A brief update on the ‘Vanishing of the Bees’

The documentary was released in 2009 but the issue is on-going. UK and US bee populations have declined by 50% in the last 25 years. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating at least 80% of the world’s crops. Without their industrious services, pollinating up to 18,000 plants in a day, food prices would soar dramatically. Therefore farmers are reliant on bees, yet the pesticides they use are considered one of the main causes of the widespread phenomena, Colony Collapse Disorder, that has hit the States most significantly from 2006.
Independent academic research in the UK and France has found that ‘neonicotinoids’ in pesticides, are harmful to bees nervous systems effecting their memory and mobility. Results from the research showed that a third of the colony exposed to neonicotinoids were unable to find their way back to the hive, as well as an 85% decline in the survival of the Queen Bee each year.
This research has not been validated by the current UK government who are propping up insecticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer CropScience findings, which conclude that ‘neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk to honeybees’. None of this research has been publicly disclosed for review.
Last year the EU enforced a two year suspension on the use of neonicotinoids, although the UK were against the ban. This decision will be up for review again at the beginning of 2015.
Protecting pollinators and our food from these damaging chemicals is far from accomplished.

In the meantime grow more bee-friendly plants to increase bee habitats.
Buy fruit and vegetables from The Co-operative and Waitrose who are both committed to sourcing their fresh produce from suppliers who do not use harmful pesticides.
Or start learning how to become a beekeeper through a local mentoring programme or by doing a course.

One of the most striking things I took away from the documentary were the numerous (some perhaps a bit far-fetched) parallels between problems afflicting bees and our own human plight.
– Commercial bees are fed on sugar syrup rather than being allowed to feed on their own honey, much like our reliance on manufactured sugars rather than natural sugars we have grown ourselves.
– We both suffer from the sprays we put on crops, which have transmitted various diseases into the food chain.
– The female role of queen bee is undermined as commercial bee keepers replace them with new younger, more efficient queens each year. A reflection of how women are commonly upgraded today, and how female qualities are often undermined in the workplace. ( the disempowerment of the sacred feminine at large in society)
– Bees are now farmed and exported miles overseas to pollinate crops far from their natural habitats, which disorientates them and makes them less effective. Similarly the human mass-migration we are witnessing in the last century, of displaced communities and enclaves of people uprooted from their indigenous landscape, has effected peoples coping mechanisms and livelihoods, estranged and far from their home culture.

Simply observing the bees appears to be the key to understanding what is wrong and what can be done. One academic even said that from observation it is clear the bees have all the answers and reflect that the problem is far more multi-faceted and complex than first appears. It is not simply about eliminating the use of neonicotinoids but changing the whole complex system by which we are currently sustaining life on planet earth.


but what can we do?

At the end of last year I read The State of Nature Report, and was incensed by a need to do something. It urged a Call to Action, to prevent a further decline of UK species, which have fallen by 60% on average over the last 50 years.

Often after reading up on an issue that particularly grabs me, the most I might do is subscribe to a few relevant organisations newsletters to keep me up to date with the issue, sign a petition, blog about it or at best hand write a letter to someone in a position of influence.

N.B. In the end I decided to write to the Queen. The idea was to suggest she should mention this matter in her Christmas speech, but of course that had probably been written months before. It ended up being more of a Christmas card suggesting she might be interested in reading the report if she hadn’t already and perhaps mentioning it at some point. (Her lady in waiting did reply that the queen was very interested to hear my views on the environment!) The plan now is to send her a drawing or painting of one of the species on the Watchlist Indicator throughout the year – but we shall see – I’m not that confident with my drawing skills.

But still none of this ever feels satisfactory. Even if she was to mention the benefits of becoming active in conservation efforts to protect biodiversity in our wildlife and the sense of well being that reconnecting with the natural world can bring an individual, it’s an entirely different thing to take the time to act on it.

And here we have a common problem faced by most current issues of the day – how can the individual be mobilised to act on information in impactful ways? From personal experience, at best I might join a community group to become more active in this area, but as a volunteer this usually falls by the wayside as simply another fad I was involved in for a while.

Should this green finger knowledge have been passed down from parents? Should school lessons have been more orientated around the land that sustains us? At the moment, aged 28, learning about the natural world and all the species that populate UK soil feels like learning to ski or play an instrument too late on in life – it is a self-conscious attempt to do something I feel I should or will better me in some way rather than being naturally enthralled. Of course this is not true for everyone. I’ve met inspiring people who have read an article on a particular issue and set up a community enterprise in response.

It seems that to make the changes that are necessary for a healthier planet, people who consider themselves communicators or voices for change, need to be aware that it may not be enough to tell people about things anymore. Perhaps it is a matter of showing not telling and being the change you want to see in the world on a much more fundamental level – internalising those values you stand for – which in a perfect world would be intuitive to us from a young age if parents and educators were enabled to bring up children more holistically.

Soil is so cool

Dirt, mud, the earth from where all life has sprung is miraculous stuff, and perhaps where a lot of the answers to the mysteries of the universe reside. It often takes repeated exposure to what sometimes appears very mundane information, until there is suddenly a light bulb moment which permanently alters your perspective. I had one of these moments today which has finally rammed home a deep, profound respect for plain and simple soil.

I had already heard that 5g/1tsp of healthy soil contains more living organisms than humans on this earth. But I hadn’t really considered the implication of this until I saw a 3D graphic image of 1g of soil spinning round on a big screen, illuminating all the porous spaces (said to contain up to 10,000,000 cells, 5km of fungi, 10,000 different species). It was a wake-up call to visually see how much life is simply taking place under our finger nails! (soil traceability being a very important part of forensic evidence in criminal investigations)

Helen Browning of the Soil Association introduced the speakers at the Soil Symposium this year, with some astonishing facts. No news to the organic farmers and growers present but perhaps of interest to people like myself who don’t come into daily contact with soil and aren’t conscious of its vital importance to our survival.

  • It takes 500 years or so to create an inch of fertile top soil and only a decade or so to deplete it
  • Worldwide we have damaged over 15% of our land, destroying soils 10 times faster than creating them
  • In the UK 2 million tonnes of soil is lost each year, which is £150-250 millions worth of soil damage

The talks that followed all upheld the importance of bio-dynamic farming, which use organic methods in soil cultivation to essentially feed the soil and maintain high levels of bio-diversity, creating more nutritionally dense, fertile and high yielding soils.

Professor Dr. Urs Niggli from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, advocated a new approach for farmers to prevent soil depletion called ‘eco-functional intensification’ rather than the over-used meaningless term ‘sustainable intensification’. In 2002 a report showed how this sort of farming, using reduced tillage and organic fertilisers, doubles the physical and microbial properties of soil – data which even the pro-GM Avery clan of this world couldn’t refute. The soil becomes more porous-retains more water, carbon and biomass which creates healthier, high yielding soils.

The underlying truth to highlight is that much like the universe, our brains, uncharted ocean depths, we understand very little about the life of soil at the microscopic level. It still remains to be discovered but one thing is clear that biodynamic farming is the way forward to ensure a thriving planet that can sustain us.