I was sitting on my terrace yesterday, sunning my bald head, when a solitary honeybee flew into the glass doors and fell to the ground. It was the first honeybee I’d seen this year in my garden, and I eased myself to the floor to make contact with it. It was dusting itself off and resting, its abdomen pulsing. Hey little one, how fare you? (I always talk to the bees.) Not so well, clearly, since bees tend not to collide with solid objects. After a pause, it flew off and I bid it well. I’ve spent some time this week setting up three ‘lure’ hives in different locations, calling in swarms to set up camp. It’s perfect swarming weather, warm and wet, though, given the dearth of bees in the air, I accept that they may remain empty.
In this week-long bee immersion I’ve been finding out some truly shocking information. The British Beekeepers Association has allegedly been accepting large sums of money from agro-giant Bayer, the manufacturer of the powerful modern insecticides, called nicotinamides, in exchange for allowing Bayer to market these pesticides to farmers as ‘bee friendly’. These pesticides, used extensively in Britain, were banned from France, Germany and Italy from 2001, when the beekeepers there protested after large swathes of the bee population were decimated by the agrochemicals. What is tamely called colony collapse disorder here, is very likely to be caused by Bayer’s toxins, which are systemic poisons, in that once in the plant they continue to work against insects throughout the plant’s life. More worryingly, they wash off the land into groundwater - their half life is two years – where they are taken up by the weeds and other wild foraging plants loved by bees. The effect of such chemicals, which, according to Bayer, work as low as two parts per billion, is that honeybees and other insects get disorientated and cannot find their way home, or dance the dance that shows the rest of the hive the source of nectar. The colony starves, collapses, even in the peak of the nectar flow.
Private Eye this week quoted environment secretary Hilary Been as insisting that "We haven't seen any evidence that [pesticides] have an adverse impact on bees". This love affair between our leaders and corporations is taking the honeybee, which has been around for 50 million years, and worshipped by wiser humans than us since the beginning of humanity, to the edge of existence. It bears repeating that 30% of British honeybee colonies have died out in the last two years and that we depend on the honeybee for pollinating 80% of our food.
How to deal with such outrageous information without tipping in to denial and powerlessness (which is the numb-down route taken by so many of us in the western world at the moment) or despair (the route of illness and loss of the essential life force needed in this time of change)? Philip Carr-Gomm, our resident chief druid, spoke of this in an evening hosted by the Transition Town Lewes Heart and Soul group last week. He called for the need to look at such information with ‘bifocal vision’ – to see things simultaneously as whole and also as sick. Dancing on this edge, we can stay sane in an insane world and be alert and effective change-makers.
And we are powerful, each one of us like a honeybee in a colony; we can manifest goodness and health if we work together. What can we do to help the honeybee? The answer is clear. Short-circuit the corporates through choice; eat local, organic food. Do it now, and do it as though your life depends on it. And watch this video to make you smile.