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Bee Love and Plant Wars

I’ve been to two bee campaign launches this week, and I’ll declare my interest early on; the Friends of the Earth (“The Bee Cause”) are a customer, buying seed packets from us, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (“Bees For Everyone”) are a partner charity. Friends of The Earth hope their campaign will be an umbrella for the many fragmented and in some cases feuding bee groups out there, in order to lobby more effectively. It’s a good idea, and Tuesday's publicity event was very encouraging. They're basing their approach around a well-balanced and informed paper from Reading University’s Simon Potts, which seems a fair summary of the issues involved and includes some sensible action points relating to all 267 of our bee species. Presenting a complex issue is difficult though. The Times reported the meeting under the headline “Pesticides on verge of wiping out native wild honeybees”. Was their man at the same meeting? I’m not diminishing the impact systemic pesticides are having on honeybees (and other pollinators – let’s not forget the other 266 bee species there are out there, for a start) and continue to lobby against them myself, but, as I have written before, people seem to love to sensationalise and to focus on a single issue.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has always been ace at engaging their audience, and whatever they have to say is based on good science too. Their core message focuses on habitat loss, and their new website has a great practical gizmo which helps you make your garden more bee friendly. It might be less sexy than The Times would like, but they are making a real difference. Let’s hope that sooner rather than later people will start to grow the right flowers to feed bees in their back gardens in the same way they buy seed to feed birds now. There’s a sense of fun about the new BBCT website too, which I’m sure is the way to go. I haven’t made it to Chelsea this year but my spies tell me it was full of very consciously worthy native meadow planting, enough to provoke Professor Hitchmough, a promoter of “prairie meadows” to say the use of native plants will kill the horticultural industry*. You may be surprised to hear that if I had a small urban garden I don’t think I would have a “wildflower meadow” area. I’d love a bed of Prof. Hitchmough’s colourful, nectar rich and long flowering non-natives. You’ll be less surprised to hear that I would have loads of UK native species in my borders though, in formal planting designs, or that I might have “mini-meadows” in planters. Our gardeners need gardens which they can love and our invertebrates need our native perennials. This isn’t just about the nectar and pollen they can source from them, which they can find from carefully chosen non-native plants, but it’s also about their value for over-wintering animals and as food plants, for example; our butterfly and moth species rely on specific native plants to eat. The BBCT have got this right too, bridging the gap between the warring native and non-native camps in a way we hope to illustrate with our new project at Hookgate Cottage. Perhaps people like Professor Hitchmough and the landscape design business will catch up with us some day. *This probably deserves another blog. At this point, let’s just say his comments seem naïve/unhelpful/compromised/uninformed. Photo: Bird Guides