Monday 31 December 2012

Last (musical) Podcast of 2012

An end-of-year musical treat by friends of mine, who go by the names of Pixie and Laura. They will be releasing their first album soon, so this is a preview, recently recorded in the street in our home town of Totnes. There is a fair bit of background noise, as this was market day...

Check out this episode!

Monday 5 November 2012

The Future of American Beekeeping

This podcast was recorded in Denver, Colorado, and features a round table discussion with Tom Theobald and Miles McGaughey of Boulder County and Christy Hemenway, who was visiting from Maine. 

We focused on the current situation in the USA regarding agriculture in general and beekeeping in particular, looking at what we feel needs to be done to put right the damage caused by the use of toxic insecticides and herbicides.

Check out this episode!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Bees and Other Bugs: Teaching Natural History with PUPA Education

PUPA (Preservation & Understanding of Plants and Arthropods)

Today's podcast is a conversation with Duncan Allen and Tarryn Castle of PUPA Education, a UK-based social enterprise dedicated to educating people about the natural world, especially the myriad tiny creatures that are collectively responsible for the quality of the soil, upon which all land-based life ultimately depends.

About Duncan and Tarryn

Duncan Allen


Duncan Allen (CRB certified): Has 5 year’s experience of working with the public at both the University of Plymouth and the Plymouth City Museum.  He has been, Science Week co-ordinator and involved with summer school activities, seaside safaris, school visits and bug hunts promoting insect awareness and education; and most recently with the BBC “Live ‘n’ Deadly” road show.  He is the Royal Entomological Societies student representative and is currently employed at Plymouth City Museum Natural History Department where he is the volunteer supervisor.


Tarryn Castle

Tarryn Castle (CRB certified):  Has great passion and concern for the environment.  Growing up in New Zealand she assisted children’s after school art classes whilst attending Manukau Institute of Technology.  She has spent a number of years volunteering for the green party and WOOFING (Working On Organic Farms an international volunteer organization) in New Zealand and the Wilderness Society in Australia. Whilst attending University at Aberystwyth she was involved with setting up a local Beach Cleaning Group and helped to organise and co-ordinate student volunteers as well as work with the public and raise general awareness. She is currently working on a number of projects for Buglife: The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.


Both Duncan and Tarryn have completed an MSc in Entomology and have practical experience and knowledge of invertebrate conservation in the U.K.

Duncan Allen & Tarryn Castle
PUPA educational Workshops
3 Newnham Road

PUPA Education web site -

Check out this episode!

Monday 1 October 2012

Conversation with Christopher Titmuss

Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation (Vipassana) around the world. He is the founder and director of the Dharma Facilitators Programme and Mindfulness Training Course, an online mentor programme.. He gives retreats, leads pilgrimages (yatras) and Dharma gatherings, as well as establishing a network of Dharma teachers around the world. Christopher has been teaching annual retreats in India since 1975

A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of 14 books includingLight on EnlightenmentTransforming Our Terror and Mindfulness for Everyday Living. More than 2000 of his Dharma talks have been recorded. A campaigner for peace and other global issues, Christopher acts in an advisory capacity to various networks and organisations working to resolve suffering including Australia, Asia (Israel, Palestine, India) and Europe. Christopher has not spent more than two months in one place since 1975, when he resided for five months teaching in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Poet and writer, he lives in Totnes, Devon, England. His work takes him to three continents every year.

Check out this episode!

Saturday 18 August 2012

2012 UK Natural Beekeeping Conference Panel Discussion

This is the recording of the panel discussion that took place on Sunday 12th August. On the panel were: Penny Crowder, Paul Smith, Phil Chandler, Heidi Herrmann, Johannes Wirz, Thomas Radetzki, David Heaf and John Haverson.

This recording suffers from some low-frequency vibration caused by placing the microphone on a tripod directly on top of the table the panel were using. I had to remove some voices from the back of the room that were not sufficiently clear to include.

Check out this episode!

Wednesday 15 August 2012

2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference Part 1

The 2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference was held at Emerson College, East Sussex over the second weekend in August. 

This is the first podcast from the conference, featuring the opening keynote address by Phil Chandler. This blog supports the content of the speech with a more detailed argument.

Check out this episode!

The Importance of Being a Drone

At the 2012 UK Natural Beekeeping Conference, held in August at Emerson College, East Sussex, I included in my opening speech an idea that had only occurred to me a few weeks previously, but which struck me as being fundamental to the way I had come to think about bees. Some other people at the conference also considered that the idea deserved further exploration, so I thought it worth writing more about it.

While 'natural beekeepers' are used to thinking of a honeybee colony more in terms of its intrinsic value to the natural world than its capacity to produce honey for human use, conventional beekeepers and the public at large are much more likely to associate honeybees with honey. This has been the main cause of the attention given to Apis mellifera since we began our association with them just a few thousand years ago.

In other words, I suspect most people - if they think of it at all - tend to think of a honeybee colony as 'a living system that produces honey'.

Prior to that first meeting between humans and honeybees, these adaptable insects had flowering plants and the natural world largely to themselves - give or take the odd dinosaur - and over a span of tens of millions of years had evolved alongside flowering plants and had selected those which provided the best quality and quantity of pollen and nectar for their use. We can assume that less productive flowers became extinct, save for those that adapted to using the wind, rather than insects, to spread their genes.

For all of those years - perhaps 130 million by some counts - the honeybee continuously evolved into the highly efficient, extraordinarily adaptable, colony-dwelling creature that we see and meet with today. By  means of a number of behavioural adaptations, she ensured a high degree of genetic diversity within the Apis genus, among which is the propensity of the queen to mate at some distance from her hive, at flying speed and at some height from the ground, with a dozen or so male bees, which have themselves travelled  considerable distances from their own colonies. Multiple mating with strangers from foreign lands assures a degree of heterosis - vital to the vigour of any species - and carries its own mechanism of selection for the drones involved: only the stronger, fitter drones ever get to mate.

An unusual feature of the honeybee, which adds a species-strengthening competitive edge to the reproductive mechanism, is that the male bee - the drone - is born from an unfertilized egg by a process known as parthenogenesis. This means that the drones are haploid, i.e. have only one set of chromosomes derived from their mother. This in turn means that, in evolutionary terms, the queen's biological imperative of passing on her genes to future generations is expressed in her genetic investment in her drones - remembering that her workers cannot reproduce and are thus a genetic dead end.

So the suggestion I made to the conference was that a biologically and logically legitimate way of regarding the honeybee colony is as 'a living system for producing fertile, healthy drones for the purpose of perpetuating the species by spreading the genes of the best quality queens'.

Thinking through this model of the honeybee colony gives us an entirely different perspective, when compared with the conventional point of view. We can now see nectar, honey and pollen simply as fuels for this system and the worker bees as servicing the needs of the queen and performing all the tasks required to ensure the smooth running of the colony, for the ultimate purpose of producing high quality drones, which will carry the genes of their mother to virgin queens from other colonies far away. We can speculate as to the biological triggers that cause drones to be raised at certain times and evicted or even killed off at other times. We can consider the mechanisms that may control the numbers of drones as a percentage of the overall population and dictate what other functions they may have inside the hive. We can imagine how drones appear to be able to find their way to 'congregation areas', where they seem to gather when waiting for virgin queens to pass by, when they themselves rarely survive more than about three months and hardly ever through the winter. There is much that we still do not know and may never fully understand.

An important aspect of this way of looking at the honeybee colony is that it calls into question many of the practices of 'modern beekeeping' - by which I mean post-Langstroth, post-1850  beekeeping - which has always been focussed on honey production above all else. From the point of view of our evolutionary model, many modern practices have been implemented with the specific objective of suppressing the raising of drones: thus running directly counter to the evolutionary interests of the queens.

In support of this thesis, we can cite the invention of wax foundation, impressed with the cell pattern of worker bees, deployed with the specific purpose of encouraging the colony to raise the maximum number of workers and the minimum number of drones. We can also lay some blame at the door of those who decided that frames should be spaced close together, thus allowing only for the building of worker cells and forcing drone cells to the outer fringes of the comb. More recently, we can mention and condemn the encouragement from certain quarters to 'cull' drone pupae with the intention of reducing the population of Varroa destructor in our hives.

Other recent practices, such as the sterilization of woodwork and the use of plastics ensure that hives will be relatively free from any of the other minute creatures that evolved to sharing hollow logs and trees with bees. Yet now we are discovering that some of these little bugs may well hold the secret of how pests and diseases are kept at bay. Significantly, experiments with mites of the Stratiolelaps genus are proving successful at controlling Varroa and I suspect that the humble earwig and wood louse have parts to play.

The almost universal use of miticides over the last half century has turned our bee colonies from models of biodiversity into sterile mono-cultures, at the expense of a multitude of moulds, fungi and insects whose functions and interactions we can only guess at. Who knows what concurrent damage the pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, widely used in our insane, toxic agricultural system may have done, not only to the bees but to the soil, which supports all life.

It seems to me that the history of modern beekeeping is replete with examples of anti-drone behaviour by beekeepers, from ignorance of their true role in the colony and in direct contradiction of the needs and instincts of the honeybee queen. Conventional beekeepers, however much they may protest their love and devotion for their charges, are in fact negating the wishes of the bees by focussing their efforts on the fuel of this intricate system, rather than its true purpose: the production of high quality drones, without which Apis mellifera is doomed as certainly as the dinosaurs.

So 'natural beekeepers', with their focus on creating close-to-ideal environments for the use of honeybees and working in alignment with the desires of their queens are best placed to assure the future of the species, so long as they do not succumb to undesirable 'modern' tendencies.

Phil Chandler
August 2012


Tuesday 14 August 2012

2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference Part 1

The 2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference was held at Emerson College, East Sussex over the second weekend in August. 

This is the first podcast from the conference, featuring the opening keynote address by Phil Chandler.

Check out this episode!

Thursday 7 June 2012

What is 'Friends of the Bees'?

Friends of the Bees - this is a dynamic, ongoing discussion - which translates as 'I am still thinking it through even as I build the site'!

 My vision is: a kind of dispersed, anarchic, non-pyramidal, loosely-structured, campaigning, non-organization, based on a wide network of inter-dependent, self-managing, local groups, which feed information and ideas to each other via the Natural Beekeeping Forum and whatever other means they choose or devise. Think of the BBKA and turn it on its head (if only...) so instead of the centralized, elite-led, top-down, do-as-we-say approach, we have a de-centralized, co-operative, ideas-led, progressive, dynamic, evolving force, inspired and energized towards 'improving the world for pollinators' - which means, of course, improving the world for everyone and everything - so a movement rather than an 'organization'.

 The model I have in my head is that of 'open source' software: think Linux, not Microsoft or Apple - think of thousands of geeks writing code in their bedrooms and sharing it freely with the world and somehow coming up with software that is as good as or better than that produced by highly paid programmers in profit-driven corporations. This is Open Source Beekeeping - and, of course, it is also about Open Source Growing and everything that implies: testing and teaching different ways to grow food and to reclaim the whole food production system - literally from the ground up. We need to regenerate and localize our growing methods alongside our bee husbandry. 

Friends of the Bees is 'non-denominational' in that we do not promote a particular beehive or a particular method or philosophy and we have no Book of Rules and definitely no 'gurus' (aka prima donnas). Anyone can make a contribution.

 Am I sounding idealistic? Good, because I think we need an ideal to work towards. How do we create such a thing? It's already happening. Local groups are being announced on the forum almost daily. They are all part of the network and may or may not need some guidance as to how to organize themselves and link together - that's something that will develop organically, I think. I see campaigning as a central part of our activities and vitally important to make our presence felt as a body, rather than just a loose set of individuals. Effective campaigning and lobbying takes time, planning and a coherent message, which is where we need to harness the energy of those people who are moved to act in that way. This could result in a hierarchical 'committee' structure, which I dislike and I think is generally deprecated among progressive movements these days.

So how do we engage people who want to be 'in the thick of it' and enable them to contribute fully, without the danger of them leading FotB up a garden path of their own choosing? To put it bluntly, how do we keep that Chandler fellow in check and stop him sounding off about stuff that we haven't approved? And how to we rein in the Brighton Bee Liberation Front and stop them fighting with the Brighton Front for the Liberation of Bees? In other words, how do we build in some form of representation - democracy, even - into the system, so everyone gets heard and nobody becomes a dictator?

 That's where my ragged edge is right now: I don't know all the answers. Or any of them.

Do we just let it evolve organically and anarchically, trusting that whatever happens will be for the best? Do we start with a scaffolding and try to get everyone to arrange themselves on it? And to bring it back to 'what can I do - how can I get involved?' I think the guiding principle - and I forget who first said this - is 'Think Globally, Act Locally'. Get together some people and start a local group. Call it 'South Bumbledown Friends of the Bees' if you wish, or something of your own choosing. Using the 'Friends of the Bees' phrase in your name requires no affiliation fees and no obligations, beyond a willingness to participate and share in the spirit of Open Source Beekeeping, and identifies you with the movement as a whole while retaining your local identity.

 Use the forum - - as a resource to share and advertise your presence. Make a web site for your group if you wish, or not if you don't.

There are no rules, remember? By becoming a focus for 'helping the bees', we can broaden people's world view and get them to see what needs to be done to bring the planet back to sustainability. This is about bees - and it is about a lot more than bees.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Three Things We Must Do - To Save The Bees, Ourselves And The Planet

The call to 'save the bees' has done a couple of circuits of the globe now and to those who can see the bigger picture, this crisis highlights issues that affect not just bees, but the entirety of life on Earth. It is becoming clear that we need to change our ways.

Here are three things - the ABC - I believe we need to re-think most urgently:

Agriculture - chemical farming is the number one killer of bees and birds, by pesticide poisoning and by herbicidal destruction of wild food sources. We need GM crops like we need to get hooked on heroine: the agri-chem-GM model is exactly that of the drug pusher, with promises of a better life turning to dust as the price rises with every dose and not-so-veiled threats if you consider kicking the habit. If you are gullible enough to believe the GM industry's sales pitch, I have some beach-front property in Arizona you may be interested in.

There is plenty of food for everyone: the problem is lack of education and the politics of distribution. Learning to grow healthy food – along with principles of nutrition - should be as integral to a child's education as learning to read. If you think more GM or more pesticides is the answer, then you are asking the wrong question. If you think massive grain monocultures can solve the problem of starvation in Africa or Bangladesh, then you have not been paying attention to reports of crop failures in Texas.

Biodiversity - is nature's way. Mono-cropping may be cheap in the short term, but in the long term it is incalculably expensive, both to the health of the soil and of the people. Organic gardening is the way forward - nobody sprays the jungle, yet it feeds millions of creatures. Permaculture, forest gardening, aquaponics, all have a part to play in our future of abundance for all, if we kick the grain habit in favour of a multi-layered, many-flavoured, vegetable-based diet with wild and free-range protein supplements.

Conservation - Wild places are the lungs and kidneys and liver of the planet: they purify, recycle and replenish and we need more of them. Natural habitats must be conserved and protected and re-created where they are lacking. Nowhere have we ever truly improved on nature.

Alongside this radical ABC, we also need to re-think beekeeping, which provides a metaphor for our overall treatment of nature since Victorian times. We have been taught to put bees in boxes designed not for their convenience but rather for ours, while applying medications designed to mask the problems we have created for them. We have shipped them around to service the mono-crops we have decided we needed - contrary to their natural world of diversity and naturally-evolved flora.

We all must now take responsibility for the abuse suffered by the planet and work to make it a better place for us and for the bees.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

My challenge to Bayer

To the Management of Bayer Crop Science, the Crop Protection Association and Dr Julian Little

Now it is clear from a number of research papers that - contrary to the misleading propaganda published by Bayer et al since they were first put on the market - neonicotinoids do indeed pose a massive danger to bees and other pollinators, I would like a straight answer to this question:

Did Bayer always know that this class of pesticides was lethal to bees, even in minute doses, and that sublethal effects would include disorientation, which to bees is death by another name?

If so, you are without question guilty of reckless profiteering at the expense of some of our most valued insect species and as such unfit to run a company.

If not, then you are incompetent fools who failed properly to test your own products before marketing them and are thus unfit to run a company.

Either way, if you had an ounce of decency between you, you would hang your heads in shame and resign from your posts forthwith.

Friday 30 March 2012

The final proof: Stirling University research shows that neonicotinoids kill bees in field conditions

With today's news from Stirling University that neonicotinoid pesticides are heavily implicated in the death of honeybees - contrary to what Bayer and the BBKA have told us for the last ten years - we now need some action from the government to improve the regulation of these highly toxic chemicals.

Sterling University has just published the first ever FIELD STUDY that shows neonicotinoids really are killing bees - as some of us have been saying for years. This undermines Bayer's lame attempts to defend their toxic products - they can no longer say that the earlier lab studies are not supported by field research.

Now, will the British Bee Keepers Association finally cut their ties with pesticide manufacturers, get off the fence and actually start to defend our bees?

- PLEASE LOBBY YOUR LOCAL MP to put pressure on the government to massively improve pesticide regulation

- PLEASE WRITE TO THE BBKA and ask them to support organic agriculture and totally disassociate themselves from pesticide manufacturers once and for all.

Learn from the bees: by working together, we can get results!

Monday 6 February 2012

Stop GM in Europe, or lose the bees!

Since the appearance of the first GM crops in Europe a few years ago, beekeepers continue to alert the authorities about the impossibility of coexistence between these cultures and beekeeping. Under the influence of the largely US-based GMO lobby, the European Commission and national authorities have so far remained deaf to this call.

However, a German beekeeper who noted the presence of pollen from GM maize MON 810 in her honey has filed a lawsuit. On September 5, 2011, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) decided that such honey could not be marketed.

Our rulers can no longer pretend to ignore this reality: the authorization of GM crops in the field would be fatal to beekeeping (honey, pollen, propolis) and the bee.

European consumers do not want GMOs in honey. Environmental awareness has become such that the Commission can not take the risk of deliberately sacrificing the bee for the benefit of multinationals. Since the decision of the ECJ, the negotiations are progressing well, however.

The judgment of the Court of Justice relies on the fact that pollen from MON 810 maize is not allowed for human consumption. Legal manipulations that would circumvent this prohibition in the case of honey are under consideration, in violation of the transparency demanded by consumers.

Coexistence of GM crops in open fields and beekeeping is impossible. Nobody can ignore this reality.

The bee is an essential element of the environment, biodiversity, and a key asset for the pollination of many crops. Already undermined by the pressure of pesticides, it could simply disappear from our countryside by political decision, or be accused of disseminating GMO pollen!

Faced with this unacceptable risk, we urge John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, and our European and national policymakers to protect bees, beekeeping and beekeeping professionals and: suspend immediately and not to renew the authorization of outdoor cultivation of MON 810, block the progress of all cases of genetically modified plants or nectar Pollen, to rigorously assess the impact of transgenic plants on the apiaries, including brood bees and winter, and make public all the protocols and results respect the right to transparency for consumers.

Support the beekeepers of Europe and help them save the bees from the onslaught of pesticide-laden GM crops. Sign the petition here -

(The above post is based on the original page in French.)