Obsessed by bees

I’ve become a bit obsessed by bees. In a good way.

Earlier in the year whilst I was quietly reading a very large, very black bee fell out of chimney. We were both stunned.

After a moment to see if I was about to be engulfed in a swarm of bees (BEES!!!) I escorted the bee outside, and then spent half an hour online trying to figure out what it was.

Turns out that there are a lot of bees. And I don’t mean just lots of individual bees. Although one bee has been doing her best to become all of the bees.

What I mean is that there are a lot of different types of bee. 275 species in Great Britain and Ireland, and over 20,000 species globally? The planet is absolutely buzzing. Never really thought about it before. I spent more time during my degree reading about ants than bees.

This wasn’t my first surprise encounter with bees. There were the bumble bees nesting in the garage, or that time we had a swarm of bees appear in the garden. We won’t talk about the time I was in the toilet and wasps started coming out of the wall. Because wasps are not bees.

But this was the first time I had tried to actually identify a bee. As a result I found all kinds of useful identification charts and guides. (If you know me well, you can probably guess where this is going).

Later this “summer” whilst dozing in the garden I realised our honeysuckle was absolutely crawling with bees. They kept waking me up. So I started trying to count how many different types I could see.

This inevitably has lead to me spending most of the summer surveying how many different types of bee we actually get in our garden.

I am now the proud owner of a copy of the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. A weighty tome that has frequently been to hand.

I’ve learned how hard it is to photograph bees. The buzzers keep moving. Top tip: video them, then export individual frames.

I’ve always felt privileged to have the garden that we do. But never more so than during two summers living through lockdowns. Working in the garden has given me light, air and a welcome distraction from both the frustrations of my work and current events.

But the garden for me has mostly been somewhere to work. I end up going from task to task: weeding, pruning, planting and watering. Spending time looking at the bees and insects in the garden has required me to slow down. To just sit and focus on what’s going on around me.

One afternoon I discovered we had a nascent wasp nest in the lawn, and mason bees burrowing into a tree branch.

I’ve watched a honey bee crawl into a fuschia flower like it was a sleeping bag. I’ve witnessed nectar robbing. (I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, etc).

I’ve also repeatedly exclaimed “New bee just dropped!” whilst dashing in from the garden to grab my phone and field guide. Much to the chagrin of everyone in the family.

COVID-19 aside we’ve got a lot going on here at Chez Dodds. Everything has indeed been happening so much. A new hobby that happens to encourage a bit of mindful distraction has been a balm.

Amongst all the dissembling, disinformation and disaster that faces me whenever I open a browser or switch on the news, I’ve come to re-appreciate all of the quiet work that supports us, largely unnoticed. The low hum that keeps the world turning. And the ceaseless efforts to understand it.

Vaccines are great. But have you tried the reassuring presence of a four-hundred page field guide?