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.

WHAT WE CAN DO IN THE MEANTIME:
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.

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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.

Ubuntu – “I am because of you”

I found it hard to surmise the life of such an impressive man, whose actions bettered the lives of so many, so in reflection I ended up painting –

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A butterfly is a lovely symbol of the soul and transformation, like the ripple in the ocean, they may be small in the grand scheme of things but they are mighty insects that migrate tremendous distances in their short life spans.

As touched on in this brilliant TED talk I feel that one of Mandela’s greatest achievements was his own very personal transformation which took place while in jail. Holding steadfast to his values he underwent a long introspective process of the interior self, which enabled him to internalise the values he stood for externally, so they became the walking undeniable fabric of his being – unusually freed from the fears and tremors of the ego power play we see many leaders struggle with today. This gave him true resiliency in the worst of times, and profound widespread respect for his unfaltering lead by example. An example of how one person’s actions can make an enormous difference.

As my human rights professor told me once – “live by your dreams”
Don’t slave for them in some distant future on palm-tree lined shimmering shores but try to embody your values, all that you love and hold dear now, each and every moment.

Dragonflies & Damsels were once as big as birds

Most people know what a dragonfly is but not everyone knows what a damsel looks like? We’ve all heard the saying ‘damsel in distress’ and I thought that it must be a flower, perhaps because the damsel is classically identified as a woman.

Last Friday I learnt that a damsel is the thinner, smaller version of a dragonfly that we see flying around. It was the electric blue flash of such creatures darting around me in Guatemala that made me so curious about the species, to the point I almost got a tattoo of what I thought was a dragonfly on my foot. That could have been an incorrigible error!

There are many intriguing things about these insects, which made me inquisitive enough, to drive half an hour, get stuck in traffic and very lost to arrive late at the folk hall in Portishead and listen to a talk, where I was the only one without a head of grey hair.

The talk was particularly academic and dry in this respect, different from what I hoped. In my flight of fancy I thought we’d hear wondrous tales that really brought to life these mysterious ancient insects. However the evening had its insights –

Did you know:

  • Dragonflies pre-date dinosaurs and used to be as big as seagulls, but still invertebrates. This could not happen now because the oxygen in our atmosphere has become so diluted they could not survive as insects this size.
  • The way dragonflies and damselflies mate is very unique and was the focus of the majority of the talk and slides. They form this loop called ~ “the wheel” – where the male clasps the head of the female with the end of his tail and she bends her abdomen to connect with the accessory area near the front end of the male where the sperm is. Prior to this the male has to transfer the sperm from the tip of his abdomen into the accessory area. It is quite a display and can go on for up to an hour.
  • The female will then go and deposit the fertilised eggs in a river bank or near an area of water. The rump of a dog lying by a river is not overlooked, apparently! Often the male will not let go of the females head until she has deposited the eggs somewhere in case another male interferes. And often they will scoop out any residual male sperm before beginning to reproduce – a very thorough procedure from beginning to end!

I’m not sure why I am fascinated by dragonflies but I guess it is just one of those personal things that doesn’t really require an explanation. Up close they aren’t particularly attractive and look extremely alien. The fact they have remained on earth so long is particularly worthy of note, impressive and as striking as their colours. Who knows, maybe they will out live us too, the way we are continuing to turn environments and oceans into a human rubbish dump.