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Considerations for all wildlife within construction

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The following is an email we received from an incredibly talented wildlife photographer, author and naturalist who we came across on twitter after an error with a bee photograph we had used in a blog post, strange the way life can sometimes lead us!

After some conversations about the bee brick and our aspiration to see them built into new developments across the country, and about the fact that Cornwall Council stipulate that 50% of new builds in the county need to include one, we received the following email from David Element.

bee brick in brick wall a home for soliitary bees

“This sounds like a brilliant idea and it is gratifying to know that at least one Council is taking it seriously. Hopefully your infectious enthusiasm will influence others beyond your County boundary.

Perhaps the Council could be persuaded to extend its enlightened attitude to incorporate some of the other aspects of wildlife preservation too (assisting hedgehogs, bats, etc.). A holistic approach where other aspects of habitat are considered at the planning stage is what is really required, for example there is no point in putting in bee bricks if there are no gardens (unlikely to be an issue in Cornwall but less so in counties with more urbanisation and pressure to build on almost every vacant site) or no sources of pollen (as might be the case with concreted over gardens) even if artificial nest sites have been provided. Likewise impenetrable fences will exclude all animal life that cannot fly or burrow. After all, how difficult (or expensive) can it possibly be to include a bee brick in every new house and to leave a 5” square hole at the base of one slat in each fence?

An ideal solution would be for all property owners to be required to retain at least a small wild area of their gardens in which native flowers would be allowed to grow and this could include nettle beds, retaining dead wood and leaf-piles, etc. Few plants are better for bees than ivy, bramble or the dandelions that might thrive if lawns were not manicured to a point at which the grasses (often monocultures) can barely grow beyond ground level without being cut.

The use of Roundup (glyphosate) and other toxins like neonicotinoids ought to be banned too as there is no way of telling how much damage the use of these agents is doing both to the environment and ultimately ourselves in the case of glyphosate (the health consequences of exposure in farmworkers makes interesting reading). These agents may be already present in potted plants sold by garden centres and the contents of the pots may be planted in all innocence by their new owners, so buyers should be wary and they can always vote with their pockets by simply not buying these tainted products. Gardens are sometimes the only refuge remaining for biodiversity in areas where crops are grown (dusted and sprayed!) at the expense of all else. It is very telling how many more insects I see in (unsprayed) London parks that I do when walking near farmland.

There is really no justifiable reason why we humans cannot co-exist in harmony with the 70,000 or so other species that inhabit the UK and as you are only too aware the psychology and wellbeing of humans is improved by the sound of buzzing bees or birdsong.

I wish you luck!

Best wishes,


urban wildflowers for urban spaces

We’re not normally in the habit of sharing emails we receive here but felt that this was too powerful and succinct to ignore. For us David really captures the essence of our beliefs about how policy needs to be implemented at planning level to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect our wildlife and to enhance biodiversity, before it’s too late.

You can see David Element’s photographs here

You can view David Element’s video’s here

Bee photographs in this post courtesy of David Element.

*As a postscript from David. It is fantastic to be able to report that since my original e-mail was written the new DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove MP has announced that neonicotinoids are to be banned in the UK (9th November 2017). Unsurprisingly there has been a euphoric response to this announcement by environmentalists, many of whom have been instrumental in swaying the argument against their use, commendably sticking to the courage of their convictions and demonstrating the value of their scientific research.

The role of the Government’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) under the expert and forensic chairpersonship of Mary Creagh MP (these debates may be watched on-line by the public on Parliament TV – see: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/f78595ec-6ffa-4344-88d6-e885a043876a ) has also been of great importance and it is a welcome change to see actions being taken by the new Secretary of State following a period of underwhelming performance and stasis by a predecessor with a flair for the use of repetitive platitudes that must have frustrated the knowledgeable and committed members of the EAC greatly.

Scientific expertise is sadly an unfashionable quality in these science-phobic times (and there will be long-term detrimental consequences to the planet unless there is a sea-change in attitude) so it has been refreshing to observe a politician actually listening and responding rather than applying further platitudes and deferments! Hopefully Mr. Gove’s encouraging words will be followed by substantive actions – provided that he isn’t going to be reshuffled during a disturbingly fragile game of ‘musical chairs’ in the currently politically unstable climate. Nevertheless it would perhaps be more advisable to respond with a guarded reaction as the use of neonicotinoids is but a single facet of the chemical onslaught being faced by the countryside and in particular our water-supply and ultimately the oceans. With effective legislation some of these concerns might be dispelled.

As the half-life of neonicotinoid agents is >1,000 days and they can persist in plant tissues for up to a year according to: Environmental fate and exposure; neonicotinoids and fipronil , J-M Bonmatin et al., Environmental Science and Pollution 2015: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284396/ a recovery period will undoubtedly be required before the benefits will be noticed. These cannot be accurately judged by simply observing population dynamics in the short term as the numbers of insects may fluctuate considerably for climatic and other reasons unrelated to the direct or indirect use of neonicotinoid chemicals, for example changed land use or parasitism.

Long-term monitoring of invertebrate populations following the ban will therefore be essential but there is a tendency to overlook the fact that training will be needed for future would-be biological recorders by current experts simply for them to be able to classify even some of the more difficult to identify species (of which there are many and this includes important pollinators like bees and flies!). Otherwise there is a significant possibility that the necessary skills will be lost. Field studies capable of generating exhaustive and meaningful bodies of data are extremely difficult undertakings.

There is also a danger that alternative toxic chemicals might be surreptitiously employed as substitutes for neonicotinoids and without knowing the possible consequences beforehand there is always a risk that one potential environmental catastrophe could simply be replaced by another. At the very least close scientific monitoring would be required if substitute chemicals are to be used and the vigilance of citizen scientists would certainly be needed too.

The use of the word ‘organic’ may be fashionable but it is a misnomer when applied to farming, being both non-scientific and inappropriate. When visiting France earlier this year I noticed that there were several fields with notices posted proclaiming their ‘pesticide-free’ status and this would perhaps be a more appropriate descriptive term for chemical-free farming that could be more widely applied to ban-complicit farms in the UK. It is also important for the affected farmers that relative crop yields should be monitored once neonicotinoids are totally withdrawn from use (and total withdrawal includes the safe disposal of stockpiled or hoarded supplies). Other considerations might include the planting of alternative crops in keeping with local natural soil chemistry or providing compensation or subsidies for farmers if their livelihoods have been adversely affected – many farmers are currently having a very tough time exacerbated by the fears of a very uncertain future. It is also worth mentioning that those humans with greatest exposure to these chemicals are the manufacturers and users, namely the farmers or farm-hands. This publication: Pests, environment, and food safety Carvalho Fernando P, Association of Applied Biologists Food and Energy Security 2016 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fes3.108/full is certainly worth reading. If appropriate health and safety guidelines are followed then direct exposure to toxic substances can be minimized but if personal protective equipment is not used or used improperly then the consequences of exposure could be serious with long-term detrimental health effects.

There are also possible consequences associated with the importation of farm products from the United States. There is little effective regulation in the United States at present during a period of extreme skepticism about science and the environment and it would be foolhardy to overlook these risks at a time when there is a possibility of undermining a more responsible and effectively monitored approach to farming in the UK.