In the breath-held beauty of night, every leaf seems paused as if painted in still life, branches striking shapes, shadow-shifting in the moonlit corners of my sight. Crickets sing a rhythmic chorus under the waxing glow of gibbous moon, inciting beetle feet to tread their forests of towering grass blades. The dance of Diplopoda feet, heard burrowing through to damp soil, microcosmic tramping that loosens pathways, unthreading mycorrhizal threads, triggering fungi to fruit. The luminous moon conjures magpies into a midnight warbling, their tree-to-tree dream song the perfect soundtrack of the Universe. I lift my head and eyes to dive up into the starred abyss of the dark-sea spaces in The Milky Way above. Scrambling for words enough to surface from deep wonder, with everything above and below and around and within connected.
I’ve been keen to try building nest blocks for blue-banded bees, by packing a clay/sand mix into rectangular PVC pipe after hearing about this technique and seeing it online.I’ve looked at a few ideas for insect hotels and made a list of materials required.
However, perhaps because of my recent sessions at Onkaparinga’s Living Smart sustainable living course, or starting my PDC, I’ve now crossed off the “buy rectangular PVC pipe” from my shopping list.
It would cost around $20 from the local hardware store for the PVC pipe. Not much in the scheme of things, but bees have been finding accommodation for thousands of years before PVC pipe came along, so…
First, I’ll keep an eye out for some off-cuts and unwanted bits of PVC pipe found in serendiptious moments out and about so that I can give these wonderful nests blocks from the Australian Native Bee Research Centre a go at minimum investment. They really know what works for attracting native bees, so that’s my ideal to work towards.
In the meantime, it’s Spring and bees need shelter. I used what I had in the spirit of experimenting with some ramshackle nests that I could probably call ‘ bee shacks’, and not quite bee hotels. For the less discerning bee, or indeed any insect interested in a small house footprint. Calling all bees and insects looking for a downshift!
The way I look at is, the wider bee community and insects in general make do with what nature provides, rarely to a formula or straight lines or perfect build. So why not appeal to those opportunistic and adapatable personalities of nature , with my very own flavour of hacky haphazardness?
So here is a combination of weathered bamboo garden stakes I already had, hessian, twine and some mesh that was a plant protector, packed with a clay and sand mix (clay soils from our front garden), that I then accidentally dropped from a height- removing most of the clay/soil.
Lashed by twine onto a dodgy trellis – it will move slightly in the wind:
And also, an old pot packed with clay and sand, a few hints at what wandering insects might want to do to make a crash pad, and undaintily shoved on the soil underneath the borage.
Now to see, who, if anyone, shelters in these tiny share shacks!
This is where I am logging the first sightings in my garden (McLaren Vale, South Australia) of native blue-banded bees (Amegilla) each year, going back to 2014 which is the first year I noticed them and fell head-over heels in love.
To find out more about these incredibly beautiful bees, start with Australian Native Blue Banded Bees site. There are also some stunning videos around much better than mine.
Here are brief notes and observations in the last few years:
4th October- first blue-banded bee spotted in the garden (I’ve been away for 6 days).
I inspected last years nest and there’s now a woodlouse in it. Not sure if it’s moving in because a bee has already vacated, or is just moving in anyway. Will keep observing.
First sighting – 17th December! I was afraid the blue-banded bees were never going to return, but the weather has been quite wet.
3-4 bees sighted daily
30 December: Very excited! Nest discovered in our backyard in the dirt wall between wooden decking steps!! I simply followed one of the bees.
Sometimes a piece of writing rustles and stirs the dry leaves that fall too quickly on the pathways of our bustling lives. Like an inexplicable breath of floral-perfumed warm wind, in the harsh bite of a winters day. Rewilding you from inside.
This is how it felt reading Sometimes a Wild God by Tom Hirons. You can read Tom’s poem here on his blog, but before you click…
…know that you will remember when and where you were when you first read this. You will learn that words conjured together even when read in the cold clinical light of a computer screen, can take you to a campfire in the wilderness where you huddle alone, reading words with only the flickering firelight and lamplight of the moon, with only the winking trail of the Milky Way as company.
Receiving the book was even more startling. It’s an odd thing to open a modern envelope, delivered by planes and wheels and inside find something that almost makes you think you can hear an ancient chant or drumbeat. A beautiful, tactile and totem-like book that feels like it was written and posted from deep in the wild forest. Together on the page with the incredible art of Rima Staines which is itself another soul-trembling delight, in this beautiful small book there is that alchemy of word and art in an ancient dance on paper.
The book is small and beautiful. I feels like something to be carried in a favourite coat pocket, a touchstone for breathing in the woods, feeling the old paths, when the yearning strikes. A thing to read to someone, or share because the length and format is perfect for doing just that.
I purchased a second copy, to be released into the wild. When the time and place is right to leave it there, a stranger will find it, just there on a bench or table or shelf. The note inside will ask for it not to be kept, and for it to be read, purchased if the reader has the means to, and most importantly, for the wild copy to be passed on to awaken someone else.
I have just finished reading George Monbiot’s book Feral: Rewilding the land, sea and human life. Some of the ideas are controversial and continue to be debated, and just one thing this book will do is open your eyes to any romantic or poetic attachment you have of some aspects of the UK countryside. It won’t destroy those poetic visions and wonderings, but rightfully cause you to separate them when you consider the act of conservation.
The next time I see heather moorland and bluebell woods I will be looking through a clearer lens at what is really there.
A book that will make you rethink conservation, explore the concept of rewilding, self-willed land, trophic cascades and the shifting baseline syndrome that obscures our true understanding of what biodiversity is.
- ideas on why big cat sightings endure and are increasing in the UK
- ‘The conservation prison’ (Chapter 12) – if you only read one thing about conservation, let it be this!
- tables listing mammals that could potentially be reintroduced into the UK including wolf, beaver
What I’m left with after reading….
Part of me wants there to really be big cats, somehow elusive, on a small island.Part of me doesn’t because it’s a beautiful thing to have a vision that has a deep-rooted core. You need only have a tawny owl stare at you eye to eye in the moonlight to know that we are connected with those out there, and that we need the wild in our veins.
Even the imagined wild is healthy for us. Even if big black cats don’t roam, the imagining of them, our beautiful capacity for storytelling is something human, fascinating and so cherishable. But storytelling does not replace the quick heartbeat of a random wild encounter.
I also wonder about how this relates to Australia. I look around now and see bare area of hills, wide spraying to control weeds and my imagination wanders as I realise that those hills were once forested. The area I live in is applying for UNESCO World Heritage status as an agrarian (mostly viticulture) landscape. I support the idea of this, but now I do wonder is this an example somehow of shifting baseline syndrome? Should we be trying to make time stand still with this landscape we have now, or projecting a richer, more biodiverse landscape in future? Will world heritage status make it difficult to think about how parts our landscape might benefit from a bit of rewilding? I hope not.
Also, how did our indigenous people see the landscape change when white settlement arrived? Which keystone predators now missing from our landscape? How could they impact the health of our rivers? Could our own challenges with both drought and flood be linked to the removal of big mammalian predators?
I can see that the Dingo – a sub-species of the grey wolf, would have the same image problem as the idea of wolf reintroduction in the UK- in fact, probably even a much greater image problem. It is our big bad wolf to most farmers and there is fear surrounding their presence. I wonder though…do we know, can we imagine how the dingo would impact the ecology and health of our rivers beyond just the view of limiting the numbers of their prey? Would it be in the same way that we can see in how the presence of wolves can change rivers? Could there be impacts we are yet to imagine? It looks like some researchers are thinking about this which is really exciting.
And if not the apex predator, the dingo, what is the next species to turn our gaze to? Is perhaps, our quiet little platypus the beaver of our rivers?
Anyway, read the book!
Update Nov 2015: Since reading this book, I have been following the excellent rewilding initiatives in Australia, for example looking at rewilding of the Northern Quoll and Tasmanian Devil. Follow, encourage and find out how you can support these projects via Rewilding Australia and their website Facebook and Twitter updates.