Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Bungay’

On Making Space for Nature with Sustainable Bungay

This post was first published on 24th September 2014 under the title ‘Mark Watson on Making Space for Flowers’ as part of the “Making Space for Nature” theme on the Transition Network website.

IMG_1158“Did you grow all those yourself?”, a young woman asked me last week at Transition Town Tooting’s 7th Foodival.

She was pointing to a wicker basket filled with the aromatic lemon balm, rosemary, anise hyssop, marjoram and a dozen or so more herbs and flowers I was preparing tea from at the event:

“A lot of them I grew at home in Suffolk, some are wild plants and others are from gardens here in Tooting, including the Community Garden up the road.”

She looked suprised, almost shocked. “My only reference for that kind of thing are the supermarket shelves,” she said.

In that moment I realised many things all at once: that events like the Foodival show how we can come together and regain autonomy over what we eat (and drink); that you never know who will walk in the door and get switched on by something they’ve never considered before; that making space for nature goes beyond the world of nature reserves, wildlife documentaries or even pilgrimages into the wilderness. I realised that an intrinsic engagement with the living world is what I’ve been showing and teaching in the last six years since I became part of the Transition movement; and that Transition has offered me a role where I can use my knowledge and skills to bring plants and people together in a dynamic and inspiring way.

Bungay is a small rural market town of 5000 people on the river Waveney in north-east Suffolk, surrounded by conventionally farmed agricultural land. The common idea that people in rural areas are automatically more connected with nature can be misleading. Wherever we live now much of the time is spent in artificial spaces: in front of computers, television screens, in our minds and indoors.

When I consider Sustainable Bungay, the Transition group where I’ve been most active since 2008, I see that (re)connection with living systems and considering the planet is implicit in everything we do, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days to a cycle ride down to the pub by the locks of the Waveney at Autumn equinox. The very first Transition event I led was a Spring Tonic Walk introducing people from Bungay and Transition Norwich to dandelions, cleavers and nettles, the medicine plants growing in the neighbourhood.

Voilet-adorned prunes detailOur monthly community kitchen, Happy Mondays is now in its fourth year. A meal for 50 people, most of it locally sourced, is prepared from scratch in under three hours and features everything from nettle pesto and bittercress salad to puddings with foraged sweet violets or blackberries from the common.

Bungay Community Bees was formed in 2009 in response to the global pollinator crisis. There are now more than a dozen beehives in orchards and gardens in and around the town. The group has also created a purpose-built apiary (an observation shed with a hand-crafted glass hive) in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. In the summer schoolchildren from the region come to visit the bees and go on nature walks where they learn about flowers and pollinators.

College farm apiary

Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out. Nature needs a breathing space!

Soil moving banner

A natural breathing space is among the many things that Bungay Community Library Garden offers. In 2009 a subgroup from Sustainable Bungay teamed up with the town library, organised an Introduction to Permaculture course with Graham Burnett and worked with local builders, gardeners, tree surgeons and group members to transform the unused brick courtyard with one jasmine and a honeysuckle into a flourishing community garden with raised beds, fruit trees, flowers and herbs.

BCLG 13.7.2014

Each year since its opening in 2010, the garden’s central bed showcases a different theme: plants for bees in 2011, plants as medicine in 2012, an edible bed in 2013 and this year dyes and textiles. This way people can get a feel for just how multi-faceted plants are and just how interwoven they are in our human lives. In many cases the categories change but the plants stay the same. The calendula you made a tea from in 2012, you tossed into a salad in 2013 and dyed a scarf with the following year!

The person curating the garden each year organises events around the theme. In the Plants for Life series I ran in 2012 focusing on health and wellbeing, there were monthly talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers, on everything from biodynamic growing to walking with weeds to the medicinal properties of homemade wine! I also ran ‘plant surgeries’ during the summer where people could come and ask questions about the project and the plants and exchange their knowledge too.

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The garden has become a focal point for many of Sustainable Bungay’s activities from steering group meetings in the summer to seed and produce swaps, Abundance exchanges of foraged fruit, and apple pressings. It is also the starting point for the wellbeing walks begun by the Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group last year.

The idea behind the walks was to explore local places together to encourage wellbeing and a sense of belonging. How that might increase personal, and particularly community, resilience, help combat the desire to be somewhere else and so encourage lower use of fossil fuels. Many people reported that simply by taking part in the collective walks brought an experience of wellbeing in itself.

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There is more. Recently a group called NR35 (‘Natural Resources’ 35) based on the local postcode, began to explore “how to use our skills, knowledge and labour to generate an income by sustainably managing/harvesting the resources which are wildly abundant around our rural market town.” The results include the harvesting of fruit and vegetable gluts, some of which are supplied to local restaurants and grocers and a communal firewood store. Last spring a small group of us learned how to make a dead hedge with local tree surgeon Paul Jackson. It took just a morning but I remember practically everything Paul taught us.

So what I’m saying here is that making space for nature can start right outside our doors, and in the places we find ourselves. That it’s not always the big exotic landscapes abroad where Nature is to be encountered. We need to discover the natural world where we are and engage with it, because it’s the natural world that makes sense of everything in the end.

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In 2015 it will be my turn again to curate the theme at Bungay Community Library garden, and the focus will be on ‘Helpful Herbs’ of all kinds. Lavender and rosemary are settling into bed, with thyme, St. Johns Wort, sweet cicely and others already there. And I’m working with a team on some exciting events. I’m also planning to map the project as part of a group helping to shape a new Transition Diploma, a collaboration between Gaia University and the Transition Network. Oh, and to make it into a Transition livelihood!

Meanwhile here is a picture from a plant walk around Bury St Edmunds I led in June this year with Sustainable Bury. The caption would probably go something like this:

“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without people sitting on walls looking at Hoary Willowherb!”

hoary-willowherb-bury-wall-14-june-2014

Mark Watson is co-chair of Sustainable Bungay, a Transition Initiative in Suffolk, UK. Mark teaches groups and individuals to reconnect with nature through plants in the places they live. Details about his talks, walks and workshops can be found on Mark in Flowers.

Images: Talking plants and teas at Tooting Foodival, September 2014 by Chris from NappyValleyNet; Wild sweet violets adorn Happy Monday pudding by Josiah Meldrum; School visit to Bungay Community Bees’ observation hive by Elinor McDowell; Preparing the beds, 2010, Bungay Community Library garden (MW); the garden flourishes, summer 2014; Walking with Weeds, Plants for Life, 2012 (MW); 1st Wellbeing walk by the Waveney, 2013 by Charlotte Du Cann; Throwing our arms up under the cherry trees, April 2014 (CDC); Of walls and hoary willowherb in Bury St Edmunds, 2014 by Karen Cannard

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ARCHIVE: Wild Flowers for Bees

by CHARLOTTE DU CANN (September 2010)

This is a wild flower list primarily for honeybees. Honeybees “work” flowers in a different way from bumble and other wild bees. They like to visit a stand of one species of flower at a time, rather than hop from one kind of flower to another. They also have a shorter proboscis which means they can access a smaller range of flowers than bumble bees. Flowers which require deeper probing, for example buddleia and honeysuckle, are inaccessible to honeybees, unless their bases have been pierced previously by other insects.

Certain species of flowers provide food for honeybees – for themselves and the brood, as well as winter stores. In addition to seeking nectar (sugars and essential minerals) and pollen (protein and fat) from flowers, bees are also on the lookout for propolis made from the gummy substances of plants, such as poplar and horse chestnut buds, pine resin and sunflowers. Bees also collect honeydew, the sweet substance exuded from sap-eating insects (e.g aphids) on trees, principally lime and pines. This provides the dark, strong tasting tree honeys, much loved in Europe.

This list has been compiled to bring attention to those wild flowers that have fed honeybees for millions of years. Like all creatures the vegetarian bees flourish best on a varied diet of wild plants. Though they visit the crops growing on agricultural land, from apple orchards and oil rape fields, it is the native or naturalised wild plants growing in uncontaminated soil that keep them in optimum health (and yield the best honey!). So you can really help the bee by protecting wild flowers and trees everywhere and allowing or planting some of the following species in your gardens and backyards:-

Winter quiet

Though the main emphasis is on keeping the hive at a warm and even temperature and preparing the brood, emerging snowdrops and winter aconites will be sought out by worker bees foraging on mild and sunny days. Pollen is collected from the early flowering hazel and alder catkins.

Spring Activity (March-May)

In March the hive really starts to buzz as the Queen starts to lay and focus ison supplying the expanding brood with nectar and pollen. The hedgerows are the first to burst into flower, beginning with cherry plum (sometimes as early as Feb) and ending with hawthorn in mid-May. All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson, bullace and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen. Key Spring tree for the pollen is pussy willow. If you stand underneath a willow tree in March you can hear the whole world buzzing.

Meanwhile closer to ground on the verges, before the first cut at the beginning of May, the bees are out seeking wild strawberries, forget-me-not and garlicky jack-in-the-hedge, and in the woods bugle, and the neglected but fine old world medicine plant, figwort. Out on the heath and scrublands the whole hive is making a bee-line to the shocking yellow pea-flowers of gorse, followed in May by the broom. March and April are the best months for their favourite composite flower that grows just about everywhere, the dandelion.

Note on weeds! In Spring weeds are going for it and reaching for the sky, as every keen gardener laments. However bees love weeds, especially those troublesome and untidy thistles and dandelions, so do leave some of those sunny flower-heads in your path for them. And cultivate a taste for a “French lawn” sprinkled with daisies, white clover and self-heal.

comfrey on the verge

June Gap

This is the month where the hive is at its most active but there are few blossoms on the trees (Holly is the exception here) and few large stands of flowers. “Arable weeds” such as field poppies, viper’s bugloss and cornflowers were traditionally in their height this month before pesticides came to the fields and white clover, perhaps the bees’ top-ranking nectar flower, has been equally reduced in the meadows. However these flowers still grow in the margins where they can (and in bee lovers’ gardens). Opium poppies spring up in the wastelands everywhere this month and are avidly worked by bees for their (blue) pollen.

Other key wild flowers out now are the wild dog rose and common mallow in the hedgerows, bell heather in the heathlands, thyme in the hilly places and tree mallow by the sea. The sky-blue meadow cranesbill is also much sought out by bees, as are fruit “bushes” such as the moorland bilberry and woodland wild raspberry.

Harvest Months (July – September)

These are the months the bees start building their store cupboard. The Queen is still busy laying, but the honeycombs are being stocked for the future months, as well as for the brood. Big nectar trees are the three species of lime that flower early in July and blackberry. The ditches and waste places are rich places for foraging bees in high summer, as meadow sweet, St John’s wort, evening primrose, teasel, great mullein, chicory, and the highly attractive rosebay willowherb and the melilots (white and yellow) all start to flower. All species of thistles are highly valued, especially the fragrant creeping thistle.

Down by the river the showy purple loosestrife is now at its peak, alongside great willowherb, Himalayan balsam and water mint. At the seaside the prickly scented flowers of sea-holly are visited by all bees and small butterflies, such as common blue and coppers, as is sea lavender in the salt marsh.

IMG_2790 ling on the heath low res

ling on the heath

Later in the season the purple-headed knapweeds come into play on the verges, with stands of yellow common toadflax and goldenrod. By late August heather (ling) is blazing on heaths and hilltops everywhere (its nectar yielding the much prized heather honey).

Fall to Winter The brood is diminishing and the focus is on preparing the hive for winter. By October the Queen is only laying in good weather and the drones are evicted. Outside the hive, the sturdy knapweeds are still flowering in the hedgerows and meadows, as are the sea asters in the marshlands. The main destination for bees (and all insects) however is the ivy. This green plant that climbs along walls and up trees everywhere is in full flower until the frosts. Though some wild plants flower further into the winter (chickweed, yarrow) the ivy marks the end of the bee flower year . . . until the hazel flowers at the beginning of January.

hazel catkins low res 800x600photos: pasque flower, bluebells and forget-me-nots; Dunwich snowdrops; blackthorn and Danish scurvy grass; gorse, dandelion field, poet’s narcissus; comfrey and bumblebee on the verge; white clover and making frames for the Flixton hives; toadflax on the beach; rosebay willowherb; ling on the heath; hazel catkins

 

Note by MarkInFlowers: This post by Charlotte Du Cann was written and published on Sustainable Bungay’s website in September 2010 as part of the Bungay Community Bees project. The archive of Bungay Community Bees is no longer live on SB’s website (June 2018). Bungay Community Bees’ Facebook page is still available).