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

Monday 28 September 2015

Today The Earth Smiles in Flowers

Today is a day to celebrate; a day to embrace the change that is bubbling up from deep within the heart of the earth and the depths of our hearts and souls; a day full of love and magic and connections; a day to hug your friends; a day to know that all WILL be well; a (blood red) moon day; a flower planting day; a day full of the most amazing and unexpected surprises; a GOOD NEWS day; a day to wake up and climb to the top of the highest mountain (or stand on a chair if you live somewhere flat) so you can ROAAAAAAR with joy for all that is sacred and precious to you; a day to be outside in the sunshine, or wind, or rain…... and a day to make Nature Mandalas.

Today, The Earth Smiles in Flowers x

Read more here…….

Friday 19 June 2015

Putting a price tag on 'natural resources' is not a solution; it just creates more problems

I'm so tired of hearing about the importance of 'economic growth' and I despair of humanity if we've 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 etc. Phrases such as these make me wince. I've tried to understand them and to get along with them, but I simply can't.

As far as I can see we've 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 us of 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 go into hospital for an operation. 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 recently 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 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 etc., and (some) individuals to sit up and take notice of the importance of 'bee decline', it is not sufficient to introduce them to the wonderful, enchanting and enthralling world of these incredible beings, but it is also necessary to focus on the human-centric aspect of halting bee decline. 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?

When I deliver talks to individuals, groups and societies I always feel extremely touched and encouraged when I witness the sadness and the raw humanity in people as they begin to understand exactly how toxic pesticides like 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 they 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 what I say has a lasting impact on the way people make their choices I don't 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 none of them sit well with me…. despite the crazy irony that governments are paying huge attention to bee decline simply because of their so called 'value to the economy'. Lucky bees. Not so lucky if you are an insect with less (known) value to the economy though, for 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?

Friday 5 June 2015

Cornish 'Living Churchyard' Wildlife Mangled by Council Contractors

I was too upset and angry to sleep last night and want to share the reason for my anger with as many people as possible in the hope that it might stop similar travesties from happening in other areas, to which end I make no apologies for the emotive (tabloid) language I have used in the title for this blog post. 

Last year I moved from my home in Tywardreath, on the south Cornish coast to live in Shaftesbury, North Dorset. I love my new home in Dorset, but of course there are things I miss about living in Cornwall, including the beautiful churchyard in Tywardreath. The church of St Andrew the Apostle is involved in Cornwall's wonderful Living Churchyards Project and has consequently become a haven for local wildlife. There is a sign in the churchyard explaining exactly why the grass and wild flowers are left to grow till the autumn, just in case anyone might think the space has been neglected.

As well as trees, grasses, wildflowers, small mammals, birds, frogs and insects, this churchyard is also home to hedgehogs and, at certain times of the year, provides an abundant feeding ground and evening roost for the lesser horseshoe bat.

Until this week that is.

For reasons known only to themselves, it seems that CORMAC who are contracted by the council to maintain churchyards in Cornwall, have chosen the month of June to obliterate this habitat in its entirety with their strimmers and mowers. Not only have they cut down every last blade of grass and wild flower, but their blades have massacred and mangled every living creature unfortunate enough not to have escaped in time from this wildlife sanctuary…. including, I'm told, fledgling birds, frogs and four hedgehogs.

One of the saddest things about this is the cruel irony that these creatures were attracted to the churchyard because of the wonderful way it has been managed…. only to be cut down and killed by mowers at the most abundant time of the year and at the peak of their breeding season.

My friend, Daniel, posted photographs of the damage yesterday on Facebook,  along with this heart rending post…

Our living churchyard here in Tywardreath destroyed by Cormac ! they strimmed around the signs that state no cutting back will be done until Autumn ! they drove their big mowers over the graves damaging them , Four dead hedgehogs were found mangled by the machinery along with several fledgling birds , frogs , all the wild flowers are gone along with all the bees , butterflies and other abundant pollinators that were there, which were a food source for all our nesting swifts and birds in the village and not to mention the food source for the rare bat species that we were blessed with there ! Angry is not the word !!!! :( absolutely livid !

It is of course too late now for the hedgehogs, birds, frogs, bees, butterflies etc who have been wiped out by this act of vandalism,  but hopefully someone will be held to account and lessons will be learned so that it doesn't happen again. My understanding is that there is evidence here for a prosecution under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. 

P.S  Since I wrote this blog, Cormac have stated on their twitter feed that their team 'cleared wildlife and frogs before.'   They have also posted the following statement on their Facebook page…

"In response to the concerns at Tywardreath Churchyard the matter is being looked into by our Area Manager. However we can confirm that we did take measures prior to any grass trimming to ensure that as far as reasonably possible no wildlife would be harmed. 
The dead hedgehog was found on site before any of our works took place. 
If our Area Manager identifies any areas for improvement then appropriate measures will be taken.
We are sorry to hear of the concerns but can assure residents that the matter will be followed up as necessary."

If you have a Facebook account you can find Daniel's post and more photos here….. https://www.facebook.com/danielgrant.villa/media_set?set=a.10152790254321441&type=1

Monday 18 May 2015

STILL not worried about Neonics & bee decline?!

Are you one of the people who is not yet concerned about, or interested in, the Neonicotinoid issue….. and/or the fact that these pesticides (the most widely used in the world), are systematically (and systemically) decimating the planet's amazing diversity and population of pollinators???   If so, please know that the situation is NOW BECOMING QUITE DIRE.

There are myriad factors contributing to bee decline (other major causes including habitat loss, invasive species, disease, climate change and pollution) and we are fast approaching a point of no return. Ecosystems are extremely complex and fragile. If the insects & other pollinators who underpin them are no longer there, ecosystems will collapse and this will have a knock on effect like a pack of cards. If we don't treat this situation with the urgency it demands, there could soon be insufficient pollinators left to pollinate the planet's food crops…. never mind the 80% of Planet Earth's flowering pants that bees alone are responsible for pollinating. What is 'here' this year, might very well be 'gone' next year.

Do you eat apples? Tomatoes? Strawberries? Squashes? Meat? Would you be prepared to travel to where these crops (or the crops that are grown to feed them) are grown - and spend hours and hours hand pollinating them yourselves in order to have them produce their fruits for you to eat? If not, you really should make it your business to find out more about what's going on and do something about it, because once our pollinators have gone, they're gone. Extinction is forever….and forever is a very long time.

It is time now to wake up and take responsibility for what is happening in the world around us. Write letters to your MPs & MEPs asking them what they are doing about the situation…. boycott the companies that produce these pesticides and lobby the shops that sell them…. choose food that is grown without them… but above all, make it your business to become more informed! One of the main reasons these multinationals get away with controlling the food chain is because not enough people give a stuff. Knowledge is power; without it we are no more in control of our lives than a herd of sheep.

If you are reading this post, then you have access to a computer. If you are not already on top of the neonicotinoid issue, perhaps you could use your computer to google 'neonicotinoids and bee decline'. Or look up the scientific data that shows a single kernel of corn coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a song bird outright.  

Then decide what you are able to do to help our beleaguered pollinators….whether it be planting the right flowers, creating more suitable habitat, or reducing the use of hidden pesticides in your food shopping. Whatever you do, no mater how small, you might just help tip the balance in favour of bees and other pollinators not becoming extinct!

Scientific and anecdotal evidence that neonicotinoids pesticides are killing bees - as well as other pollinators and wildlife - is now overwhelming. Yet I read today that the NFU are calling for the restrictions to be lifted so farmers can use these banned toxins on their oilseed rape crops. These crops do not even NEED to be treated with neonics.

As far as I can see, this has go nothing to do with feeding the world. It appears to be about £££££'s and $$$$$'s… greed… control… fear… and the hold the agrochemical multinationals have upon the world's food chain.

Ironically and alarmingly, whilst many counties are calling for more restrictions on the use of these highly toxic pesticides, the UK government actually opposed the current temporary EU ban….. and the National Farmers Union (NFU), who you'd have thought would care a great deal about the health of pollinating insects, have just submitted a request to the Government for a derogation that would allow farmers to use banned neonicotinoid treated seeds this Autumn.  Yet these crops do not even NEED to be treated with neonics.  See link below…..

NFU wants farmers to be able to use the banned seed treatments in oilseed rape crops sown this autumn 

A few more important articles to save you having to trawl the internet….

Nearly one in 10 of Europe's wild bee species far extinction

Has Farming Lost Its Way?

The Drugs (Neonicotinoids) Don't Work

Bee die-offs are worst where pesticides use is heaviest

Friday 17 April 2015

On my father's death and why I think we should all 'talk' more

My father, Mike Weiner, died a year ago yesterday. I planted forget-me-nots on his grave, accompanied my mother and one of my brothers to a very lovely memorial service for him at the church they attended (he used to love singing in the choir) and ate the last of his green tomato chutney. My father was a chutney king; he made green tomato and plum chutney every year for England, but always rationed it in case it ran out before next autumn's crops were ready to pick, so there were loads of bottles left on the pantry shelves after his death. The ones I kept for myself have lasted till now.

Then I lay awake for hours last night thinking about my father and the finality (?) of death.

We all believe different things. I personally believe that something of us lives on, whether it be in the hearts of those who loved us, in another realm, or in the earth we become part of once again. However, whatever happens after we die, we are definitely no longer here in our human form - and that, for me, is pretty final. It means that those who are left behind are no longer able to have conversations with those they have lost. This means no more stories, questions, answers, shared thoughts, memories and laughter, apologies or explanations. So anything that has not been 'said' remains unsaid/unspoken forever.

There are so many things I wish I'd asked my father - or told him and explained to him. There are things about him I'd like to have made sense of, and things about myself that I'd like him to have understood. But it's too late now for any more dialogue. So I am left, like many others, not just with the happy memories (of which there are many!) but also with some regrets.

This is the nature of life and death I guess, but it has left me thinking that... despite the fact we have been gifted the amazing power of speech….and have at our disposal hundreds of thousands of words to chose from…. human beings don't always use these gifts to communicate whilst we can. I mean really communicate, not just small talk, but the kind of talk that resolves misunderstandings…..the kind of dialogue that makes sense of the unfathomable…..the kind of conversations that might well be challenging for both parties, but without which we can live our whole lives as partial strangers, even to those we love, and are loved by, the most.

This probably all sounds a bit deep for a Friday morning blog post, but I wanted to share these thoughts in case anyone reading them has things they want to say to someone they love, but are holding back, for whatever reason.

There are, of course, things that are better left unsaid….and it is equally (vitally) important that we learn to accept people for who they are without needing to understand the cores of their being! However, if there are things that could be talked about….. things that you might regret not having said after someone has gone…. maybe it's worth saying them now, whilst you still can, because when death comes (to you or to the ones you love) it's forever, and forever is a very long time.

RIP Michael Richard Child Weiner  16th Jan 1932 - 16th April 2014  
You were much loved 
x x x x x x x

Thursday 9 April 2015

'Of building sites and broad beans….'

I usually have fairly high levels of patience and tolerance, but this month I have become increasingly bothered by the noise and mess coming from the house next door. 
My partner and I rent a tiny terraced cottage, one of eight arranged around a little grassed area with a pump in the middle, in the most peaceful place I have ever lived - and I love it. 
However, for the last month, the house adjoining ours has become a building site. It's going to be a 'holiday let'. This saddens me because two of the other cottages that sold here last year have already become holiday or weekend lets….and yet another is now on the market, advertised as 'perfect for holiday let.' That will be four out of the eight, so the wonderful community we moved into last year is rapidly beginning to dwindle. Curtains in one of the houses remain closed for months on end... and come summer, there will be comings and goings as people book the cottages for their summer holidays. They will be lovely people, but we won't have time to get to know them.
Our walls are quite thick, but yesterday, after nearly a month of banging, drilling, sawing and (very loud) radio music; the noise finally got to me. As did the mess, and the fact that the beautiful plants outside my front door are no longer green, but are covered in brick dust, which I know will wash off when it rains….but there's no rain forecast in the near future. 
I know I should rise above all this because it is only a temporary situation and the new owners/builders are very nice friendly people, but yesterday it all became too much. So I went down to the allotment to see the broad beans we'd planted out at the weekend.
I told the beans what was going on, and this is what they said….

"Go back home and be accepting of the noise and the dust coming from next door. Know that you are lucky to have the gifts of hearing and sight. Some people have neither. Accept this noise and mess, and wish good things to the people who are making it. Neither noise nor dust will last forever.

Tune your ears, instead, to the sounds of the woodpeckers pecking, the bees buzzing and the chiffchaffs chiffchaffing. Then, instead of noticing only mess and chaos, shift your focus to notice the blackbirds digging up worms for their young, the queen Tree bee gathering pollen from winter flowering currant to provision her nest, and the happy smiling builders next door enjoying the April sunshine as they listen to Radio 2 whilst they work. 

Then make yourself a cup of tea and have a large slice of that amazingly delicious fruit cake with the florentine topping that you made your lovely man for his birthday yesterday"

The beans are, of course, quite right. They reminded me how incredibly fortunate I am to live where I live; with someone I love and who loves me back; that I have eyes to see and ears to listen; and that I have good health. Had I been disabled I wouldn't have been able to walk to my allotment. Had I been blind I would not see the mess, but neither would I be able to watch the blackbird collecting worms. Were I not able to hear, I would be oblivious to the noise coming from next door, but I would not hear the birds singing or the bees buzzing or the wind in the trees. All cliches, I know, but profoundly and soberingly true.

So, today, instead of being a grumpy bum, I am going to count my blessings and enjoy being alive despite the fact that I am living next door to a building site.

Thank you beans!

Saturday 4 April 2015

A (bee) story with a happy ending

Last year my very lovely friend, Sally, told me about some hibernating bees her sister had found in a wall she had knocked down. Her sister had wrapped the bees gently in some kitchen roll and put them in a box. Sally collected them a little while later and gave them to me to look after. I had a pretty good idea from the description that they would be Hairy Footed Flower bees (Anthophora plumipes)
As the box had been in a car for 24 hours on a warm, sunny winter's day, I thought I'd better check to make sure the bees hadn't woken up early. When I peeked in the box I could see they had indeed been Hairy Footed Flower bees, but they had not survived the wall being knocked down. The box contained lots of old mortar, and dust, and dead Flower bees.
However, just as I was about to give up on them, I noticed a tiny movement. Something was still alive! I looked closely and saw that it wasn't one of the Hairy Footed Flower bees, but was in fact a bee that goes by the name 'Melecta albifrons'; a very striking black bee with silver/white spots on the sides of its abdomen.
Melecta albifrons is a solitary 'cuckoo' bee. The adult females sneak into the host bee's nest (in this case the Hairy Footed Flower bee) and lay their eggs alongside the Flower bee's eggs. Melecta albifrons eggs hatch first, and the larvae eat the pollen that has been carefully stored for the Flower bee larvae by their mother….a fiendishly clever way of making sure your offspring get food and develop into new adult bees without you having to do any work whatsoever!
The problem was that my bee had woken up in January…a good 3 months before it was supposed to wake up….so I didn't hold out much hope that it would survive.
Anyway, to cut an even longer story shorter, I have been keeping this bee in a dark cool place since January, in the hope that it would go back to sleep and not wake up again till others of its kind were on the wing. That would be about now…..for, as Hairy Footed Flower bees are out in force, it means their cuckoo bee, Melecta albifrons will also be starting to emerge.
My plan was to open up the box next week to see if it had survived, but, amazingly, my little bee somehow found its way out of its box in our cool dark cloakroom... and into our kitchen….where I have just found it crawling around the top of the cooker looking for something to eat.
I've caught it now and put it in a little cardboard box with some pussy willow and sugar syrup, which it is lapping up after its long winter sleep. Tomorrow I will take it to the 'Bee Wall' at the bottom of Stony Path in Shaftesbury, where I know it will find others of its kind.

It has been a very lucky bee.

2 days later…….. 

Today we took the bee to the 'Bee Wall'; an old stone wall in Shaftesbury that has been home, for many years, to quite a few different cavity nesting solitary bee species. The Hairy Footed Flower bee males were out in force, buzzing around the wall in search of emerging females. We opened the little box we had been keeping him in (I say 'he' but it could easily be 'she') and he flew out immediately. He spent a few moments buzzing around the bee wall before flying up over the roof and out of sight.

I'll miss him!

Thank you Sally's sister for trying to save the bees you uncovered when you knocked down your wall x

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Bees - it's all about shape and size!

There are an estimated 25,000 different species of bee on Planet Earth and they come in many different shapes and sizes. The largest bee in the world is 'Wallace’s Giant Bee' (Megachile pluto). She grows up to 3.9 cm long and has a wingspan of 6.3 cm. The smallest bee in the world is 'Perdita minima'. She is less than 2 mm long.
Bees also have different length tongues (proboscis). Tongue lengths vary from around 0.5mm to 15mm in Britain and Ireland
The size of the bee and the length of her tongue, are both of great significance when it comes to which flowers she is able to access when foraging for pollen and nectar. Honeybees tongues are around 6.3mm in length - so they can only access flowers with fairly short corollas.
If you have red and white clover on your lawn, you will notice different bee species on each. Short-tongued bees like honeybees and buff tailed bumblebees will go for the white clover, as it only has a short corolla. However, long tongued bumblebees, like B. hortorum (the Garden bumblebee) will forage on the red clover as it has a very deep corolla.
The deeper the corolla (flower tube) the greater the nectar reward tends to be….so short tongued bees often need to visit more flowers to get the nectar they need. 
The bee in the photo above is Bombus hortorum (the Garden Bumblebee). She has the longest tongue of any bee in the UK. If you see a black & yellow striped bumblebee with a white tail on your broad beans, and if her tongue is hanging out as she flies between each flower, it is highly likely to be this bee!

Some bee species resort to ‘robbing’ the nectar by cutting a hole in the base of the flower and accessing it that way. This is known as 'larceny'. When a bee commits larceny, the plant loses out because the bee completely bypasses the flower's pollen. Bombus terrestris (the buff tailed bumblebee) is a notorious nectar robber. Once she has made a hole, other bees and wasps use it to access the plant's nectar. Not a very fair exchange!

More about bumblebee flower preferences here  
Photos of largest and smallest bees here

Wednesday 11 March 2015

SO much more than a hole in the ground!

This tiny little hole (around 3mm in diameter) is the entrance to a solitary mining bee's nest. Each individual female solitary bee chooses an area of compacted sandy soil and digs her own tunnel. Some ground nesting bees choose south facing slopes, whilst others prefer to construct their nests amongst the roots of trees, in river banks, flower beds, or in your lawns  

After she has dug the main tunnel, the bee constructs a number of offshoot tunnels and at the end of each of these she fashions a small chamber. Each chamber is first waterproofed using an anti fungal, glandular secretion produced by the bee, then provisioned with pollen, which the bee has collected over many trips back and forth to the nest. Although most bees are not too fussy about where they source their nectar, they can be slightly more fussy when it comes to choosing pollen to provision their nest. Andrena clarkella, for instance (one of our earliest emerging ground nesting bees) relies exclusively on pollen from Willow (Salix spp.) So, it is of paramount importance that the right plants are in flower during the nest provisioning period.

Once she has provisioned the chamber with sufficient pollen and a little nectar, the female solitary bee lays a single egg in each chamber. When this process is complete, she fills in the entrance to the tunnel and may then go on to construct a few more nests before she dies. She is on the wing (above ground) for approximately 4 - 8 weeks. 

When the eggs hatch, the larvae will feed on the pollen before pupating. After they have pupated they remain beneath the ground till the following spring, when they emerge as adult bees, mate, and start the cycle all over again.

So, next time you see a little hole in the ground like this…..make time to stop and watch for a while. You will be enthralled and enchanted by what you see!

Here (below) are two of the more common solitary bee species you might see making their nests in these tunnels. The orange coloured bee is a Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva)  and the black and grey bee is an Ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria).

You may also notice small yellow and black striped bees (like the one in the photo at the bottom) buzzing around the holes. These are Nomada species (cuckoo bees) who nip in and lay their own eggs in the nests of the solitary mining bee. When the nomada eggs hatch into larvae, they eat the pollen that has been carefully provided for the mining bee larvae. Very cheeky! 

N.B. some of these nests may belong to solitary wasp species. Neither the solitary wasps, nor the solitary bees are likely to sting you.

For more information about ground nesting solitary bees and the importance of short grass and bare soil for habitat, do please watch this little video of an interview I did with Stuart Roberts, chairman of BWARS (Bees , Wasps & Ants Recording Society)  

Importance of short grass for ground nesting solitary bees

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Hairy Footed Flower Bees & Silver Linings

I've been feeling extremely frustrated. Winter is over, spring has sprung, the sun is shining, the pulmonaria is flowering, and everyone I know is reporting sightings of Hairy Footed Flower Bees. Actually that's a slight exaggeration - only some of the people I know are reporting sightings of Hairy Footed Flower bees.

But that's not the point. The point is that whilst all this wonderfulness and excitement has been going on outside, I've been stuck in bed with an extremely unpleasant lurgi. Fortunately I'm beginning to recover now, but whatever it was has left me feeling so weak & weedy that I can't get dressed, let alone drag myself downstairs to go for a walk.

Every cloud has its silver lining though, and my silver lining is that I have just written a large chunk of the opening chapter to my book!

I started writing a book a couple of years ago, but lost everything I'd written (and a lot more besides) when the hard drive on my laptop died and I wasn't able to retrieve the contents. It has taken me till this morning to find the momentum to start again from scratch.

I'm going to resist the temptation to copy my opening paragraphs into this post. Suffice to say my book has bees in it and it starts with a fluke sighting on 17th February of a female Hairy Footed Flower bee who emerged far too early from hibernation….

So, thank you universe for laying me up with a horrible lurgi. I'm HUGELY excited by this silver lining!

Monday 2 February 2015

Not one - but FOUR Short-eared Owls!!!

Yesterday was the most exciting day ever. It was a bitingly cold but unbelievably beautiful afternoon, so we headed over to Wyke down on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, a place we sometimes go to see hares, in the hope that we might spot one or two before the sun went down. There was not a hare in sight on this occasion, but…… before we even had a chance to park up and get out of the car, we saw a Short-eared Owl! Within just a few moments more we saw another, and another, then another. FOUR Short-eared Owls!!!!

I've never even seen ONE Short-eared Owl before, so seeing four was like a dream come true. We watched the owls hunting back and forth across the fields on either side of the track for around an hour and couldn't believe how close they came to us. It was broad daylight, between 3.30pm - 4.30pm, but the owls appeared oblivious of all the people watching them (at least 20 photographers as well as ourselves). They completely ignored us and just carried on hunting, hovering, flapping their huge powerful and beautifully marked wings, heads steady, eyes down, gliding low and silent just above the grass ,and, every now and then, swooping suddenly down to kill.

Short-eared Owls hunt for small mammals like voles, so the fact that there were four owls in this spot, and also that they are (we were told) seen at Wyke Down regularly in the winter, indicates that this is perfect habitat for them; for the voles and the owls that is.  We marvelled at our good fortune, feeling truly blessed that such habitat exists so close to where we live, but at the same time feeling sad that due to modern farming practices and urban sprawl, habitats like this are becoming increasingly rare and fragmented.

We watched as one of the owls suddenly changed its behaviour and flew up high in the sky to chase away another bird of prey that I assumed might be a buzzard, but on reflection may have been a Harrier. We also watched two of the owls performing some kind of aerial dance with each other.

One of the photographers had a telescope, which he had focussed on an owl who had come down to rest on a grassy chalk bank just in front of us. This owl remained hunkered down in the long grass for at least 15 minutes and was still there when we left. There's no way on earth that we would have been able to even see the sitting owl without a telescope or binoculars; so perfect was its camouflage that it blended in completely with the landscape behind it, but the telescope owner kindly invited us to look through his lens and, oh joy, we were able to see every single last detail on the owl's face as though it were sitting just a few feet away from us! It had stunning markings, piercing dark yellow eyes and the most delightful little pointed ears. It was doing that thing that owls do so well, you know, where their heads rotate fully from far left to far right and back again, in the blink of an eye, for all the world as though they were puppet owls, being worked by a puppeteer with a stick. Mesmerising.

When we finally turned back to scan the fields again after watching the hunkered down owl through the telescope, the others had gone. Not an owl in sight. All disappeared. Anyone arriving at that moment would have wondered what on earth all those people were doing there; standing by the side of the road in the bitterly cold wind with their tripods, cameras, telescopes and binoculars. And hot water bottles….

By now the light was fading fast, so the photographers all packed up and left. Rob and I went back to the car and sat there a little while longer, not being able to tear ourselves away just in case we missed something, but the owls didn't show themselves again.

So, I'm madly happy that we arrived at Wyke Down exactly when we did yesterday afternoon. Timing, it seems, is everything. Thank you universe for such an amazing experience. I feel truly blessed.

Huge thanks to  Steve Farmer for allowing me to use his beautiful photographs of Short-eared Owls

More information about Short-eared Owls here:-

From the BTO

From the RSPB

Brigit 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.