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

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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?