Bees Butterflies and Blooms – the quiet catastrophe

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Villages Farms Countryside… the loss of Britain’s wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at around 98 per cent. Have we lost our connection with the wildflowers and habitats that were once so common and supported our pollinators?

So asks Bees, Butterflies and Blooms a new three-part gardening and conservation series from the BBC currently being broadcast Wednesday nights at 8pm on BBC 2 – well first being broadcast anyway and then subject to the usual re-viewing opportunities.

Its presenter Sarah Raven according to the program’s website ‘is on a mission to halt the decline in honey bees and insect pollinators with insect friendly flower power’. Sarah Raven is also a writer and gardener and has her own professional business Online Garden and Kitchen Shop.

When I first checked this on the BBC iPlayer I also saw a program Bullets, Boots and Bandages – the BBC are going in for alliteration I noted and letter B alliteration at that – are they like each subsequent series of the erudition-and-beyond QI (one of many laid eggs from Stephen Fry) going to be working their way doggedly through the alphabet toward this end. I am looking forward anyway to the long overdue Beer Bicycles and Belfries.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Presenter Sarah RavenBack to Bees Butterflies and Blooms. Sarah Raven is aiming to halt this aforementioned depletion in insect pollinators using Flower Power – by bringing flowers back into our British towns, cities and countryside. And this series sets out a crisis and quite an apocalyptic one at that. Sarah Raven describes it as a ‘quiet catastrophe’ – while we are busy going about our increasingly urban lives our farmlands and other rural-scapes have been transformed into soulless food factories producing ever-more efficient food stuffs but of increasingly uniform nature leaving our bees and other pollinating insects increasingly vulnerable to pesticides and parasites.

In Britain alone the loss of wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at a startling 98%. The loss of pollinating insects to extinction would be heart-rending enough but it has even deeper implications than that as it threatens our very food supply such is their integral part in its process.

The opening episode is titled ‘Villages Farms and Countrysides’ as it is in the ‘country’ that her campaign to reverse this decline will commence. The BBC iPlayer guide for this episode informs us that she hopes ‘to encourage farmers and village communities to help recreate a network of crucial habitats for struggling bees, butterflies and insect pollinators’. To this end she visits a village called Creaton in Northamptonshire – they will be her pilot as she seeks to convert the countrysides horticultural practices one village at a time. She breezily advises us that

if we can get Brits planting pollen and nectar rich plants throughout the country together we can get Britain buzzing again.

And she starts in the countryside because, surprisingly to me at least, this problem is less pronounced in our towns and cities. We see her in a field, a productive (being the keyword here) habitat of food but also a ‘wildlife desert’ as due to pesticides it is bereft of wildflowers and weeds the very life of our insect pollinating population.

She then demonstrates the effect of this on our everyday eating and diet by visiting a supermarket and filling up a shopping basket with food for a standard British breakfast – no not a half-eaten banana and a few swigs of coffee! – fresh fruit as well as fruit-juice and smoothies, jam, yoghurt, even coffee and chocolate (bees pollinate the respective Coffee and Cocoa beans) and then removing all the insect-pollinated items – all that was left was the wind pollinated food stuffs – wheat, oat – leaving us just with porridge and bread – this is the fate that lies in store for a British breakfast – a Scottish breakfast!  Cue the ever-young strains of Big Yellow Taxi as Joni Mitchell coos its one of many sage lines

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms CreatonSarah Raven’s next call is her first to Creaton – chosen not because it is as typical as any other British village but because of all the villages in Britain it is the one with the largest depletion of pollinating insects – it is in its village-greens, verges and even church-yards where the wild-life has been mown and tidied out of existence. Sarah Raven is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about the subject – as she wanders through a Creaton church-yard with the head of the Parish and other parishioners in pursuit she lists off all and sundry wild-flowers that she casts her eye upon – the rest of her troupe, not very convincingly I thought, nodding their heads in agreement. I was nodding my head too, and I was watching alone!

We then get some history – back near-seventy-years to the end of the second world war and the modernising of food production – meaning taking small-scale agriculture and making it large-scale industrial. Part of this meant creating ever larger fields by removing the previously connecting hedgerows. And it is in these hedgerows and the verges of land adjoining them that the insect pollinators use to live and flourish.

We get some science too. Being advised that it is not just the lack of pollen-producing wildflowers but the lack of diversity in them too – bees for example requiring a variety of flowers to build up their immune system. Professor Simon Potts  (of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science at the University of Reading) explains the symbiotic relationship – a greater diversity of wild flowers a greater diversity of bees, a greater diversity of bees a greater diversity of wild flowers.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Council MeetingWe return to Creaton and a parish council meeting. We are first shown sepia photographs of the village at the early part of the twentieth century with naturally wild village greens and Sarah Raven asking us and them if they will ‘re-embrace its wild-side’! The parish council require more convincing than that and consider a  tie-in with the UN 2010 Year of Biodiversity  – when this series was initially filmed – and creating a pause in their progress – for further consultation must now be had! Meetings about meetings comes to mind.

The program then cuts away to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserve in Dungeness, Kent and Doctor Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust . We discover that there are now 25 species remaining, 2 of which are now extinct and a further 7 now endangered. Dr Gammans speaks also of a symbiotic relationship – between farmers and bees – as the farmers help the bees to thrive the bees in turn help the farmers produce richer crops.

We are then given another stat – an estimated 84% of our crops in Europe are dependent on insect-pollinators and especially bees and without this our food chain could collapse.

We are then advised of our role in re-establishing bees in our national life. We are encouraged to collect wild-flower seeds for our own domesticated gardens. Though there is perhaps a rub – that it is assumed we all have homes with gardens. I myself live in a first floor flat with not even a balcony to lay out some seed trays for. And as much as I love bumble-bees, not quite to the extent that I want them living unconstrained about my home. But I digress.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsWe then spend some time in Sarah Raven’s undomesticated garden. We see her cleaning the wild flower seeds by dividing them from their petals – this is not quite my hope for a wild garden – rather untended growth while said wild gardener heads indoors for a more sedentary urban pursuit like a hot cup of tea and even hotter game of scrabble on his iPad while the Lesser Knapweed and St John’s Wort are left to get on with it. While Sarah Raven is cleaning these seeds we learn by way of some nature and nurture that her father was a botanist and an artist combining both loves in wildflower illustrations.

We then revisit Creaton in September to catch up on progress or even if there has been any progress. If you consider meetings about doing things but not actually doing those things has progress then there has been progress. So Sarah Raven then seeks parishioner persuasion with a people-pestering-paper-petition (see I can do uncontrived alliteration too, well okay then contrived alliteration). Most of the parishioners seemed more than happy to sign this petition if perhaps succumbing to the seductive persuasiveness of a BBC camera crew lurking just outside of their eye-shot.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsHaving successfully gathered and armed themselves with seeming sufficient signatures it was expressed that they could sympathise with the hitherto reluctance. Mmm – you would think the building of dens of iniquity were being proposed for their village rather than a verge of wild-flowers on their village green and little-seen church-yard back-waters. The invasion of the flowery margins!

A Northamptonshire farming family the Farringtons had also been brought on board. The head-farmer Duncan Farrington in particular requires far less cajoling to see both the ecological and economical benefits of re-introducing strips of wild flowers alongside his main crop of arable fields.

As noted Sarah Raven is leading by example and we see her commencing the sewing of her wild-garden in Autumn – this being the optimum time for both annuals and perennials to be sewn – I can see you all nodding your heads in a pretence of understanding you urban lot!

The final quarter of this opening episode jumps forward to May 2011 allowing us to see the progress of the various wild flower projects. The farmer’s field will need a second year for the perennial flowers to establish themselves against the hardy arable weeds. The Creaton village did eventually decide to commence with their project with the tiny baby steps of an area of the village-green being allowed to go wild and native.

The head of the parish council is then called on for his reading on proceedings to date. He shares that a lot of the villagers ‘quite like it’ – an underwhelming sort of endorsement if ever there was one! – and just for good measure adding ‘that there are other’s not so favourable’! Against that though they have instigated a project to increase wild-flower growth in the villagers own gardens as part of a new group ‘Natural Creaton’

Remembering too that Creaton is the program’s pilot and that Sarah Raven is wanting every village in the UK to follow suit – tiny steps indeed.

In the second episode Towns Gardens and Britain in Bloom she will be taking this challenge to our towns and cities and asking that the Britain in Bloom Competition, the UK Garden Industry and Royal Horticultural Society join her in this endeavour. I look forward to seeing how she gets on. And am hopeful that her cause blossoms with this BBC broadcast – sorry but an irresistible pun should not be resisted.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Closing credits

Benetton’s Unhate Campaign – leaders of the world, kiss and make-up

Benetton Unhate Campaign China USA

Jintao and Obama

If you cannot love your neighbours then at least unhate them!

It’s been a while but United Colours of Benetton are back with another campaign – should we call it an advertising campaign or are they political campaigns – or is there no distinction? Both as they are being acts of persuasion in the art of selling, whether goods and services or ideas?

Benetton’s campaigns usually make it off the advertising pages and on to the news pages. Their latest the Unhate Campaign is no exception. And as advertising goes 24 hour news coverage is hard to beat – it costing them not a penny in airtime – and in advertising being noticed is everything, better still to be loved as well but if you cannot be adored then better to be hated then ignored.

The campaign came to my attention via this blog post on the My Modern Net site and the posted manipulated images of various world leaders in intimate kissing.

Benetton Unhate Campaign Pope and Imam

The Pope and the Imam

However as noted this Benetton campaign has quickly migrated to the news pages. I had first heard about it just hours earlier on the radio in respect of the withdrawal of the image of the current Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian Iman Ahmed el Tayyeb.

The only question for me on hearing this was which of them would be the first to express outrage. On this occasion it was the Vatican unhappy it seems with the commercial intentions of the image as whether it was blasphemous or not.

An ironic outcome for Benetton bringing Catholics and Muslims together in mutual antipathy!

Benetton say their Unhate Campaign was established to ‘invite the leaders and the citizens of the world to combat the ‘culture of hatred’.

I wonder why the word Unhate was chosen rather than the word Love? Perhaps they are suggesting that the hate-filled parties must first learn not to hate before they can love?

Executive Deputy Chairman Alessandro Benetton goes on to say “At this moment in history, so full of major upheavals and equally large hopes, we have decided, through this campaign, to give widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and invite the citizens of every country to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of ‘the other’ and of what is unfamiliar to us,”.

Benetton Unhate Campaign Obama and Chavez

Obama and Chavez

Perhaps unsurprisingly Barack Obama as leader of the world’s most powerful country is featured twice, the first kiss with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao and the second kiss with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. These are kisses then not so much of love but ‘of kiss and make up’?

The one image I find the most puzzling though is the one between French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – I had thought from my British perspective their diplomatic relationship already quite friendly, even cosy – indeed in the press their names are often unflatteringly conflated together as ‘Merkozy’ suggesting that they are of one mind, one heart – or something like that!

I would have thought a more appropriate kissing partner for the German Chancellor would have been our very own British Prime Minister, David Cameron, seeing as their current political friendship seems far more frosty.

Likewise for Sarkozy the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have been a better world leader to exchange spittle with after his recent off-mic remark to Obama that ‘he cannot stand him. He’s a Liar’ (!) – though likely that remark occurred after Benetton had made their leader selections.

Benetton Unhate Campaign Merkel & Sarkozy

Merkel and Sarkozy

Netanyahu in any case is pictured kissing Mahmoud Abbas President of Palestine.

The final image is of Kim Jong-il the Supreme Leader of North Korea  bridging the divide as it were with a peck on the lips with Lee Myung-Bak the President of South Korea.

And indeed why should such images be controversial? World leaders should make more of an effort to get along – to engage each other diplomatically rather than militarily. And perhaps UNHATE is a better term than love which itself is not necessarily a desirable thing in world politics. It is like the so called implied Love In of Governments of National Unity. Sounds nice and reasonable but it lacks plurality – as a democrat I want the market-place of ideas not a cosy cartel of them where all the political parties have merged into one effectively leaving us the electorate disenfranchised.

In the UK we already have a coalition government of Conservative and Liberal Democrat, and the leaders of each, Cameron and Nick Clegg, already holding hands with each other, I don’t want to see the leader of the opposition Labour party Ed Miliband with his tongue in either of their mouths as part of a Unhate Triangle!

Benetton Unhate Campaign North & South Korea

Jong-Il & Myung-Bak

Is this campaign displaying a confusion between Love and Unhate? Is it being implied as the same thing if we see world leaders represented kissing each other? Not hating someone and wanting to kiss them on their lips is quite an emotional jump?

The Unhate campaign is challenging world leaders to put aside their ideological differences of politics and religion but in picturing leaders of the same gender kissing they are challenging yet another emotive issue?

The campaign has homophobia in its sights too?

There is only one image of a female world leader kissing a male world leader but then that is as much due to yet another issue of gender discrimination and the dominance of men in politics and the global power-play.

Though the campaign included just six images – and now five! – with a world in which alas there are so many global, regional and local conflicts clearly there are many more images of leaders kissing their ostensible enemies that could yet be mocked up.

I am expecting a fair share of spoofs on this campaign too. And as is well-established all publicity is good publicity, then well done Benetton for that.

I am still left wondering if this campaign is a cynical commercially self-interested one though. By withdrawing one image so soon there is already a question about the strength of their convictions as surely they must have anticipated the nature of some of the responses they would get. And the fact that there is an outcry about it and I am blogging about it…job well done. I’ve been played?!

I do hope there is more to the Unhate campaign than that.

Benetton Unhate Campaign Palestine Israel

Abbas & Netanyahu

UK Uncut – transform banks into hospitals

UK Uncut’s latest claims on our attention is due Saturday May 28 – to transform high street banks into NHS hospitals. The action is to highlight that cuts proposed to the National Health Service could be met by removing the annual public subsidy (in the form of free insurance and guarantees) to banks, of up to a staggering £100 billion per year. Hospitals it seems are not too big to fail.

UK Uncut’s previous actions have focused on the link between the amount of cuts to public services the Coalition say are required to balance our National budget and the amount lost to our Exchequer from big UK corporations such as Sir Philip Green’s retail empire and Vodafone offshoring their taxes. A reminder that much of the cuts are ideological as necessity – and that it is largely our tax regime that has seen the gap between the rich and the poor ever widen.

I commend them for bringing important and complex issues to wider attention. They are filling a vacuum left by mainstream political parties who seem ever eager to lean on the poor and show how tough they are on the ‘have nots” whilst at the same time being as accommodating as possible to those “that have”.

I had a knowledge that tax evasion went on in the UK but not the scale of it, not the details of it and not who the biggest culprits are – UK Uncut in their actions have made this common knowledge in a way that an informed and informative article in a newspaper or magazine would likely never have done.

An article in today’s Guardian states a worry that their stunts need to change as otherwise will lose their impact and the interest of the public – becoming like “High Street chanting Hare Krishnas”!

I do not entirely share this view. There is something impactful about an organisation being relentless and repetitious in their actions – like a political signature tune – but I do accept there is a danger that we the public and our media get bored with them for this and shift our attention elsewhere.

Likewise occupying public spaces to inconvenience the organisations they are targeting risks also inconveniencing the customers of those targeted organisations and losing public support they may otherwise have had.

I continue to welcome them though. We live in a parliamentary democracy made more vital and relevant by the role of peaceful protest movements – and now even more so they are needed when Crony Capitalism seems ever more entrenched in our professional political life.

Avaaz – hear our voices – internet global petitioning

Avaaz in their words are ‘a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere’.

Avaaz comes from the Persian word for ‘voice’ or ‘song’ and was founded in 2007 in the spirit of other such burgeoning social media at the time most notably Facebook and Twitter.

And in the spirit of the disconnect between those governing and those governed – and not just in Dictatorships but alas in Democratic nations and the spectre of Croney Capitalism with the mainstream media fused with its governments and global corporate interests – with most of the mainstream hard working populace left out in the cold.

Avaaz is an attempt to bring the often unheard voices of peoples of all countries together to persuade our often remote and unlistening global leaders to a particular cause.

Identifying causes which are universal, shared across cultures and nations, is no easy task and in the television program Hard Talk on the BBC 24 channel Stephen Sackur addressed these and other issues very forcefully.

The program also addressed the politics of the organization – broadly liberal.  This is not an issue for me – the world is diverse and we are not going to agree on all things – but if we believe in an issue then campaign for it – if you don’t like the particular cause espoused then you do not have to sign your name against it.  Further similar petitioning organizations are likely to be set up from a conservative outlook and agenda – it is all about peaceful if passionate persuasion of a particular cause.

I have taken part in a few myself recently – a petition against Rupert Murdoch and his move to increase ownership of BSkyB and hence control over the UK Media and another petition against the appalling practice of corrective rape in South Africa (raping gay women to cure them of their ‘lesbianism’).

Another campaign to the UN Security council to protect the Libyan people protesting against the Government Dictatorship from violent reprisals may have been influential in the decision to impose a No Fly zone over the country on March 19.

It is heartening to be reminded that there is so much that unites rather than divides us and that those who share our values come from every country of the world, from every culture, from every class.

Feel the power – Solar power








Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett was on the BBC’s graveyard political show This Week first broadcast last week March 18 arguing against nuclear power in the wake of the Japan Fukushima Nuclear plant disaster and still potential meltdown – with host Andrew Neil studio regular Michael Portillo and Labour MP and current regular guest Jacqui Smith.

The case for it was reprised – energy security and reducing the carbon foot-print – not being over-dependent on Oil and the despotic regimes responsible for much of its output and being clean and green.

Naturally arguing against nuclear power or at least to pause and re-consider its safety and security before commissioning any new reactors the alternatives were considered – and the alternatives discussed were wind, carbon capture & storage of existing fossil fuels, finally tidal power,  but not solar power – it was listed in her preamble but not mentioned at all in the ensuing studio discussion.

Studio Discussion

I wondered about this – perhaps the science was still not advanced enough – or perhaps too expensive to be commercially viable.  I do not profess an expertise in this area and thought it was something I should explore further.

And what should arrive in my Inbox a few days later in the latest weekly Email from Scientific American but a guest blog article by Ramez Nam titled ‘Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore’s law apply to solar cells?’.

You should read the article yourself as it will explain it far better than I ever could but its brief thrust is that solar power could provide not just some of all our energy needs – not even all our energy needs so much as beyond all our energy needs!  We would be overwhelmed by the surplus it could produce. And the science is there and commercially it is getting ever  cheaper ever more viable – if not viable just yet – a decade or so over the horizon perhaps.

And in respect of the energy production and consumption cycle so much greener and safer – no terrifying radioactive waste produced needing to be stored for millennia thereafter. And no nation would or could have a monopoly on it.

Why then is solar power so overlooked and why are so many countries continuing to go nuclear?  I am not going to ask why governments and political parties are not able to look beyond the horizon of the next election cycle – I am not that naive! – but cannot but wonder that had a solar bomb been developed in the last century as part of the Manhattan Project rather than a nuclear one that solar energy would now be in all our homes.

War leading science, the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Alternative Vote – but not too alternative…

I heard on the BBC World Service ‘Politics UK‘ program this afternoon an argument put forward by its presenter Dennis Sewell that AV should be opposed because it could elect minority parties such as the British National Party.

What that is saying is that we should support systems that make elector’s votes worthless.

We have many minority parties – I loathe the BNP but support a lot of the policies of another minority party the Green Party.  We cannot cherry pick in a democracy – it should be a platform for all views and no-one should be arbiter over what views are and are not acceptable, and gerrymander systems to ensure some sections of the electorate are disenfranchised.

If we don’t like the views of a particular party we should not suppress those views rather argue against them.

One reason of course why political parties are small is that they are unpopular – like d’oh! Alternative Voting is not an act of magic that will transform a minority party into a majority party.

AV should ensure that we are ruled by a government that speaks for at least half of us – I was born in the 1960’s and this is something that has yet to have happened in a General Election in my lifetime – that is all I believe a democracy can hope for – that what we are thinking and feeling is represented whatever those thoughts and feelings might be.