GOB 180 – All I am saying, is give bees a chance

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine March 2024

With Spring around the corner I’d like to ask myself, you and the powers that be a question: ‘…should we be tidy up open space or respect nature?’

Travelling in North America, Europe and Australasia one is often struck by the neat gardens in suburbia; smart yards in the countryside and even the pristine window boxes and flora enhanced porches of cities. In other parts of the world like North Africa and Asia much of this careful husbandry of flora is in hidden courtyards and behind walled villas. Elsewhere, even in the rich western world urban poverty is apparent from untended plots and refuse strewn curtilage.

Californian yards are often manicured patches with bleached drives and concreted paths. We Brits pride ourselves on having snooker table lawns and rose gardens, barber-trimmed privet hedges and serried ranks of bedding plants. Woe betide the intruding worm cast or mole hill, leaf-munching aphid or caterpillar. Woe betide too the anarchic neighbour who neglects their duty to keep nature in check where the public can see, despoiling the best-kept village lane with long grass or natural plantings.

Worst still has been two decades of decking and astro-turf, not to mention zealous paving of front gardens to accommodate carparking.

Our private spaces have been echoed and amplified in public arenas. Municipal gardens perpetrate precise petunia planting and perpetuate seasonal throw-away plantings. Public parks mow down the daisies and thresh the understory under the trees, so dogs have more space to do their dirt. Pavements are blitzed with chemicals and trees pollarded to prevent unsightly canopies or impertinent leaves. ‘Disrespectful’ long grass is removed from graveyards, where no soul has been laid to rest for a hundred years.

We are obsessed with taming and tidying, ensuring manifest dominion over nature. Habitation mirrors our countryside where chemical farming fights the endless war against ‘weeds’; where wildlife corridors are demolished making room for more money crops.

Even the woke have not fully woken to the why of it; trapped in a picaresque mindset. Victorian greetings cards and Edwardian Chocolate boxes; chintz and doilies, Italianate fountains and parterre beds fuel our idea of beauty. We must slough off this ridiculous idea of the perfect scene, as we have the Hollywood and Playboy imposed idea of how women should look for men to admire.

We need an environmental liberation movement, throwing off this bowdlerised notion of beauty. Perfect flowers don’t have pristine petals, but engender fruit. Perfume is not there for human noses, but for the bees.

An appalling ninety-seven percent of wildflower meadows have disappeared. While we campaign to re-wild, wresting land management from profiteers we must restore our own private patches and public spaces turning them into wildlife havens.

I love my tiny urban yard, albeit mostly concrete laid on chalk. I’ve created beds where I can and containers where I cannot. I’ve left untidy corners filled with rotting branches and composted vegetation. I’ve allowed the ivy to climb my fences and the elderberries to stand, engendered by bird dropping deposited seeds

Still colourful with some useful imports but more and more native self-plantings, which are allowed to colonise and stay. Nettles are deliberately planted for butterflies to lay their eggs. Lavender and Rosemary give the bees long seasons and so are allowed to spread. Yes, it has beauty on the surface as flowers give a riot of colour… but it also has a deeper beauty; that of sustaining birds and bees, frogs and butterflies, hedgehogs and innumerate invertebrates. As John Lennon almost sang: “All I am saying, is give bees a chance.”

Rant it out!