2013 – A Good Year

2013 – a good year. Not just for us, but also for wildlife in the UK, which showed how resilient it is. A decent summer and we were rewarded with all sorts of excitement. Here we had our first colony of Tree Bumblebees and clouds of Clouded Yellow Butterflies. The Wagtail and Wren pairs which moved into the new house with us both had successful years too, as did the new honeybee nucleuses I brought in from a friend.

Bombus Hypnorum
Tree bumblebee and Phacelia
As well as re-establishing my apiary I’ve now got the bare bones of our garden and mixed orchard and meadow areas sorted. Raised beds everywhere as the (clay) soil is so brutal, and structure from some pleached hornbeam and Hawthorn hedges. Lots of veg and, of course, Hybrid Musk roses and bee plants in the “formal” garden, together with some of my favourite fruit trees. We have peach, almond and apricot, together with a vine, goji berry and some of the prettiest English apples there are. I’ve been tinkering around with green manure, which has been fun, and now have swathes of an attractive wild red clover, phacelia and Trefoil mix.

In the orchard are some pleasing oddities and some more of my favourite things, which mostly seem to have taken well.

Ditch through meadow areas
Ditch through meadow areas
The meadows are looking good too, with some interesting success stories (Forking Larkspur and Wild Clary), and I’m dying to see what my water obsession produces by way of flora. The pond is yet to hold water properly, but is getting there, and my borage and strawberry bed is coming on.

The house has been fabulous to live in, not least because we can light and heat it effectively for free. I’ve become a huge fan of renewables this year, not least because of the exciting work we’re doing with Good Energy and Solar Century. I just don’t understand why the take up of some of the schemes offered by the government is so low. I DO understand the backlash against large scale solar developments, despite their potential for significantly enhancing biodiversity. For the government to flip-flop on renewables and energy bills smacks of short term populism, however, and really damages the development of the industry.

Hookgate Cottage
Hookgate Cottage, with solar panels and wood burning range chimney.
It has been very tricky for us, for example, as we have to try to judge future demand for hedge plants and wildflower seed. Folk should be reminded that our retail energy costs are among the lowest in Europe.

This has been one of my major business related irritations this year. I’ve also been very irked by the luke warm response to the Ash tree dieback issue. There’s apparently too much vested interest opposing a requirement for plants to be sold with a label confirming their country of origin. When people buy “native British plants” they generally want native British native plants grown in the UK.

I try to remain apolitical, but I have to say the government has been very disappointing on this and on the other environmental issues I know a bit about, from neonicotinoid use to agricultural subsidies. This is particularly unfortunate at a time when conservation NGOs are struggling with funding.

In the private sector, though, things are moving in the right direction. Folk are becoming aware of what biodiversity is and what it means to them. Although bees have generated a disproportionate length of column inches in 2013 they have focused attention on issues like habitat loss and pesticide use, as well as reinforcing awareness of our dependence on the natural world. The current vogue for foraging has helped that too, together with an increasing sense of localism. What better way to celebrate local distinctiveness than through local food?

We are finding ourselves involved in an increasing range of projects, which reflect that interest. Some are pretty large scale; we already hope to sell around 10,000kg of wildflower seed in 2014, for example. Some are much smaller; I was delighted that we were recently able to help fund ARG’s work with sand lizards on the Merseyside coast. We’re enormously proud too of our work this year with Friends of the Earth, Noble Foods and the Co-op, to name but three of our customers.