Thursday, 15 October 2009

the vanishing of the bees

At last loads of people are getting concerned about the plight of the honeybee and some interesting things are happening locally in response. On Saturday, Zu Studios was the venue for a Celebration of the Honeybee. My friends Clive and Philly hosted it, and it included an undescribable, full-body, bee experience, as well as song and dance of various kinds. Clive and Philly are two of my beelover friends, and they have created a walled bee garden in their new home in Polegate. The day before the Zu experience, I spent the morning with my beekeeper friend Mike, who made three beautiful topbar beehives last winter and filled them with swarms this spring. We visited the bee garden of another new friend, Heidi, who has just started the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Her place is heavenly, with a feeling of wholeness and integrity about it. And it’s home to all kinds of hives full of bees – none of which have died out because of varroa or Colony Collapse, which killed about 30% of the British bees last winter. Heidi, as a biodynamic beekeeper, takes a whole-system husbandry approach that includes agriculture, the moon and stars, and a high degree of observation and loving kindness.

Conversely, ‘traditional’ beekeeping has involved increasing levels of intervention and, one could say, corporate violence. Some people have likened this approach to the way chickens are kept in battery farms. The film Vanishing of the Bees, which I saw on Tuesday at the Duke of York’s, implies that there’s no one cause of the vanishing of the bees, and although nicotinoid pesticides are likely to damage the bees’ resilience over generations, there are other factors, including lack of biodiverse foraging, and the way the bees are treated by traditional beekeepers.

Despite the British and US governments’ refusal to ban nicotinoid pesticides, and as the British Beekeeping Association continues to be sponsored by Bayer, the manufacturer of the main nicotinamide, there are many voices calling for change. Meanwhile, there’s lots we can do to help the honeybee, apart from training as a natural beekeeper. As Michael Pollen, food commentator from the University of California, says, simply by eating organic, local food we are creating an environment with less toxicity for bees. And, he added, we can turn our lawns into bee-friendly havens.

Rudolph Steiner predicted – 50 years ago – that in half a century, the traditional approach to beekeeping would cause a crisis for the honeybee. He rightly pointed out that our existence depends on honeybees (2/3 of our food species are pollinated by them). In order to take care of ourselves, then, we have to take care of the bees.

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