“So I’m using the phrase Balanced Beekeeping,” said Phil, “to describe the range when we can take honey if there’s plenty, maybe take a bit of pollen or propolis when there’s plenty, as long as we are respectful of the bees needs and the way they operate.
“We started the charity Friends of the Bees a few years ago, it’s mission is ‘Making Britain a better place for pollinators’. There are quite a few of us now in this country doing it differently and we share our knowledge on the forum at biobees.com. I spend all my time doing things about bees. I would describe myself as obsessive.”
“It’s a good thing to get obsessed about,” I said smiling.
“I’ve become beeified, so it’s probably a pretty permanent feature of my personality now.” Said Phil.
“What sorts of things could other people learn from, how could they help?” I asked.
“Anybody could create a bee-friendly zone, by not using toxic chemicals.” Said Phil. “You can use biological processes and controls. Avoid buying bottles of stuff. Right now bees are having a better time of it in towns than the countryside. In the countryside there’s more monocrop that only flowers at one time and they’re sprayed with chemicals. We can plant bee friendly plants and encourage the things that want to grow naturally.”
“What other sorts of things can people do collectively?” I asked.
“Encouraging your council to leave road verges, not use chemicals and to plant flowers. Hedges and roadside verges have become oasis for wildlife. Devon county council has got a fairly enlightened stance and leaves them pretty much alone.”
“Yes, I noticed that immediately when I was walking. There’s far more life and diversity in the grass verges here than the counties I’m from.” I said.
“Giving children a respect and interest in the natural world when they’re young, that will stand them in good stead later on for their understanding of the natural world and they would treat it with more respect than previous generations have done.”
Walking back along the path to Dartington I find that the shop Restore is now open, where they upcycle furniture. They take broken unwanted pieces and restore them for sale. Around the shop are cabinets, chairs, tables, as well as ornaments.
When the path runs out, I take to the road. After about 15 minutes things are getting really hairy as I flatten myself against the hedge every minute or so to avoid being flattened involuntarily. The hedges are high and solid, the road is narrow and winding and I decide today is not my day to die. Climbing up the bank when a slight gap appears, I awkwardly jump the overgrown spikey ditch. With years of experience of crossing barbed wire fences, I put my clothes on the top and swing over into the field. A few fields on, I try my best to sheepishly walk past the sheep to a tall metal gate. Despite my best efforts the farmer does not take me for one of his flock and comes quickly out to see what I’m doing.
“Sorry to disturb you…or your sheep. I was walking the road but it got too dangerous, I’m trying to get out to Rattery. Is this the best way?” I ask.
“Yeah…you’re best off going through here.” He helped me by pulling back the overgrown gate enough for me to squeeze through. Watching (was that a little shake of the head?) as I left the premises.