Thursday, 26 May 2011

swarm catchers

Last Saturday I was working on my allotment, near my bees, and heard a loud hum. I looked up and saw a swarm of bees that quickly moved over my head towards the woods beneath Landport Bottom. I jumped on my bike and tried to follow them but they were too fast and disappeared quickly towards their destination. They were not my bees but from another colony, excitedly and purposefully creating new life.

The air is warm, the nectar flow is on and swarming season is upon us again. Perhaps because of the decline of the honeybee, we now have over a dozen new natural beekeepers in the Lewes area. They keep their hives, often home made, in gardens, allotments and on roofs. Seeing themselves as ‘bee guardians’ rather than ‘honey farmers', they work on a very different basis to conventional beekeepers. They leave most of the honey for the bees to overwinter on, they try not to open up the hive without good reason – especially taking care not to disturb the brood chamber - and allow their bees to swarm as a natural part of the cycle. As a result, swarming is on the increase, thanks to natural beekeeping, as well as from the increasing number of wild bee colonies in Lewes trees, chimneys and eaves. So swarming in May and June will become a more common occurrence.

There’s fear and projections attached to swarming bees but really they are almost always docile. For example, last year I captured with my bare hands a perfect swarm hanging low from a small tree on Talbot Terrace; the children loved watching me do that; it was a community event. Swarming is abundance itself, the honeybees’ natural way to reproduce and break disease cycles. So if you see or even hear about a swarm of bees, stop to celebrate and marvel at them, and note where they land. Then ring one of Lewes’s swarmcatchers, who will transfer the bees to one of the many Lewes people who are waiting to start keeping bees naturally. Write these numbers down: swarmcatchers Adrienne Campbell 07774793158 or Mike Millwood 07971216075

photo: Natural Beekeeping Trust

Thursday, 19 May 2011

a riot of flowers

There’s a riot of flowers going on and it’s hard to ignore. Roses and honeysuckle hanging over the twitten walls flood my senses with their smells and gorgeous appearance. It’s blissful – just imagine how a honeybee feels on a day like this.

I’ve been so distracted by fear for the future of life on earth that I’ve been hooked out of the pure pleasure of existence. And yet I’m getting reminders that the future isn’t a linear scenario. Although I feel sad that the starlings who normally chatter in the lime tree near my house are no longer there, and the housemartin who has inhabited my neighbour’s roof for a decade hasn’t returned this year, I’ve also been pleased to see some species return. In my woods, the small pearl bordered fritillary, a butterfly that had shrunk down to only a few mating pairs in Sussex, has made a delightful comeback – I saw about 30 on one day last week.

My friend Persephone sent me an article about the reappearance of a red tree rat in Colombia which had been thought to have become extinct a century ago. And I’m over the moon to hear that the Great Bustard was reintroduced to Wiltshire from Russia in 2009 after a long absence from the UK. I last saw one of these amazing birds, which can grow to a metre tall and weigh 20kg, a while ago - stuffed - in the Booth Museum in Brighton and had never forgotten it. So perhaps, even if species  withdraw, they can return given the right conditions, and this has to be one of the future scenarios.

The problem with fear is that it makes me (us) ill and that’s why I got cancer a while ago. I choose to live. So I’ve come up with a plan: no newspapers, keep the internet to a minimum, and take a break from the stories of mass extinction for a while. Of course, I’m still going to live simply, because that’s what makes me happy anyway. I’m going to smell the roses for a while.  
Picture by Nick Robinson

Friday, 13 May 2011

web site

Take a walk towards the bridge out of town, preferably with spookable children, and you’ll come across an enormous web created by ermine caterpillars over entire trees. A notice from Lewes District Council warns us not to touch the exotic caterpillers, which have stripped bare the trees and are hanging in clusters of web bags.

I find the notice, like the one at County Hall I mentioned last week, rather condescendingly human-centric. The reality is that we humans are as endangered as those beings we well-meaningly seek to protect. We utterly depend on all life to sustain us, not simply as ecosystems services, such as soil to purify water, plants to anchor carbon and willows to soak up flood plains, but as beings in their own right.

A Guardian editorial this week wrote that ‘although the cost of conserving biodiversity will be considerable, the price of not doing so could be truly terrible’. And the Funeral for Lost Species being held this weekend by my friend Persephone is all about remembering the ones who have gone and perhaps cherishing a little more the ones who are being obliterated by us.

Meanwhile, an eviction notice (court attendance Tuesday 17 May 9-11am, Brighton County court) has been served on the people occupying the land at St Anne’s School to prevent its demolition and sale, without consultation. If you care about this 3.5 acre of biodiverse wild land which should really be kept as a park or growing space for not only the humans but for all the other beings of Lewes, please come and help out (entrance at Rotten Row) or email or turn up en masse at 9am outside the court.

Photograph courtesy of Abbie Stanton.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

whose land is it, anyway?

At the climate camp last week there were discussions of what to write on a banner to drop off the side of County Hall. ‘Get off my land’ was a popular choice: after all, whose land and whose council is it anyway? 

The Climate Camp passed peacefully and met its main aims (see this sweet short video): to practice and demonstrate living lightly together on the land as well as carrying out peaceful direct actions against nearby climate ‘offenders’. But, as one interesting column asked, is that all that Climate Camp is for? Is there a call to work more deeply with locals on their issues? And a Lewes academic reminded us of the role of local in preserving things we value when democratic routes fail.

A consensus at the closing of the camp agreed that a group of people – activists, homeless people and local residents – stay on the site as long as possible to buy time for Lewes residents and councils to allow us to have a say in the future use of the three acres of prime ground in central Lewes. We put in some Freedom of Information requests, with the help of a government employee codenamed Puffles, for information about what has been discussed, planned and surveyed for its future. Rumours abound from within County Hall that demolition of the buildings had been imminent. We need to know. Whose land is it to dispose of for building, car parks and the like? STAND – St Anne’s Diggers – is forming around this issue and will be putting a call out for participation. The grounds are open for any resident visitors or campers as well as every Sunday a picnic from noon and community meeting at 3pm.

Last week, as I was scouting St Anne's boundaries with County Hall, I came across a little sign hidden in the undergrowth  next to one of County Hall’s car parks: ‘Designated Biodiversity Area’. This was a thin strip of cow parsley and long grass, a portion of which acted as a dumping ground for the clippings from the lawns. The huge County Hall site itself is probably 98% buildings, car park and lawn. It says a lot about the mentality of our council that it even trashes, unopposed by any employees, the tiny area allocated to ‘biodiversity’.

Because biodiversity means ‘wild’. It means the place that many other beings live, because they can’t live on concrete and lawns. That’s what’s so lovely about the St Anne’s site: it has been kept secret and virtually unused for seven years, allowed to grow and stretch into itself. Having spent 10 nights on this land, belly to belly, I have started to fall in love with it, as have other Lewesians coming onto it for the first time. Strong words, but a completely natural response to a gorgeous terrain. It’s this visceral response that helps us to care about natural places, especially wild places which are inhabited by the other beings such as trees, bats, birds, hedgehogs and bugs and which makes us grieve when those places are ripped up and turned into money. 

I’ve seen a strong desire to interact with this place, to tame it, plant it, inhabit it with treehouses – turn it into something for our use – and County Hall says it has a fiduciary responsibility to make the most money possible from land. But my personal sense is, for now, let’s leave it, let’s visit it lightly, let’s go gently and leave only footprints. Because, whose land is it, anyway?