Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The buzzing of the bees

It would be tempting, on this fine day, to rip large into Ruth the Mooth's toothless Tories or Dick Dastardly's Labour failures but across the Scottish blogosphere and media, lots are already at it. I could mock Rory the Tory's attempt to become leader of the ailing party he is an MP of but, given he is not the snake oil salesman the Tories think they need to kill off Farage, I would rather bet on a snowball's chance in hell.

It was a chat I had with a local organic farmer that has me thinking, today, as I listen to bees buzzing in my herbaceous border and noted the wide variety; Honey, Golden bears, Red tales, Bumble, White tails and a Masonry bee which is busy nesting in the UPVC drip strip end of my kitchen window. His gripe was there are only five grass types grown in the commercial agri-business fields in Galloway to either feed the cows and sheep in the field or provide them with silage or hay for the winter months.

On another day I was out on the golf course with one of said agri-business farmers and I asked him about this. His point was most of the grass crop was grown to achieve certain markers in terms of cattle and sheep's muscle to fat ratios or, on the dairy side, to ensure the consistent fat content in the milk the creameries require for cheese and yogurt production, all year round. He also stated the use of antibiotics in commercial farming, in the area, was now far less than ten years ago and now being used for specific vet identified conditions and not, as in the past, as a mass preventative for the whole herd.

His view on the mono-culture fears of organic farmers in Galloway was the acreage being cultivated in this intense manner for grass production was minuscule in comparison to the total land acreage and land use in Galloway. It was his next point that really got me thinking, he pointed out that spraying on these fields for weeds, using glyphosphate, had virtually ceased because of the vigour of these high yield commercial grasses. He also pointed out that most fields, locally, were sprayed with liquid manure, after they were cut, rather than use commercial fertilisers and even there the technique increasingly being used was drip bar which reduced the impact on worm populations compared to the old spray techniques.

So is the reason I still see such a thriving and varied bee population in my garden is, in part, because the local agri-business, while being intensive and a major earner for Galloway, are not so heavily chemical dependent compared to the agri-businesses of the Wiltshire plains?

I lived in North Dorset for a wheen of years, the local fields had not changed much since Constable had painted Hungerford Mill and the farms were, by and large, dairy and fat stock; much like Galloway. The Wiltshire Prairie started about seven miles away after you crossed the Wiltshire Downs. Fields of many hundred acres, designed to enable farm machinery to operate at optimum efficiency and cost effective harvesting. Copses and hedgerows had been obliterated and yields are ensured by use of fertilizers and chemical spraying to prevent weevils, slugs, rust and weeds impacting on yields of wheat or barley.

Now look up and eastward and this intensive farming of single crops in massive acreage stretches from Wiltshire across Oxfordshire, through Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and up into the Lincolnshire fens. We want our cheap bread, carrots, cabbage, cauliflowers and the rest. The supermarkets want a consistent quality of product and to make a profit the farmers have to get over 80% of any acre to supermarket standard. This can only happen through the use of chemical sprays of one sort or the other.

Then consider the predominant wind over the British Isles is from the west. What is the cumulative impact of all this spraying and the drift of the aerosol fall out as it is blown from Wiltshire to Norfolk? There will inevitably be overlap zones where the chemical concentration exceeds safe limits. Then ask; just how can this not impact on insect and other life in a negative way?

One last point. On the English Prairies they now use a technique called shallow ploughing which enables them to plant the next crop within a couple of days of harvesting. To do this they spray Glyphosphate on the crop two weeks before harvesting to ensure weed free ground. A new piece of medical research into Gluten intolerance is suggesting the problem is not glutens, as such, but Glyphosphate residues in the flour. The study needs to be repeated by other researchers to consolidate the data and confirm the initial findings of the research group but it gives pause for thought.

Maybe it is not just bees modern agri-business practises are killing off

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