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Beauty and the bees: a good week in the country

Friday 18 June 2010

It was been one of the better weeks in the countryside, reports our rural affairs commentator John Sheard. At last, a Government quango has shown a a dash of good old fashioned common sense – and the bees have returned to his allotment.

THIS had been a worrying spring so far in my neck of the Yorkshire Dales. There had been all the post-election chaos, the threat of national bankruptcy, and no comfort from my comfrey in the allotment. Then, suddenly, the sun peeped through the clouds of gloom...

A report on the future of Britain’s uplands – which include the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and virtually all the other national parks – from the Labour-created Commission for Rural Communities almost took my breath away in the way it totally rubbished its former bosses’ attitudes and understanding (or lack of it) of all things rural.


It was such a ferocious attack on New Labour policies that I could have written it myself. It said there had been “no joined-up thinking” when it came to the countryside and demanded a whole new approach to protecting our beautiful landscapes whilst at the same time supporting the social and economic lives of country folk and rural business.

One can only believe that the well meaning staff at the commission had become so frustrated by having their good ideas rejected by a government of total townies that, with the arrival of the Coalition, they literally exploded with joy at being able to say at last what had been so un-sayable for so long.

The report is very long but two of its recommendations sent me into a blissful reverie because they related to, and agreed with, observations that this column has been hammering away at for the past decade.

First, it emphasised the importance of a healthy hill farming economy, which produces virtually half of our lamb and a third of our beef at a time of growing food shortages throughout the world. Secondly, – I almost swooned at this – it spoke out bitterly about the dangers to our beautiful uplands landscapes of the Labour government’s total obsession with windfarms.

The Daily Telegraph summed it up well with the headline: “Beauty of England in peril in the age of the windfarm.” What we need, said the Telegraph, is more nuclear power – a view that even the most reluctant scientists now accept as inevitable – but still anathema to the politically correct members of the North London chattering classes who would collapse into paroxysms of incoherent range if a windfarm were to be built on the most obvious site in the capital, Hampstead Heath.

This was Tuesday, the day when the sun put its hat on and came out to play. Off I went to my allotment in a fine good mood and, amazing scenes, it got even better for there were honey bees on my comfrey. Once again, doom and gloom was pushed away and, for the time being at least, another environmental disaster has been postponed if not averted.

I grow a whole row of comfrey – which takes up a lost of space and can reach five feet in height – for two reasons. One is that, if crushed soaked in a water butt, it makes a superb organic liquid feed for my courgettes and marrows. The other is that the bees love it.

Any regular reader of this column will know that the world’s honey bee’s population is in grave danger. Here in England, they have been attacked by a virus carried by a deadly mite, which has long worried the keepers who market much sort-after heather honey from the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.

But another threat has now arisen (from America, as usual) in which whole colonies of bees are suddenly deserting their hives and disappearing without trace. Billions of bees have disappeared like this, putting at risk the major crops they fertilise. And there are fears that this strange plague has, or will, eventually get here.

So my already sunny mood went into orbit when there they were: the honey bees...

And that’s why, when my comfrey flowered almost a month ago, I began to worry. As always, it attracted bumble bees by the score but they are always the first arrivals of spring. But the weeks passed and not a honey bee is sight. And if they do not come, I thought, who will propagate my beans and peas, the aforesaid courgettes and marrows?

So my already sunny mood went into orbit when there they were: the honey bees. To be frank, my comfrey blooms were almost past their best, to be cut bak in a week or so to encourage a new crop. But the honey bees were making themselves very busy, as bees do, perhaps making up for lost time. But they know once again where my allotment is and, hopefully, will be daily visitors for the rest of the summer.

So that’s what I call a good week in the country. We have quangocrats who are willing to speak the truth, new political masters who hopefully have the country nous to listen and act on what is being said, and the bees are back in the veg patch. So just to put a damper on it, all I need now is some rain to save us from what is fast threatening to become a serious drought!

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