Saturday, 31 January 2015

Loving Life



I love bees and I love trees. And I love seed heads.  I also love butterflies, catkins, pussy willow, woodlice, dragonflies and shield bugs; lemon verbena tea made with freshly picked leaves from the garden; hares; sunset and sunrise; sunshine; old man's beard; moonshine; watching solitary leaf cutter bees building their nests in my garden; starlight; living in Dorset with Rob; starling murmurations; wintersweet; grasses and beetles. I love uploading my macro photographs when I come back from a walk and then pouring over my reference books to identify new (to me) species and I love the tawny owls when they t'wit & t'woo outside our bedroom window at night. 

I love the weather and the fact that it is so wonderfully unpredictable and changeable in the UK. I can't wait for it to snow again so I can make snow angels. I love fairy lights; 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; Imbolc (Brigid/Brigit's Day) - and the fact that my mother named me 'Brigit' when I was born. I love Glennie Kindred's beautiful book 'Letting in the Wild Edges' (if you haven't already got it, put it on your wish list now!). And the Moomins…..oh how i love the Moomins; especially Snufkin and Moominmamma and the Hattifatteners. And the Hemulen. You can't not love the Hemulin.

I also love mosses and lichens; acoustic music; speaking with like minded people about the unbelievably amazing and 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. I love raging rivers plunging and crashing over rocks and boulders, streams so small that they are almost hidden by the undergrowth... and puddles. And jumping in puddles; and the fact that this year, if I'm really lucky, I am going to see my first ever Great Yellow Bumblebee when we visit the Machair in the Western Isles of Scotland. I love juicing apples and the fact that the juice changes colour when it meets the air.  I love Dorset, Cornwall, Norfolk, Northumberland and all the other breathtakingly beautiful places that I have lived in or connected with; I especially love The Malvern Hills. I love coastal paths; being a mother and a grandmother; old man's beard; Martha Tilston; 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 and adding chopped lemon to pretty much everything I cook. I love Puffins; the amazing noises that Eider ducks make and the shape of Curlews' beaks. And feathers and crystals and everything that sparkles.


I love long-tailed tits and wrens; discovering bumblebee nests in the compost heap; the aliveness of water; the silence of stillness and clouds that look like dragons for a moment or two before they shift shape into hippopotami; knowing that you are never too old to fall in love; loving and being loved back. I love grass snakes and I love reading 'Meadowland' - a book so delightful 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 (did I already mention that?); swimming in the sea; curly kale; sutherland kale; russian kale; black kale…….and SO much more!


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. This, in turn, 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, 23 January 2015

Who listens to what the smaller charities have to say?

Over the last few years I have, sadly, witnessed many small, expertly informed and passionately dedicated charities - and other not-for-profit organisations - being squeezed into oblivion on the funding front because (it seems) the funds are mostly given to larger, more influential NGO's.

There are still funders and philanthropists out there who prefer to give their monies to grass root organisations, but they seem to be fewer and farther between these days. This concerns me because it means we are losing diversity….in more ways than one!

I'm not suggesting for one moment that we don't need the larger charities. I understand how important it is that they continue to receive the funds and donations needed to deliver their vitally important messages and work…..especially because they reach such a large audience and, in many cases, are able to influence policy decisions at government level. HOWEVER, having run a small charity myself, and having been seriously tempted to shift the focus of that charity's aims when applying for funds - in order to tap in to any available funding just to survive - I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the way the system (especially in the case of corporate donations and sponsorship) favours the larger and better known charities.

One of my biggest concerns is when national & international charities take up causes that their trustees, management and staff appear to know little about. For instance, I have seen members and volunteers of large charities being interviewed on BBC news about bee decline and have been dismayed to hear them leave out enormously important information, or even worse, deliver mis-information. When this happens, I fear, with the greatest of respect for their aims, that they are in danger of doing more harm than good.

In the mean time, the media are mostly oblivious of smaller charities who have been working for years, sometimes decades on raising awareness of this, and other issues….charities who really know their bees from their bees and who have (in some cases) now folded because the large funders and corporate sponsors prefer to nail their flags to larger masts.

Of course we need as many voices as possible to speak out for the myriad environmental, ecological and humanitarian issues facing us today….and if the national press are only interested in promoting the charitable aims of the larger charities then so be it, but I really hope we don't end up in a situation where the voices being heard come solely from charities/organisations so large that they are begin to resemble corporations….. whilst smaller, but equally knowledgeable voices get squeezed out completely.

This is a big subject to tackle in a little blog post, and I haven't fully worked out where I'm going with my own thoughts yet, but I'd be extremely interested to know what others think?

Thank you,


N.B. I still donate to, support and promote the work of many large charities myself, so please don't read what I have just written as an attack on said organisations. It isn’t. I just don't like seeing the amazingly dedicated smaller charities being squeezed out of the arena and wanted to air this concern to see what others think. Hopefully I will discover that I've got it all wrong and that more small grass root organisations are actually healthy and thriving than are hitting brick walls and folding.





Tuesday, 13 January 2015

What's wrong with Intensive Farming - and how can us 'reconnecting' with nature change things?


I can't help wondering how many more species of flora and fauna will be taken to the brink before we realise our current farming practices are completely and utterly unsustainable?

We live in a dangerously blinkered, confusing and sometimes fearsome world. Many of us are blissfully unaware that there are any problems, whilst others are frightened into believing the crazy propaganda put out by the multinational corporations; the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, who tell us that intensive farming - with its (often genetically modified) mono crops, its emphasis on 'crop yield' and its dangerous reliance on insecticides, fungicides and herbicides - is the only way to 'Feed the World'.

Intensive agriculture may well be producing unprecedented crop yields at this point in time, but the soil these crops are grown in is becoming increasingly devoid of essential nutrients and micro-organisms; the diversity and variety of food crops is being reduced on a daily basis; the people who grow the crops are, in many cases themselves, starving; unprecedented amounts of water are being used for irrigation; and entire ecosystems are being wiped out in their wake. Anyone who dares to open their eyes and look at the facts can see that this way of farming cannot possibly be sustained and that the cost of producing food this way is too high.

The problem, I believe, stems from our way of thinking…..from our 'separateness' and from our tendency to reduce everything to its individual components and/or its monetary value. But in truth mankind cannot survive separately, on his own, in a bubble or as an island. No man is an island.

We need to recognise that we are 'a part' of the whole. Our 'apartness' and all that comes with the disconnection, is surely but steadily driving us to a point beyond which we will, ourselves, eventually be added to the list of endangered species.

As the Native American saying goes "When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, only then will we realise that we cannot eat money' 

But it doesn't have to be this way! I'm not going to suggest that the journey we have ahead of us is without its challenges. Of course it's not and these challenges are enormous. However the first steps could not be more simple and it's up to US (you and me) to take these steps. All we need to do is find a way to reconnect with our inner selves, with our communities and with the plants and animals we share this amazing planet with. This reconnection is fundamental if we want to bring about the changes that are needed in the world. Without being 'reconnected' we cannot deal with or fix the farming situation... or any other situation/issue for that matter. Once we recognise this fact and begin to reconnect and fall back in love with all that was once sacred to mankind, the rest will surely follow because you cannot possibly hurt that which you love or that which is a part of you.....i.e. the whole.

But where to start? 

Easy! Go outside and spend some quality time getting to know the plants living on your drive, in your garden, on the road verges, in the meadows, riversides, woodlands, moorlands, coastlines…anywhere and everywhere in fact. Don't just walk past them. Sit down and look closely at them, draw them, photograph them, look at them under a magnifying glass, write about them, talk to them, ask them if they have any medicine for you, look at the insect life on and around them, touch them, smell them, sense them, make friends with them.

Too scary? Then do it when no one is looking! Start with a pot of herbs on your kitchen table……or make a cup of delicious nettle or dandelion tea from freshly picked young leaves of these common and easy-to-recognise plants. Then, whilst you are drinking it, take a moment to say thank you to the plant who provided the leaves and just see how that makes you feel...

 

The Medicine Garden

I would like to finish by saying that a few years ago I attended a weekend course run by Rachel Corby. Rachel uses plants to heal all manner of ailments; physical and otherwise. She is a plant shaman, a writer and a gardener, and anyone who has ever had the pleasure of attending one of her courses, or accompanying her on one of her plant walks, will know what I mean when I say that through her you come to see plants in a whole different light and to form wonderful, fulfilling new relationships with them and with the world around you. From this new view point wonderful things begin to happen.

If what I have written about connecting with the world of plants has not quite made sense to you, I suggest you beg, borrow or buy a copy of Rachel's beautiful book The Medicine Garden . She explains it far more eloquently than I can.



Anyway, I’ve rambled enough now. I’d love to write more but the sun is shining and I am being beckoned outside to practice what I preach!

 Seriously though, do please have a think about what I’ve written and next time you walk past a plant…..maybe stop to say 'hello' and see what happens. At the very least I’m sure it will make you smile :-)



Friday, 9 January 2015

When is a Bee NOT a Bee?

Narcissus fly. Photographed by Ed Phillips
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.

I was most surprised. For all the world this creature had looked and acted like a bumblebee, 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

I already knew about 'Batesian mimicry' which 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 is able to fly like a bumblebee too…..although a little more rapidly and it can still hover. Incredible.

For a while I revelled in the fact that I had discovered this clever little bumblebee look-alike in my garden. Until I began to read more….

Narcissus Fly

Once I'd got over the excitement of there being a hoverfly that looked so much like a bumblebee that she had completely pulled the wool over my eyes, I began to wonder why this particular species of overfly has been endowed with the common and rather ominous sounding name 'Narcissus fly', or 'Bulb fly'.

After further research it soon became evident that the larvae of the Narcissus fly (Merodon equestris) wreak havoc on your narcissus and snowdrop bulbs, not to mention your daffs, your tulips, your hyacinths, your lilies...

It seems the adult female lays a single egg between the layers of skin enclosing the neck of each bulb, but as she is capable of laying up to 100 eggs in her lifetime she has the potential to devastate your flowering bulbs. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae bore inside the base of the bulbs and then tunnel up to feed of the fleshy leaves near the growing points of the plants. A large cavity is produced inside the bulb from which the larvae then move into the soil where they pupate. Five to seven weeks later the new adults emerge and the life cycle starts all over again.

Oh dear, this was not good news. I love my snowdrops!

Controlling Narcissis flies

What can we do then, without resorting to pesticides, to prevent these furry little hoverflies, which are on the wing from around early May till late June, from wreaking havoc upon our bulbs?

There is a lot of information out there when you start to search, but as I choose to garden organically I am only interested in the chemical-free options. Unfortunately this little insect has few natural predators and doesn't seem to be deterred by non toxic household concoctions, so preventing the fly from laying her eggs in the first place and/or disposing of her larvae are the best ways to protect your plants. All methods of control are, I'm afraid, fairly labour intensive but it's worth trying the following….

1. Mow the leaves as soon as they dry in late spring and then press the soil down firmly to prevent newly mated female flies from finding the holes.

2. Cover the bulbs with fine mesh to prevent the adult fly from laying her eggs.

3. Catch the adult flies in a net and remove them from your garden.

4. Infested bulbs can be submerged in water, kept at around 44 degrees, for 40 minutes…..but take great care not to overheat as this could destroy the bulb too.

Good luck!

Having read a lot about the Narcissis fly and ways to prevent her from destroying your bulbs, I thought I'd share my favourite article  with you. It's written by Val Bourne who has been a committed organic gardener all her life. So, no nasty chemicals in her garden, even when she goes into battle with Merodon equestris.


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

All About Hoverflies

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