We need a Plan B(ee)!
1st November 2013
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When I joined Friends of the Earth, I was not sure what its strapline - “seeing things differently” - meant. Now I do. For now I see myself as not just an “environmentalist” or a “green activist”, but also as a “businessman”. And just as any other businessman does, I concern myself with finance, assets, investment, capital flows, and so on. So what is my business? Investing in Mother Nature plc. Because now I see, and indeed we all should see, Mother Nature as being the true source of income and wealth. Mother Nature plc provides the natural capital out of which all other forms of capital and wealth accumulated by us are created. This natural capital is provided for free, and we are totally dependent, at all times, upon it for our health and well-being. What is natural capital? The air, water and soils, the flora and fauna, and the ecosystem services that life, in all its form, provides to ensure that we can not only survive but flourish as creatures in our right. As Vandana Shiva says: “We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself”. There is now an increasing recognition amongst the business community and governments that natural capital needs to be costed in financial terms so that it can be brought onto the balance sheets of companies and become part of the ‘bottom line’ if a true accounting of a company’s activities and impacts is to be achieved. For what is now abundantly clear is that human activities have huge and growing impacts, often highly destructive,  upon the natural capital that we all rely upon.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the decline of our wild bees, to the point where there is a real risk that we will lose them entirely, at which point we will lose their pollination services and thereby lose a huge proportion of our own food supply, which is critically dependent upon those pollination services. Bees provide pollination for free, but research by the University of Reading, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, showed that if we did have to do pollination ourselves without bees present, that would cost us £1.8 billion a year! That makes bees significant players in the agriculture industry, and on purely hard-nosed commercial grounds we should protect them. But bees are also an iconic part of our enjoyment of nature, an integral part of our living cultural heritage (as any beekeeper will tell you), and our lives would be immeasurably  poorer without the many colourful flowers, trees and shrubs that are utterly dependent upon bees and other pollinators to reproduce. Without bees, we lose whole ecosystems and the loss of natural capital would be so great as to more than cancel out whatever economic benefits we have derived from destroying the habitats of bees through the industrialisation of agriculture over the last 100 years.

This is why Friends of the Earth launched its Bee cause campaign last year, with the help of a wide range of environmental and civil groups, and why the British public supported it so overwhelmingly. So strong was the support that it has led to the issue of bees shooting up the political agenda to the point where the government has now agreed to the urgent creation of a National Pollinator Strategy to help arrest the decline of Britain’s bees. This strategy  will be out for public consultation soon, with a view to implementation by next spring. This is where we can all play a part, because we now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to influence the creation of this strategy to make sure it is the best it can be. If we get this wrong, Britain’s bees will continue to decline, perhaps catastrophically and irreversibly.

We in Eastbourne are blessed to live in a natural environment rich in biodiversity compared with much of the rest of the country, but still bees are in trouble locally. This is why Eastbourne Borough Council unanimously agreed last year to adopt the Bee Cause and create many new bee-friendly planting schemes all over Eastbourne. Apart from creating vital refuges for bees locally, they are creating magnificently colourful flower displays, which only adds to the enjoyment of local residents and also helping to boost the tourist industry Eastbourne relies upon so much. But those of us who have gardens and allotments, or responsibilities for managing local green spaces, have a vital role too, by ensuring that wildflowers are planted in abundance, that grass cutting regimes do not cut them down too soon, and that pesticides and fertilisers that are damaging to bees are either not used at all, or used as little as possible. Even if some of us have no green spaces of our own at all, we can still help through creating window boxes full of wildflowers and herbs and putting them on our patios, balconies, or outside our shops. Rest assured our bees will find them and feast on them! And Eastbourne in Bloom would really take off as well!

Eastbourne Friends of the Earth will be holding a Bee Tea on Friday November 22nd at Eastbourne Town Hall, from 5.00pm to 7.30pm where you can enjoy free tea and cakes whilst listening to our special guests (including Stephen Lloyd, our local MP) explaining how we can all help to save our wild bees. So please invest in Mother Nature plc and come along to be part of Plan Bee! You can book at: Eventbrite. I look forward to meeting you there, but if you can’t make it, please support the Bee Cause by signing our petition to the Bees Minister.

About the Author

Andy Durling

Member since: 28th October 2013

Having left behind careers as a professional nurse and a charity administrator, and deftly weaving a delicate path through the existential crises of middle age and semi-retirement, I am currently Co-ordinator...

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