To buy a signed copy of my book, please use the Add to Cart button. Price £10 + £3.40 postage (UK only).  

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N.B.  If you'd like me to include your name when I sign your copy, please email me via my 'contact' page. Otherwise I'll play safe and leave it out.

About the book:  'Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked the day she realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. The thought stopped her—quite literally—in her tracks. But that day was also the start of a journey, one filled with silver birches and hairy-footed flower bees, skylarks, and rosebay willow herb, and the joy that comes with deepening one’s relationship with place.  Dancing with Bees is Strawbridge Howard’s charming and eloquent account of a return to noticing, to rediscovering a perspective on the world that had somehow been lost to her for decades and to reconnecting with the natural world. With special care and attention to the plight of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, and what we can do to help them, Strawbridge Howard shares fascinating details of the lives of flora and fauna that have filled her days with ever-increasing wonder and delight.'


“Dancing with Bees is one of the most important and accessible and entertaining books I’ve ever read. Brigit has poured meticulous detail and research into her book, which has left me with even more respect for our precious bees than I ever thought possible. What’s more, it’s a touching, sensitive account of what makes us human and how we connect to the natural world. Everyone should read it.”—Kate Bradbury, author of Wildlife Gardening and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

“We are handed a lens—light, bright, beautiful things come into focus. Brigit’s flare for observation and description, passion for knowledge, and ease with communication involve us in adventuring through the looking glass to explore with her the intimate life of wild bees. Gently, this timely book reminds us that nature is in trouble and that we must all join the dance.”—Sue Clifford and Angela King, founding directors, Common Ground

“Brigit Strawbridge Howard is an excellent pollinator of information. Dancing with Bees is a book teeming with love: for bees but also for the natural world as a whole and, by extension, for life itself. Everyone who cares about the future of our planet should read it.”—Tom Cox, author of 21st-Century Yokel

“A beautiful book and one that hums with good life. Brigit Strawbridge Howard came late to bees but began noticing them at a time when their going was being widely announced. Her attention has been clear-sighted but also loving. By looking closely at the hummers and the buzzers, she has begun to take in the whole of what Charles Darwin called the ‘tangled bank’ of life, where there are bees (and Brigit’s winning descriptions will help you know them) and there are plants, and there are other pollinators and nectar-seekers, including Homo sapiens. No other insect—surely no other animal—has had such a long and life-giving relationship with humans. Bees may well have shaped our evolution; our continued well-being is certainly dependent on them. Bees have long been part of our consciousness and art, buzzing in parables and fables and ancient and modern poems made out of their industry and their organisation and their marvellous sweet products. All that is in this book: It is ambrosia.”—Tim Dee, author of Landfill

“Dancing with Bees is a brilliantly described journey of discovery of bees, trees, people, and places, imbued with a childlike wonderment. Learn about cuckoo bees, carder bees, bees that are not bees, the commonplace and the rare. It is never too late to reconnect with nature and rewild oneself.”—Steven Falk, author of Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland

“While the plight of our overworked honeybees elicits much hand-wringing, the rest of Earth’s splendorous apian diversity has remained unjustly obscure. In this winning tribute to our black-and-yellow fellows, Brigit Strawbridge Howard celebrates the virtues of dozens of less heralded, but no less crucial, wild species—mining bees, leaf-cutting bees, mason bees, cuckoo bees. Like a bee herself, Strawbridge Howard is at once pragmatic and whimsical, flitting lightly between practical advice for crafting a bee-friendly garden and wise digressions about our manipulative relationship with nature. By the end of Dancing with Bees, you’ll wholeheartedly agree that these indispensable creatures should be extolled as ‘our equals, not our minions.’”—Ben Goldfarb, author of Eager

“A joy-filled voyage of discovery through the wonderful world of bees.”—Dave Goulson, author of Bee Quest and A Sting in the Tale

“In this delightful book, Brigit Strawbridge Howard brings us into the fascinating and often overlooked world of bees. She introduces us to solitary nesting bees that lay their eggs in empty snail shells, cuckoo bees that make other bees take care of their eggs, and the amazing social lives of bumblebees and honeybees. Her curiosity and wonder at these small creatures are infectious and will inspire a greater appreciation of our natural world.”—Nancy J. Hayden, coauthor of Farming on the Wild Side

“I devoured this book as I would a jar of exquisite honey. I was as fascinated by it as I would be watching a hive of bees at work. I may read another nature book this year, but not a better one. Or a more important one. As is made so manifestly clear in these pages, we need our bees. Thank God, then, for Brigit Strawbridge Howard, our queen bee-advocate.”—John Lewis-Stempel, author of Still Water and Meadowland

“Dancing with Bees is a passionate hymn to nature, a joyful celebration not just of bees, but of the power of paying attention. Strawbridge Howard’s rediscovery of the natural world is infused with a sense of wonder both irresistible and infectious. And the promise of this beautiful book is that if we take the trouble to notice our natural surroundings, we too can find a way to reconnect not just to nature, but to a deeper sense of ourselves.”—Caroline Lucas, MP, former Green Party Leader

“Well written and researched, beautifully illustrated, and packed with natural history detail, Dancing with Bees is a book to start you off on a journey that could well become an obsession. Even if you are well versed in the ways of bees, you will still want to wrap yourself in the warmth of this charming book. Brigit Strawbridge Howard gently shows you all the things you may have been missing; you are about to enter a macro-world of wonder and delight. I absolutely loved this book. If, due to infirmity perhaps, I am ever unable to walk in the countryside, I can now go dancing with bees whenever I choose.”—Dr. George McGavin, president, Dorset Wildlife Trust; honorary research associate, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

“Brigit Strawbridge Howard leads us on a wistful pilgrimage of awakening into the world of bees who are among the most fascinating, charismatic, and important of insects. Written in an easy, accessible style without shying away from solid facts and beguiling detail, and beautifully illustrated by renowned Devon naturalist John Walters, Strawbridge Howard’s book is the result of hundreds of hours of watching, listening, and learning in her garden and the wider countryside, wondering what the future might bring and how human excesses may be curbed.”—Stuart Roberts, entomologist

“Hovering through Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s remarkable encounters with bees, alighting on beautiful and often unexpected descriptions of bumblebees, miner bees, and even parasitizing cuckoo bees, one dips into a world most of us have forgotten. By leading us gently and discretely into the minutiae of nature, Brigit shows how rewarding it is to reconnect—how the world’s tiniest beings can not only lift our spirits, but signal the way to a richer, wilder future.”—Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

“Sprinkled with moments of pathos, this exquisite book is the perfect introduction to the often neglected world of wild bees—and the beautiful plants with which they dance an ecosystem into life.”—Hugh Warwick, author of Linescapes and Hedgehog

“Dancing with Bees is an antidote to the reality of modern life that’s spent nose down in our smartphones while the wondrous stuff—nature—goes on all around us. Brigit Strawbridge Howard chronicles her own journey of reconnecting with the natural world with heartfelt eloquence. Her descriptions of the creatures, plants, and landscapes that populate her journey are made with the unabashed joy of someone for whom a veil has been lifted, revealing a world to be cherished but also in great need of our protection.”—Matthew Wilson, garden designer; author; panelist, BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time

Thursday 2 May 2019

Monetisation of Nature.

I am so tired of hearing about the importance of 'economic growth' - and I despair of humanity if we have reached the stage where wildlife is only conserved for its monetary value.  The same goes for water, air, and soil quality. Every time I hear references these days to the natural world and its importance to us (the human race), the commentary is dotted with phrases like 'natural resources', 'ecosystem services', 'pollinator services', 'natural capital' etc. Phrases such as these make me wince. I have tried to understand them, but I simply cannot.

As far as I can see we have already done plenty of economic 'growing' but I see no evidence whatsoever that it is making us any happier, or healthier…. nor is it helping those who are most in need.  It just seems to be stripping away the last vestiges of the connection we once had with the natural world. How on earth can you have an intimate, loving and interconnected relationship with something you have to put a price tag on?!

Economic growth seems to be about putting price tags on just about everything that moves; whether it has six legs and two pairs of wings, is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, or lives next door and is willing to look after your small child or your elderly mother whilst you have a break. It's called monetisation, and over the last few decades it seems to have insidiously crept its way into every area of our lives.

Surely the clue to how we should function as a species is in how we feel and see things as children? i.e our natural state of being. We are born with an innate connection to Planet Earth, a connection that (if it is nurtured) fills us with love and concern for our fellow creatures, but this connection is systematically drummed out of us when we go to school, if not before, and is mostly replaced with a very human-centric 'what can it do for me' view of the world.

Whatever happened to us caring for something and wanting to conserve it simply for the love of life? What, I wonder, has happened to the human race that we are now so disconnected from the land, from our natural surroundings, from our communities and from our own inner selves…. that we have all but forgotten who we are….?

There are of course many people who still have, or have re-discovered, their intimate connection with the natural world; people who hold all life sacred and who do what they can to conserve and preserve that life for its own sake rather than for what is is worth in monetary terms. But these people are still few and far between.

I battle with the fact that to inspire (most) businesses, councils and individuals to sit up and take notice of the importance and urgency of 'bee decline', introducing them to the wonderful, enchanting, and enthralling world of these incredible beings is not enough. Most people need, at the very least, to understand bees importance as pollinators in the human food chain in order that they will take their decline more seriously.  Surely bee decline, or the decline of any other species impacted upon by the human race for that matter, should be a serious issue in its own right?

Having said all this, I do still witness sadness and horror as some begin to understand exactly how toxic pesticides such as neonicotinoids are to bees, and exactly how much habitat has been lost to modern agricultural practices and urban sprawl… not to mention the undiluted shock people express when they hear how bumblebees are bred in their thousands to 'service' commercial tomato crops, and then frozen, drowned or burned to death after the pollinating is done.

Whether or not any of this has a lasting impact on the way people make their choices I do not know.

There are many reasons used to justify the ongoing shift towards putting a monetary value on the natural world, and we are all entitled to think/believe what we wish, but despite the crazy irony that governments are paying huge attention to bee decline simply because of their so called 'value to the economy',  none of these justifications sit well with me. Lucky bees that they have been deemed to be worth £billions. Not so lucky if you are an insect with little, or no value to the economy though, for in this case you are ultimately dispensable.

My own belief is that if we are to save what is left of the incredible diversity of species we share this planet with, nothing short of a complete Sea-change in our collective psyche is needed. Putting a price on wildlife, clean water and air, or healthy 'living' soil is not the solution. It just creates more problems and disconnects us further from all that is sacred. 

If only we would all spend a little time each day (or even each week) simply sitting quietly on the grass, beside a stream, on a beach, in a garden, in a park, amongst some rocks, underneath a tree (or even better, in a tree!)…. and just listen, breath, observe, watch, notice, absorb…….. connect. If we were all to do this we might collectively begin to experience once again that unadulterated wonderment, enchantment and love we felt when we were children. And we cannot hurt that which we love.

Brigit x

P.S…..when did a bee last send you an invoice?

Thursday 15 November 2018

Brexit or Mass Extinction. Which is more important?

All I hear when I switch on the radio is 'Brexit', 'Brexit', 'Brexit'..... interspersed with 'Economy', 'City', 'Business', 'Growth'... and loads more words and terms like 'backstop' that I have totally given up trying to keep up with.

I know, it's all very important. But why do I hear NOTHING about Mass Extinction, Global Deforestation, Food Security or the fact that Climate Breakdown is actually happening, here, now, on this planet we call home? Even the terrible fires and the deaths of those poor people in California seem not to be ringing alarm bells.

The thing is, you cannot have 'economy' without 'ecology'. It just doesn't add up. If we don't take care of our 'home' (ecology), what is the point in the rest? You cannot run a home if you don't have a home to run - no matter how much money you have in the bank!

I have no idea if the Extinction Rebellion movement will achieve what other groups and movements have, so far, failed to achieve - i.e. persuading governments and media to have the guts to tell the truth about how bad things actually are.... but I agree 100% that mass civil disobedience is the only way now to get the attention of the media and politicians to (hopefully) make this happen.

If you don't know something is happening how the heck are you supposed to do something about it?

What I don't understand, is how humanity has reached the stage where what we are more concerned by what we are going to buy people for christmas, how our hair looks, or what's on tv tonight.... than we are about the state of our planet?

Seriously, we all need to take a long hard look at what REALLY matters, and act accordingly, because extinct is forever, and we are actually running out of time.

In case you follow my twitter or facebook pages and are wondering.... yes, I still believe that posting uplifting poetry, and beautiful images of landscapes, wildlife or whatever helps to reinforce our love of the natural world is a positive thing - after all, with all the horrors that are going on in the world we desperately need a little beauty in our lives. BUT... alongside appreciating those things we cherish and love, we urgently need to change our ways, individually and collectively, if we want to preserve that beauty. We cannot keep in living in cloud cuckoo land.

I offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all the people who are already taking direct action, especially those who are prepared to get arrested to raise awareness in the media of the seriousness of climate breakdown and mass extinction.

Not all of us can get to London to support this Saturday 17th November's upcoming 'Rebellion Day', but maybe you can help in other ways? I have thought long and hard about this, and my way is to continue talking about bee decline, pesticides and habitat loss, because that is what I do best. This is what I'll be doing on Saturday afternoon. Maybe you could have a think about what YOU do best, and either join the rebellion (actively, or in a supporting role) - or do something yourself at home that makes you more a part of the solution than a part of the problem.

Now I have a question for you.... especially for those who usually prefer not to know the full extent of something that might make them feel uncomfortable or frightened.

Q: If the government had been given compelling evidence that an invading army was about to descend on the UK - but we still had time to do something to stop this happening - would you want them to tell us? Or would you prefer to live in blissful ignorance till it happened... perhaps on the off chance that it may not actually happen? Or in the hope that someone else might do something to stop it before it became a real problem for us?

A: ???

The analogy, in case it is not obvious, is about the current situation with climate breakdown and the extinction of species. We are not being told the truth because politicians and media think we would find it 'unpalatable'. In short, it wouldn't get votes and it doesn't sell newspapers.

My default when I make a post like this is usually to 'apologise for the rant', but today I am not going to apologise.

With love and respect for the different views we all have on these issues 
Brigit x

Saturday 29 September 2018

No one deserves to walk alone

To anyone who is exasperated by the way elderly people are so often marginalised, ignored, not taken seriously, or simply not 'heard'......


It's not easy to do this: you will feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall... ..that you are a pest; that the system is against you; that you have no right to challenge decisions made by (some) experts in their field; that you have made a mistake and the person you are fighting to protect/help doesn't really need protection/help; etc etc..

Then, suddenly, just when you are ready to give up, you discover someone in a position of authority, who has the clout to actually DO something, has listened to you and taken your concerns seriously... and good things begin to happen for the person you are speaking out for.

We are of no use to man nor beast if we just sit back moaning & complaining about something behind the scenes. We have to step out of our comfort zone if we want to see change or action. And stepping out of our comfort zone is worth it. From personal experience I know this to be true.

This doesn't only apply to the people you love. Have a look around your local community....there will be many elderly people without relatives to help them survive this ever changing life we live. Speak to them......ask them what they find difficult, and offer to help. It may be that they just can't work out how to get a doctor's appointment now that everything is computerised..... or it may be that they can't GET to the doctor's so don't even bother making an appointment. Whatever it is, you may be in a position to help. If you are, don't think twice. Just do something. Anything you do will be better than doing nothing

No one deserves to walk alone  

(unable to find a photo credit for black & white photo. Do please let me know if you know who the photographer is)

Brigit x

Friday 16 February 2018

Gardeners Helping Pollinators

Over the past few years I have delivered many 'bee' talks to horticultural societies, but the talk I gave last night was different. Actually, it wasn't the talk itself that was different, but rather the reason this particular society had booked me.

I have found it usual when delivering talks to members of gardening groups, that mine will be one of a series of talks, given over the course of a year's programme, on a wide and often disparate range of subjects. Of course the talk content will have been chosen to appeal to people who enjoy gardening, but that's usually as far as it goes.

The reason last night's talk was different, is that it was the opening talk in a year during which Wellow Horticultural Society (based in the village of Wellow, near Bath) are focussing their entire 'talks and events' programme around bees... with a particular focus on bumblebees and solitary bees.

I found it SO inspiring to deliver my talk to such an engaged and interested audience of people working together as a group to help pollinators. I'm afraid I ran a little over time, choosing to expand in some cases on areas that I usually only touch on for a moment or two. However I did this in the sure knowledge that this particular group were listening not only for general interest or entertainment value (you may not know it, but learning about bees can be extremely entertaining!), but because I knew they were planning to use any information I imparted to actively help bees. 

Pollinators need our help, and by pollinators I don't just mean bees. Changes in habitat, together with increased use of pesticides, climate change, pests and diseases, and many other issues are also contributing to declines in butterflies and other pollinating animals. Those of us with gardens can make a big difference by planting more pollen and nectar rich plants, and creating (or conserving) suitable habitats for these creatures to nest and hibernate.

"Recent research indicates that private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined, estimated at over 10 million acres. Individual gardens may be small but they create important green links between urban nature reserves and the wider countryside, forming vital wildlife corridors. The potential of the country’s millions of gardens to help counteract some of the habitat losses that we have experienced in the last 50 years is enormous. Making your garden wildlife-friendly will help to ensure that the plants and animals that we value today will still be there for future generations to enjoy" - from Hampshire and Isle of Wright Wildlife Trust website.

Wellow Horticultural Society explain in their January newsletter  how they plan to support wild bees this year. Do PLEASE have a look... it's really worth a read and might give you some ideas for your own gardening clubs or societies.

"We want you to come to the events, but also get involved, doing things to support bees and other pollinators. While the honey bee is an excellent pollinator, we want to focus on wild bees – bumble bees and solitary bees. You do know the difference don’t you? No? – then come along to our events to find out!........."

Monday 27 November 2017

Things I love.....

I love bees and trees. And leaf skeletons and seed heads. I also love butterflies, catkins, pussy willow, Puss moth caterpillars, woodlice, dragonflies and shield bugs; lemon verbena tea made with freshly picked leaves from the garden; hares; sunset, sunrise and sunshine; moonshine and starlight; old man's beard; watching solitary leaf cutter bees building their nests in my garden; and knowing that you are never too old to fall in love. Starling murmurations; wintersweet; grasses and beetles; and art. I love uploading my macro photographs when I come back from a walk and then pouring over my reference books in the hope that I might identify a new (to me) species. And I love the tawny owls who t'wit & t'woo outside our bedroom window at night. 

I love the weather. I love snow and can't wait for it to fall again so I can make snow angels. Fairy lights; my friends and my family; wild flowers (especially the rebels that grow between paving slabs); birds, bats, mice and toads; making nature mandalas; reference books illustrated with beautiful photographs and drawings; native hedgerows; Imbolc (Brigid/Brigit's Day) - and the fact that my mother named me 'Brigit' when I was born. And the Moomins…..oh how I love the Moomins.... Snufkin and Moominmamma and the Hattifatteners. And the Hemulen. It's impossible not to love the Hemulin.

I love mosses and lichens; music; speaking to folk about the beautiful world of wild bees; seaweed and sand; Hairy Footed Flower Bees (yes, such creatures exist) walking barefoot on the beach; rainbows, corkscrew hazel and unicorns. Raging rivers as they crash across rocks and boulders; streams so small that they are almost hidden by the undergrowth... and puddles. I especially love jumping in puddles. I love juicing apples and the fact that the juice changes colour when it meets the air.  Dorset, Cornwall, Norfolk, Northumberland, The Western Isles and all the other breathtakingly beautiful places that I have lived in or connected with; I especially love The Malvern Hills. Coastal paths; being a mother and being a grandmother; old man's beard; candlelight; moths, caterpillars and spider's webs; hazel nuts and fungi; the beautiful hand crafted things that people have gifted me; ginger flavoured dark chocolate truffles and adding chopped lemon to pretty much everything I cook. I love Puffins and Pufflings; the amazing noises that Eider ducks make and the shape of Curlews' beaks. And being kept awake at night on the Isle of Barra by Corncrakes. And feathers and crystals and everything that sparkles. And I LOVE rough haired lurchers. 

I love long-tailed tits and wrens; discovering bumblebee nests in unexpected places; the aliveness of water; the silence of stillness and clouds that look like dragons for a moment or two before they shift shape seamlessly into hippopotami; knowing that you are never too old to fall in love; loving and being loved back. Grass snakes and John Lewis-Stemple's Meadowland - a book so delightful I still haven't read the last chapter because I can't bear for it to end. I love Meadow Pippits, even though I have yet to meet one; sitting by the wood burner with a bowl of porridge on a cold winter morning; winter squashes; summer squashes; sowing seeds, saving seeds and swapping seeds; dandelion clocks; carving wooden spoons; greater stitchwort; nice surprises; meeting friends in cafes for a cup of tea; yoga; collecting sea glass and driftwood from the beach; bees; swimming in the sea; curly kale; sutherland kale; russian kale; black kale…….and SO much more!

And I love my children and my grandchildren, and my husband Rob, to the moon and back.

It feels good to make lists of the things you love and appreciate, every now and then, especially during these challenging times when it is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by all the doom and gloom. It reminds you how wonderful it is (and how lucky we are) to be alive. It fills you with the positive energy and inspiration to DO something to preserve all that is sacred to you.  

Wishing everyone who has read this post a beautiful day, evening, week and life…. and hoping you all enjoy making your own lists of things you love as much as I enjoy making mine! x

Friday 6 October 2017

The Lost Words

The postman delivered something very beautiful today. A book. But not just any old book. This book just happens to be one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. A 'keep forever' book.

The words in this magical book are themselves works of art. Inspired words, beautiful words, words with purpose that weave together other familiar but strangely endangered words; like Acorn, Conker and Otter.

The illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful; page after page of images you can't help tracing with your fingers, as though this will somehow imprint them in your mind... like a visual mantra you can summon up whenever you have need of 'beauty'. The otters are imprinted in my mind already. I can see them when I close my eyes.

The book is 'The Lost Words' - written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris. It is for children of all ages - from 1 - 101

More about The Lost Words and the story behind the need for it to be written, here 

Thank you Robert and Jackie for championing these words - and the creatures and plants they conjure up