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Find solace in the bees
By: David Goulson
Last updated: Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Our world has become an uncertain and fragile place, one in which we all worry for the health of our older relatives and wonder what kind of future our children might face. When this current threat is over, we will have to face up to the far bigger challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Nothing seems certain any more.
On the other hand, it is a wonderful time of year, with hedge-banks bursting into flower, birds busy nesting, and the first bees and butterflies on the wing. Today at least, the sky is blue, un-marred by vapour trails. Daunting challenges may lie ahead, but those of us that are lucky enough to have a garden can at least make use of the time we must now spend at home, enjoy the spring sunshine, and take solace in ensuring that all is well in our own space, however big or small it may be.
Today, in breaks from writing a new book, I have planted out some aquilegias in the garden; six weeks from now they will be in glorious bloom, providing nectar and pollen for long-tongued bumblebees such as the lovely yellow and black garden bumblebee. I’ve been spreading compost, harvesting broccoli and leeks, and sowing vegetable seeds, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, peppers and peas in trays, to be planted in my organic veggie patch when they are ready.
As I worked, the first bumblebee queens of the year, fresh from hibernation, were quartering the ground, searching for somewhere to build their nest. I love the soothing sound of their gentle buzz. A chiff-chaff was incessantly chanting his cheerfully repetitive song from the top of a silver birch, hopelessly outclassed by the more melodic tune of a robin in the hedge.
There is good medical evidence that being outside, gardening, is one of the best ways to keep healthy. It isn’t clear why it is so good for us; perhaps it is the fresh air, the sunshine, the sound of the birds and the bees, the gentle exercise. My unscientific theory is that there is something vital and magical about getting your hands in the soil. My soil is rich and dark from the home-made compost I add every year, both locking up carbon and ensuring that my plants grow well. The flowers I grow keep the bees happy, and in return they ensure that my strawberries, apples, beans and raspberries all produce a good harvest. The food I grow is pesticide-free, zero packaging, zero food miles; it could not be better for me, my family, or the planet.
We cannot control much that goes on in this crazy world, but we can look after the creatures that live all around us, the birds that visit our gardens, the butterflies, bees, beetles, moths, bats, hedgehogs, worms and who-knows-what-else that live all around us, even in our cities. We can practice treading gently on our Earth. Even if we have only a balcony or window box, we can grow colourful and tasty herbs, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and sage, and take joy in watching bees and hoverflies search them out. We can grow strawberries and tomatoes in pots, and enjoy the delicious taste of home grown fruit. If you are anxious and stressed, get out into your garden, get your hands in the soil, plant some bee-friendly seeds, and I guarantee that you will soon feel better!
Written by Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex. Dave's research focusses on the ecology, behaviour and conservation of bumblebees. He is also interested in pollinators and pollination more generally, and particularly in the sustainable management of pollinators in agro-ecosystems.
Find out more about Dave's Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) project: 'People, pollinators and pesticides in peri-urban farming'.
This blog is part of the
SSRP Forum: the Pandemic and Sustainability
This forum aims to contribute to the analysis of the impact of the pandemic on sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to offer policy recommendations on how to respond to this unprecedented challenge.
The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) presents us with an unprecedented challenge. We see losses of human life around the world, while one can hardly think what will happen if and when the pandemic reaches poorer countries with weaker economic and health structures. We see countries shutting down their economies to avoid the spread of the virus, as well as employing unprecedented measures of social distancing and population lockdown. We see whole economic sectors and households entering the intensive care of public financial support. In less than a month, the pandemic has redefined the priorities, parameters and boundaries of ‘what is possible’ in much of the world that we constructed since the Second World War.
The most urgent question is how to deal with the humanitarian crisis currently evolving and prevent it from getting out of control at a global scale. But a question we must also face is how the currently unprecedented mobilisation of public resources will be used to support our transition to a sustainable future, rather than a return to a socio-environmentally unsustainable past. One can hardly overstate the urgency of both these tasks. We in the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) community aim to contribute to this ‘mobilisation’ effort by setting up this Forum which aims to bring together experience, knowledge, ideas and recommendations to inform public responses to the pandemic and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at both local and global levels.