A bee in my bonnet
Phil Stocker - 08 April 2010
Last spring I retrieved one of my deserted beehives and brought it back home to fix up. Everyone will know that bees are having a tough time at the moment so I thought I would do my bit and try to repopulate the hive.
After bringing it back to the house, I cleaned the hive out and rebuilt it in preparation for either a swarm or a new nucleus. I put in several frames full of honey, thinking that this would provide a food source once I had found new bees, and planned to move it to a more convenient place once everything was organized.
Over the next month or so I noticed the occasional visitor, presumably raiding some of the honey stored. But one afternoon in early July we heard an incredible buzzing noise. Looking out, the sky above the house had almost turned black with a swarm of bees and slowly, over the next 30 minutes, they all funneled down and into the hive. It was a truly amazing sight.
The good news is that we now have a full and very active hive for the 2010 season, and it’s been fascinating (and at times mildly concerning) to watch their behaviour as we slowly lurch towards spring. The bad news is that I never got round to moving the hive and it is still sitting less than three metres from our back door!
Supporting wildlife – including, of course, bees – is a key aim of our agri-environment schemes, so there’s my excuse for changing tack and talking about the National Audit Office’s review of Organic Entry Level Scheme (OELS). The review generated a fair bit of media interest and email traffic from members, primarily over their criticisms that the OELS was low on deliverables.
The National Audit Office looked at the OELS because it was small and manageable in relation to Entry Level Scheme; nevertheless, their comments and criticisms are just as relevant to all agri-environment schemes.
Now, the National Audit Office got it right when they stated that OELS is likely to have delivered valuable environmental and public benefit by stimulating more organic farming. This conclusion doesn't surprise me because the evidence shows how wildlife and biodiversity benefit from the farming system itself, rather than being exclusively reliant on distinct habitat management.
However, the National Audit Office were also critical of the scheme, stating that the specific land management measures (in other words the prescriptions approach) didn’t deliver much benefit because organic producers mostly chose the easiest options – and often options that they were doing already.
What the National Audit Office failed to recognise is that this is exactly what the scheme was originally established to do. The OELS was specifically designed to provide a well-justified reward for practices that weren’t obligatory, but that were usually in place because they were considered ‘best practice’ within the farming system. And it seem sensible to me that we continue to make the case for rewarding organic producers for delivering so-called ‘public goods’ as an automatic output of good farming practices, including helping to mitigate climate change, increasing farmland wildlife and biodiversity, improving animal welfare and, of course, making life better for bees. It is also important to recognize that the OELS plays a vital role in encouraging and informing ‘best practice’ organic farming. And if this all means my bees are happier and more productive, then I’m happy too.