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17 Jul 2010

The issue of the bees

The concern at the loss of bees is becoming widely known. From press articles, and television coverage such as this there is a lot of interest. Unlike the 100 square kilometre monocultures of the USA, like for almonds, which require the transportation of bees all over the country for the flowering season, Normandy is mostly natural. There is not (yet) a disaster. But rears are growing, and explanations being sought.

This is partly because there is still an enormous number of cattle and other beasts which graze, and are fed on hay in winter, so that wild flowers are everywhere, and of course the apple and other fruit trees. In April, the apple tree over our terrace was in full flower, and a short spell of warmer weather meant we could have our lunch outside. The apple blossom was covered with bees, the noise of their buzzing constant. A bit like the World Cup vuvuzelas. As far as I could see the bees were mostly honey bees.

The bocage also - even though it is becoming less - is still a huge reservoir of trees, bushes and flowers. The local authorities in the country carry out 'fauchage' twice a year: a process of cutting the vegetation on the verges and the high bocage hedges. One man on a tractor with a sort of enormous beard trimmer attachment can do kilometres in a week. The result is that there is a continuing series of flowering plants: primroses, violets, orchids, cut down after going to seed, and then followed by foxgloves, scabious, knapweed, thistle etc. with ferns and grasses for seeds coming up in profusion. Recently, in many places they have delayed the first cut because the winter was so bad, and all the plants are late.

Bees, and all forms of wildlife thrive. No pesticides, no flailing to smash trees and shrubs, and respect for the cycle of the seasons.

Honey bees are not as common in general this year as the several varieties of bumble bees, but they usually appear in large numbers in late July and August. Apple trees are mostly laden with fruit, as are other fruit trees. All flowers are blooming and dying back very quickly, because they are very rapidly pollinated, which is a good sign in general, although indicative of a bad winter.

We have a path to out back door through a near jungle of herbs - mint, oregano, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, tarragon, which will take over the path when they all flower in a couple of weeks. Apart from the wonderful scents when you walk along the path, brushing the plants, there are great clouds of bees and butterflies which rise up and settle back as you pass.

We are doing our best to help the bees, growing trees, bushes, plants with flowers throughout the summer, and for the solitary speciies placing bamboos and other open tubes around the garden for overwintering and spring nesting. No pesticides, herbicides, or paranoid weed free cultivation. We have hedges on all four sides of our garden (1700m2), with hazel, beech, oak, medlar, blackthorn, hawthorn and holly. We have two big patches of garden that are not mowed, just left to nature, and they are full of flowers at the moment. In winter, we can often see goldfinches hanging off the knapweed seed heads from our bedroom. We also have three fields, which are used for grazing by a neighbour, with a family of cattle there for two or three weeks, then moved elsewhere, to return in a couple of months when the grass has regrown.

Virtually a paradise, which will end if the bees go.

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