Category Archives: Herefordshire

To Bee Or Not To Bee

I’m not a scientist or a botanist, or an ornithologist, come to that, but one thing is clear even to me, a casual, lay observer – there are far fewer birds and bees around – a walk around my garden or the fields and hedgerows near home tell me that.
Years ago I had a dilapidated old garage at the bottom of the garden with a sagging flat tarpaulin roof – not so good for the car, but it made an excellent bird bath and I could sit upstairs and watch the antics of all sorts of birds as they splashed around and preened to their hearts’ content.  Now the garage has a new roof,  but it still collects enough water to form a 5 star bird bath – only thing is ……. the bathers are always pigeons or magpies – either they’ve seen off everything else or there IS nothing else!

 
I don’t want to sound alarmist but I saw this post from Greenpeace on Facebook the other day and it really makes you think.

Changes in agriculture have meant that farmers now go in for larger fields and less variety of crops – we no longer see the beautiful patchwork quilt of small fields that typified the English countryside – it’s not economically viable, but tearing up the hedgerows and planting vast swathes of rape or wheat – or, as in this area, potatoes – has had a drastic effect on the little creatures whose habitat we’ve destroyed- dormice, voles, small birds. And it also turns out these changes are detrimental to the health of pollinators.



    
Of course, most decisions come down to money – it makes financial sense to work bigger fields which have been sprayed with pesticide and fertilizer to yield more per acre. We, the customers, should be happy because our food is more plentiful and costs less.
But most people have now realised that this is short sighted.  There is a hidden cost and it could prove very expensive in the long run and – worse still – irreversible. The wild animal population  dies out either through loss of habitat or toxins in pesticides. The bee population is no exception. There is also in the bee world a phenomenon called CCD – or Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. This is when the worker bees decide to just take off and leave the hive, never to return. No one single thing has been blamed for this phenomenon. No one is sure why they leave the queen in the nest, with enough food and some nurse bees to look after the other immature bees. It could be one of a number of things, for example,  disease, loss of forage, or habitat, adverse weather and/or intensive apiculture.
So ……..  what to do ?  Well, it turns out there’s a lot we can do, as individuals or organisations.  We aren’t all suddenly going to become bee keepers, but we can all build little oases into our gardens to give pollinators somewhere to thrive – little bee ‘hotels’ in a pile of wood, more areas left to grow wild, grass cut longer so that we don’t disturb nests, more flowering plants. Of course, if you do want to keep bees, either commercially, or just as a hobby so that you can collect some of that delicious honey to spread on your toast or sell at the local farmers’ market, there’s lots of advice from professional bodies like the Bee Farmers’  Association or the British Bee Keepers’ Association.
A bee’s physical appearance is a godsend for campaign organisers –  children love the stripy yellow and black jersey they wear, so designing a  logo for a ‘Save the Bee’ campaign which will engage children is ….well ……. child’s play!
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Lots of initiatives have been launched by any number of agencies – DEFRA, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Soil Association, the RHS, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trust, even Waitrose,  have all succeeded in galvanizing volunteers, businesses and the public at large to join forces and save our bees before it’s too late. We humans always seem to leave it till the ‘impending disaster’ stage to actually do something – but do something we must!
I know one thing: If I was a bee I would be tempted by any of these hedgerow jewels:
     

      

Ah, here’s one!
bee

Another year, another River Carnival on the Wye.

The stretch of river that runs between Hereford Rowing Club and the Victoria Footbridge was once again the setting for the main attraction of the Hereford River Carnival –  the parade of a dozen or so colourful floats.  For reasons I am not privy to – but probably to do with access points along the bank – the floats first have to be towed upstream along the same stretch of river before they set off downstream again. There was nothing for it! The crews had to brave the water and it looked pretty cold!!  Then it was a case of just pulling against the current – and let’s face it – carnival floats aren’t usually built with good handling in mind! The more unwieldy the craft the more resistance it put up,  but the crews were having none of it! The river was not particularly high, but weather conditions weren’t ideal –  a wind had got up and rain clouds were gathering – again.
Amongst those organisations represented  were the Alzameimers Society (I’ve forgotten how to spell that) , Aspire, Harrison Clark Rickerbys, Hereford Food Bank, Hereford MIND, Newton Farm Community Association, the Sea Cadets, Strong Young Minds, Horizon Training, local health food shop, Fodders, Sheila’s Wheels,  and two local pubs, the Barrels (representing aforementioned Wye Valley Brewery) and the Vaga Tavern.
I positioned myself on the footbridge and watched as our water babies slogged slowly upstream to take their starting positions. It looked like hard work!
castle
The support dinghies and canoes were manned by members of CHAR (the River Wye Charity Raft Race organization) and local sea cadets  (always seems strange to me that a landlocked Midlands county, as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK, should have a unit of the sea cadets, but we do – I suppose water is water!) Anyway, they were out in force, expertly manoeuvering their kayaks and dinghies to escort, aid, and lend support and encouragement where needed.
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Ever get that sinking feeling?  A few sticky moments here for the castle.

The green and yellow craft below looked tiny in comparison with some, but maybe small is beautiful in these conditions.

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She hugged the bank and made her way quietly up to the start.

Then came  ‘the Fried Egg   (I’m assuming this was Hereford Food Bank)

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All the crews did whatever it took – towing, pushing, pulling, wading through the water tmentalHealthogether.shirleysWheelsThe efforts of the Wye Valley Brewery crew were nothing short of heroic  – I have to say the design of their float didn’t exactly help – It looked heavy with 4 barrels on a square platform – it was always going to be a handful!  barrels8Eventually they towed it under the footbridge on the first part of its journey upstream – our hero had hold of the rope attached to the support boat and manfully hung on!
Only a mile to go!
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Eventually he could hold on no longer and decided to attach the rope under the raft. Success! And applause from the crowd above! Away they went. Further upstream another snag – the brolly started to catch the breeze so they jettisoned that and at last disappeared into the distance.
barrels5When the floats finally started to reappear on their way back, as I looked down the length of the river it struck me that they were bunched a bit like horses in a  race – some hugging the near bank,
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some the opposite bank
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and some coming straight down the middle.
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Whether they were following instructions, or just being carried along by the current I don’t know. As they moved falteringly along, the escorts were still doing a grand job, weaving through the water, ever watchful, ever ready to move in , and giving much needed reassurance to our wobbly wayfarers.
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It was easy to see that coming downstream is a doddle compared to going up!
castle4 And relax!
cygnet2A cygnet in tow! Cute!
downstreamTime to tip our toes in!
downstream2 This is more like it!  Shame the sun’s not out! Could work on my tan!
swan I’m gonna get there first!
Now, you see that? It’s a stone pillar! Paddle round it! bridgeInSight Okay, boss!
intheWaterNot sure what’s happening here but I bet he’s glad of that wetsuit.
And – under we go……….
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All using the same technique – no collisions – and the end is in sight.
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For the trip back downstream the ‘Fried Egg’ has acquired a sharply dressed captain!underBridge
This wasn’t a race, but I believe there was a prize for the best float. I don’t know who won.  You be the judge. Here’s a reminder of the gallant participants in the 2016 Hereford River Carnival Parade.bananaMan
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I am a Tree Hugger – but if I could be a tree…….

It’s starting to feel like Spring and what better way to celebrate than getting out into the fresh air to hug some trees! Nature has a way of persuading us to leave the comfort of a warm sofa and brave the elements – the first sighting of Spring lambs, for example – aahhh!! ,

and the promise of some stunning country views and the trees – there they are again – they just seem to weather anything winter throws at them.
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roots1  stream2
After Spring comes Summer, for some of us a chance to sit under a shady tree and do a spot of fishing,
   
     

while others prefer to  sit outside  and contemplate the trees in the far distance, or silhouetted against a glorious sunset.

 
 
 
 
treeline


Photography makes you more observant – it’s a fact! You start to see everything in a new light (no pun intended!) – new angles, interesting juxtapositions, the way shadows fall, including your own! and how colours  interact.   Old hands tell you to look carefully, but not just in front of you. No! Look up!  Look down!  Look around! And this is never more important than when you are photographing a tree. Some have exposed roots at your feet, then there’s the lacework of leaves swaying overhead. Some are laden with nuts and some have nests tucked away in the upper branches. I always feel I should be able to identify more trees. Can you identify a tree from its bark? or its shape in the distance?
   
Ah, but what if I were a tree? Autumn would be the season I would enjoy most. Bedecked in that stunning autumn foliage  – it must be like getting ready to go to the ball – and to choose from that palette of  bronzes, gingers, rusts, corals, ochres and russets. I don’t understand those evergreens – they just refuse to get dressed up !

  
leaves
Trees are there for us all – human or not – kids climb them, big cats use them as pantries, small cats stalk along their branches to hunt birds (as if!),  people sit under their shady branches,  lovers etch their initials in the bark, they provide us humans with food, timber to build a house, firewood to keep us warm – and for the animal kingdom it’s much the same – cover, habitat, stores to see them through hibernation.  Quite apart from all that, trees are beautiful to look at at:  whether it’s a solitary oak spreading its branches in the middle of a field or a whole forest, dense and mysterious and a bit scary. Dense forests have been the setting for fairy tales and stories with speaking trees, trees with magic powers, trees that walk and scare us to death! Very often you can look at part of a tree and see in it someone or something – and some are just so old and gnarled they seem to have their life story written into the bark for us to read.
What do you see here?



dragon
 
And so to Winter. Trees make an excellent subject to photograph in winter – the images you capture can be really atmospheric – bare branches, stark against the winter sky. Even a fallen tree has a beauty to it – the way it is slowly but inescapably being reclaimed by lichen, forest ferns and fungus and decomposing back into the soil that once nurtured it.


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There is such a variety of trees.  Gardeners say there is a tree to suit any garden, whatever climate it is subject to and whatever size it is – so no excuse! we could all have one!
 
And if I were a tree?  Maybe an oak but I can’t really be a tree so I’ll do the next best thing and plant one.