Today Is World Bee Day

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Three days ago the World Wildlife Fund and Buglife published their joint report on the state of British bees in the East of England. Their findings were based on the monitoring work of research institutions across a region whose great range of habitats make it potentially bee-rich territory. Some 228 species were included in the study.

And the conclusions:

• 25 species (11%) threatened

• 17 species (7%) regionally extinct

• 31 species (14%) of conservation concern

And the reasons? Climate change, habitat loss, pollution, disease and agricultural pesticides of the neonicotinoid variety (now banned by the EU). The report gives a county by county list of lost species, the ones most affected being solitary and rare species that occupy very specific wildlife niches: e.g. coastal dunes, heaths, woods, wetlands and brownfield sites such as old quarries and gravel pits. But it is not all bad news. At least that is to say there has been an increase in common food pollinating bee species – possibly a result of the more extensive growing of oil seed rape and efforts by farmers to create field margins to support bee populations.

For anyone interested in bees the report is packed with species specific information and excellent photos, and outlines many practical strategies for re-establishing lost diversity and habitat. In other words WE CAN DO SOMETHING.

Talking of which, my bee photos were taken yesterday morning, the first of the year, and out in the guerrilla garden on the field margin, where I have planted (among other things) verbascum grown from seed a couple of years ago. It is such a stately plant and comes in many colours (common name mullein). Certainly this particular little bumblebee (red-tailed, male?) seemed very excited by the newly opening flowers.

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Related: UN World Bee Day

From The Side-lines ~ Digging Not Flooding

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Our cottage is rather short, the upstairs rooms being contained mostly by open roof space rather than walls. Also, the house itself is set in the side of a steep bank between Townsend Meadow and the main road, which means the best views  (our only good ones) are from the bedroom roof-lights. These windows all face west and overlook the field towards Wenlock Edge and the big sky above.

Much time can pass at these windows, studying cloud movements or the wheeling of rooks and jackdaws.  Sometimes the odd soul (with or without companionable dog) walks by on the field path just beyond our garden gate, and sometimes on Monday mornings, the town’s entire ‘walk for health’ mob, several dozen strong with high-vis vested leaders and bringers-up of rear, trails by. Now and then, too, the farmer can also be spotted, driving his latest substance-spraying rig back and forth across the crop (this week it was a top-dressing of fertiliser for the wheat which – after the rain – is already shooting up like multiples of Jack’s beanstalk). So given this general lack of activity out back, the appearance of a big digger and very large dump truck on the near horizon was an exciting event.

The work in progress (over the brow of the hill and out of sight in the field’s top corner) is the excavation of an attenuation pond. (There is another larger one to the south of the town). They are basically reservoir basins, but without water – designed to stem the impact of any flash flood off  Wenlock Edge. The town sits in a bowl between the Edge and several hills, and has been designated a rapid response flood zone. This sounds alarming, and indeed could well be, but the conditions for flash flooding are very particular: i.e. if a severe storm hits our catchment after prolonged periods of rain when the ground is sodden, or in winter after hard frost. Water that cannot drain into the land flows into adjacent roads which then act like rivers, speedily conducting the run-off into the town centre. This can all happen in the space of 20 minutes.

As far as we know, and despite its shortness and low-lying position, our house has no history of being flooded. In the last big flood of 2007 the water seemed to flow around us. I watched the rain pour off the garden terraces behind the house, flow by the kitchen door in a fast running stream before emptying on to the main road where it doubtless contributed to the flooding of properties downstream of us.

It was unnerving to see, and later we heard that at least 50 houses in the centre of town had their cellars and ground floors deluged. That evening, coming home from work across the Edge, Graham had to abandon the car on the far side of town and take an upland ‘cross-country’ route home.

How well the ponds will serve us is yet to be demonstrated. After 12 years without a flood, it is easy to imagine that it won’t happen again, though last month The Man from the Environment Agency did come specially to town to tell us we must remain vigilant. As many round the world know to their cost, climate change is responsible for an increase in extreme weather events and, in the most extreme scenario, our ponds will only slow the flow, not stop it. There are probably further measures that could be taken: urging (enforcing would be better) landowners to plant more trees, create more flood plains  round water courses, stop selling their land for large housing developments whose roofs and access roads accelerate run-off.

For now, though, all thanks are due to the workforce who toiled, excavating and landscaping the ponds, which may one day save our most vulnerable residents the distress of having to spend a year and more drying out a flooded home. In the meantime, I keep watching the sky over Wenlock Edge. At times when the rain closes in, day after day without let up, it’s easy to wonder: is this flooding rain?

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

 

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: from the side

Earth Sense: The Sweet Smell Of Wet Soil

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There’s nothing like it: either the word or the phenomenon. Petrichor is the term coined in 1964 by two Australian scientists, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G Thomas, derived from the Greek word petra  meaning stone and ichor the fluid that flows in Greek gods’ veins (Nature, Volume 201, Issue 4923, pp. 993-995) and they used it to describe the smell of soil when it rains after a prolonged dry spell. They even defined the component parts. Oils from drying plants are absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks and when it rains, these are released in the air along with the aromatic exudations of actinobacteria in the soil.

And that’s what happened here today, spot on 2 pm just when the weather forecast said it would, and after several weeks of drought. I’d just made it back from the allotment where I had been moving raised beds, making new terraces and breaking up compacted soil in readiness for the promised rain. On the way home, draped in emergency polytunnel mac – a somewhat scabby garment I have to say, I noticed how the blossom on the crab apple tree by the garden gate is already going over, and I had only posted its picture the other day, the flowers so pink and freshly unfurling. Today the petals are white and shedding, here and there revealing the makings of miniscule apples on their stems. The procreative imperative in full swing then, which naturally induced a fit of gardener’s panic, a feeling that somehow I was lagging behind. So much to do, and so little time.

But then down came a soft and steady rain that made the garden sit up tall, and pretty soon filled the air with those delicious earth scents, the sort you breathe up your nose and into your soul, that make you one with antique divinities whose veins flow with ethereal fluids. No need to rush. Just breathe. Aaaaah. Petrichor!

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Copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

And It’s Not Only A Pelican…

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Not the best photo, I know. I cropped it so you can just about see what is going on in the papyrus to the right of the pelican. i.e. the rear end of one of Lake Naivasha’s hippos going ashore and the roaring, open mouth of another hippo who is objecting to the intrusion. Hippos have whopping teeth and tusks, and quite apart from being grouchy with each other, they also kill quite a few humans, especially fishermen. They are at their best when mostly immersed in water, and their surprisingly tender hides well protected from the heat of the sun. But even so, it always pays to be wary.

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A glimpse of some of Lake Naivasha’s rich bird life (apologies for grainy old ‘out-of-Africa’ shot).

The lake is fed by underground rivers and is Kenya’s only freshwater lake among its Great Rift string of soda lakes. Many of the fresh flowers bought in Europe – roses as well as carnations – are grown in corporate-owned flower factories around the lake shore. Their presence has created jobs and some social services (e.g. company funded primary schools and clinics) for local people, but there are big costs too: too much water abstraction that has shrunk the lake and pesticide and fertilizer run off that have threatened fish stocks. There’s a good  little video (7 mins) focusing on these problems and showing more of life around the lake HERE.

Spiky Squares #13

Blessed Earth ~ Our One And Only

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And when we’ve trashed this one, there won’t be another (see postscript).

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In case you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past week – we’ve been staying in a barn in the Derbyshire High Peak where we woke to views of Higger Tor and Millstone Edge (haloed here) and the wide vistas of Hope Valley. The barn in question was one my maternal ancestors would have known and used, though not in its current luxurious holiday-let manifestation of five bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus central heating, range cooker, vast TV screen and free Wifi.

For around two centuries the Fox family lived at Callow Farm, tenants of the Eyres, and later of the Dukes of Devonshire who bought the Highlow estate from the Eyres/Archers in the early nineteenth century. The Foxes were also in this particular vicinity (around Highlow and Offerton in Hathersage Outseats) for at least the preceding 500 years, although trying to unravel the multiple generations of Georges and Williams is proving pretty impossible. All the more tantalizing when we know a 19th century list of Derbyshire Charters has a certain William Fox holding a few acres at Offerton in the late 1200s.

The more recent tenant Foxes owned some land too, and so in their way were very minor landlords. This in itself is a puzzle, since from earliest times this whole territory was controlled by abbots and monarchs and thence parcelled out to sundry lords and lordlings who taxed, tithed and generally reaped the rewards of ordinary mortals’ labours.

In High Peak the bulk of those returns included a large annual cut from the proceeds of the lead mined and processed by  Derbyshire yeomen farmers like the Foxes – a raw and life-threatening trade carried out when they were not engaged in growing oats, making cheese and butter from their small dairy herds, cutting mill- and grinding stones from the precipitous millstone grit edges or minding their sheep. I have evidence of some of these multiple activities from local newspaper details of October 1892 when my great great grandfather George Brayley Fox sold off the Callow Farm stock before leaving the farm. This also means I know precisely what was in those barns at that particular time.

I have also now witnessed what the Dukes of Devonshire did at Chatsworth with the income from their tenant farmer-lead miners. The extravagant display of the 6th Duke in particular is jaw-dropping. But for all this and more – see upcoming posts.

For now here’s a daylight view from Callow farm fields, looking across the Derwent Valley to Hathersage: Higger Tor on the far right, Stanage Edge along the skyline to the left.

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And here is Callow Barn – now cut off from the next door farmhouse, the properties being privately and separately owned and perhaps originally sold off from the Chatsworth Estate in either the 1930s or 1960s, both occasions when the estate’s massive death duties required the sale of extensive property and farmland.

And finally Callow Farmhouse as seen from the public footpath to Leadmill:

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P.S. Much of Derbyshire – the uplands and dales – lies within the National Park. I learn this morning from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE is an organisation well worth supporting) that our government wants to bury nuclear waste in our National Parks, wilderness areas that are now used by many hundred thousand citizens for walking and cycling, and whose consistent presence there through much of the year significantly supports local rural economies. The Derbyshire national park in particular positively teems with humanity at weekends, happy families and dogs out for a jaunt and some very fresh air, away from the nearby cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Derby. Words fail.

Six Word Saturday

#AncestralLandscapes

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Monday Morning In The Garden–Miniscule Is Marvellous

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Here on Sheinton Street the water butts are brimming, and the garden has received a truly good soaking. On the one hand this is very good, on the other the water butts always seem to be full when there isn’t actually anything in need of water. Also the weekend downpours have left flower-life a bit washed out and droopy, especially these soggy phlox petals. But I was fascinated to spy amongst them a flock of tiny, tiny crab spiders, scarcely a couple of millimetres across.

Some seemed to be curled up, asleep in the sun. This one, however, did not care for my intrusion. But if you want to see a really whopping pic of a crab spider, though I’m guessing some of you may not, pop over to Ark’s.

In the Pink #24 The final week for pinkness over at Becky’s. Not too late to join in.

Persian Gulf Sunset And Wondering: Isn’t Travel Always A Moral Issue?

It was still winter in Dubai, the hotel palm trees along the beach well wrapped up against the wind. We were on a two-centre trip – a week in the Maldives with stopovers in Dubai either side. It was 1998.  We needed a break from Kenya. There were times when crime-and-politics wore us down. The long-term one-party presidential incumbent and his backers were more than a little reluctant to admit the construct of multi-party politics into the regime. And it seemed to me that whenever the power-brokers felt nervous, the crime rate soared. Just to make us all feel uneasy.

It  began at the top of course – the crime. And doubtless still does. It is the same here in the UK, I lately discover, and is also officially-unofficially sanctioned. It is just not visible to most of us, and is massively more clever, being wrapped up in trusts and shell companies parked in the ‘hot-money archipelago’ of the Cayman Islands et al. I am indebted to British economics professor Baron Nicholas Stern for this phrase. (He’s also written a good deal about climate change). Such offshore financial services (so anodyne in their terminology) apparently provide safe places for the world’s robber elite to hide their loot, so maintaining the status quo of tyranny and poverty meted out to ordinary hard-pressed folk in the places whence the loot was stolen.

And so we were in Dubai and Maldives for some light relief, destinations where in 1998 crime was not permitted to exist. The only problem was, even then, both locations seemed more than slightly bonkers (and probably more so now in sustainability terms). On the one had – a complex of luxury island paradises, where both the tourists and every consumer item they might want was flown in, and the resultant minute-by-minute packaging residue disposed of in a massive concrete silo embedded in the sea off the capital Male. Not only that, but contact with the locals was very tightly managed (not that I blame Maldivians for that. Someone has to make a stand against nasty European sex predators – women as well as men). But it also meant that you felt as if you’d just holidayed in a stage set. Very lovely, certainly – but synthetic.

And as for Dubai (and it’s probably ten times wider and taller now) it was wall-to-wall shopping malls, eight-lane highways, building sites, apartment blocks and hotels of the top-end plush variety. Since our visit this last notion has gone stratospheric. I mean, what does it say about us humans? How much consuming do we need to do and in how many weirdly fabricated environs?

Actually in ‘98 there was not much shopping going on. The malls were magnificent but eerie – scarcely a soul in the marbled halls of designer boutiques. Though we did see mature dishdasha-ed gents in the cosmetics stores treating their black-gowned wives to Chanel perfume and Estee Lauder lipstick. It appeared to be a popular family pastime. We also saw similarly garbed gents in the bar of the Radisson, drinking lager. Interesting, I thought. It was the  particular brand that was said to reach parts that others didn’t. I wondered if it also granted dispensation to Muslim transgressors. Or if perhaps the territory of a European owned hotel provided the equivalent of diplomatic immunity for the drinking of alcohol.

The best part of Dubai is the Creek. Tied up along its banks were still the great dhows of the Gulf – Indian Ocean trade routes – timeless somehow, despite being loaded up with refrigerators, expensive motor cars, crates of coca cola. Once such dhows plied the coast of East Africa as far south as Mozambique and the Comoros, borne on the outward voyage by the monsoon north-easterlies, returned six months later on the south-westerlies – this before the advent of petrol engines of course.

Over two thousand years, the dhow merchants of Persia and Arabia traded with the coastal Bantu peoples of Africa. In return for consignments of dates, rugs, silks, jewels, treasure chests, they bought, gold, mangrove timber, animal skins, ivory and slaves. And their centuries’ long congress with Africans gave rise to a string of coastal city states of mixed race Arab-Persian-African people, the Swahili, who both owned and traded in humans, and did so until at least the 1920s when the British occupiers of British East Africa (now Kenya) finally outlawed the practice – the unintended consequence of which was hundreds of homeless and unemployed ex-clove plantation workers whose former owners could no longer afford to employ them as  plantations ran to bush and their fortunes rapidly dwindled.

Ah, the tangled webs we humans weave. (And this is not an apology for slave owning. Only an example of what happens when you unpick/ban other people’s economic practices, customs and beliefs in a piecemeal fashion.)

Which brings me full circle really. Kenya. After two weeks away in odd places, we were fairly glad to go back there, never mind the moral dilemmas. And that I suppose is the point of this little travel ramble. Moral dilemmas. The more we ignore them, the more things stay the same.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. There are things we can do about the present state of global inequality. The Tax Justice Network outlines some of them.

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In the Pink #20

Today ~ Airing My Clean Laundry In Public and A Storm Rising

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As I write this, having just hung out the washing (and taken the photo), Storm Ali is whisking his coattails across Shropshire. The odd thing is, despite all the buffeting and bluster, it is really warm outside. The forecasters tell us the wind is set to build here tonight, though Scotland and the North West look to be in for the worst of it. My heart goes out to all the storm-beleaguered souls around the planet.

In the Pink

Sundowner Bee At The Allotment Cafe

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Can one post too many happy foraging bee shots? I’m thinking not. This particular bee was caught the other evening, enjoying the day’s final tuck-in on an allotment dahlia. I’d gone up there to pick runner beans, tomatoes and autumn raspberries, and to deliver a big bag of compost makings to one of my several heaps.

The dahlias in question have been grown by my plot neighbour Mark. He only grows  flowering plants – and with the sole objective of providing for insect life. Of course these late season blooms give everyone who comes to the allotment gardens a burst of pleasure. It’s as if they have captured the best essence of summer in their petals and want to share it with the world. Blooming lovely.

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Lens-Artists #11  small is beautiful  Amy asks us to show her the little things that give us pleasure, however they strike us.

In the Pink #16