Author interview – Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson is a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and nature writer, with a particular passion for bees. Bee Quest and A Buzz in the Meadow were bestsellers, and his latest book, The Garden Jungle is all about the wildlife that lives with us: in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet – an insight into the the wildlife that lives right under our noses.

 

Dave visited NHBS to meet the team and sign a few copies (now sold out) of The Garden Jungle.   He also answered a few questions about the inspiration behind his new book and his hopes and ambitions for the gardens of Britain.

 

  1. How did your interest in the natural world begin?

I’ve no idea! I have been somewhat obsessed by wildlife, particularly by insects, for as long as I can remember. When I was only five or six years old I remember collecting cinnabar caterpillars from the weeds on the edge of my school playground and rearing them up on my bedroom windowsill in jam jars. I never grew out of my interest, and have been lucky enough to find a way to make a living out of it.

2. Could you tell us a little about the research that went into writing The Garden Jungle?

I’ve been both gardening and studying insects for all of my adult life. The two go hand in hand, for if you grow the right plants, and garden in the right way, you can attract all sorts of insects to your garden. I’ve often done my scientific experiments from home, for example studying bee behaviour and the flowers that they choose. I also try out many of the techniques that are said to help wildlife for myself; my garden is full of more than twenty homemade bee hotels, two ponds, nine compost heaps, four or five log piles, a wildflower meadow area, half a dozen ‘hoverfly lagoons’ and more.

3. What fauna and flora gives you the most pleasure to see in your garden?

It is hard to beat the excitement of seeing the first brimstone butterfly of the year, a flash of bright yellow usually seen on the first warm day in late February or March, a sure sign that spring is coming. But bees are my real obsession, particularly bumblebees, colourful, furry, and endearingly clumsy insects that bring the flower borders to life with their buzzing activity.

4. Are you a keen gardener yourself?

I love gardening. When I’m not at work or asleep, I am somewhere in my two acre garden in the Sussex Weald, growing veg, fruit and flowers, and looking after the birds and the bees. It is my own little piece of heaven.

5. Have there been any changes over the past fifty years – either for the benefit or to the detriment of wildlife in the way people view their gardens?

There has certainly been a great increase in interest in encouraging wildlife into our gardens, for example via bird feeders, tit boxes, bee hotels and by planting bee-friendly flowers. Many of us believe that gardens can be places where people and nature live in harmony. On the other hand there have been many detrimental changes too; Astroturf lawns, decking, hard paving, and a huge increase in the number of chemicals available for use. Gardening has become big business; nowadays many people’s idea of gardening is to drive to some vast garden centre and fill the back of their car with annual bedding plants grown in peat-based composts, drenched in pesticides and sold in disposable plastic pots. There is nothing green about that approach to gardening.

6. If someone wanted to link gardens together for the benefit of wildlife, what would be your advice to enlist the neighbourhood’s cooperation?

Often the best way to convince people to change is to show them the alternative. If your garden is wildlife-friendly, invite your neighbours round for a coffee and show them the butterflies nectaring on flowers, the bees busy stocking their bee hotel, and the flowers in your not-too-tightly-mowed lawn. Offer them some seeds or cuttings of bee-friendly flowers; I give comfrey roots to anyone willing to grow them, it is one of the very best plants for bumblebees and I’m trying to encourage everyone to have a clump of it somewhere.

7. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

With colleagues at Sussex University I recently launched the Buzz Club, a nationwide organisation which is working with the public to do experiments to test interventions for garden wildlife. For example, we are asking people to test out creating a ‘hoverfly lagoon’, miniature ponds intended to provide homes for the offspring of some types of hoverfly. Find out more here: https://www.thebuzzclub.uk/.

Signed copies

A very limited number of The Garden Jungle, signed by Dave Gouslon are available from NHBS. *Signed copies are now sold out*

 

 

The Garden Jungle
Hardback | July 2019| £14.99 £16.99

The wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet.

 

Discover other titles by Dave Goulson, on special offer until the end of August 2019

Bee Quest
Paperback | April 2018
An endearing account of the search for rare bees. – The Observer £7.99 £9.99

 

A Buzz in the Meadow
Paperback | April 2015
A fascinating look at the insect world found in one field in France – NHBS
£7.99 £9.99

A Sting in the Tale
Paperback | April 2014
A very readable introduction to the remarkable world of bees and bee conservation. – Good Book Guide
£7.99 £9.99

All prices correct at the time of publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solitary Bee Week

Although we are all familiar with the important role that bumblebees and honeybees play in pollination, over 90% of the UK’s 267 bee species are in fact solitary bees. Pollinating animals are responsible for one third of the food we consume and solitary bees are particularly efficient pollinators. Unlike other bees solitary bees do not have pollen baskets and so transfer much more pollen between flowers, meaning a single red mason bee provides a pollination service equivalent to 120 worker honey bees. This makes them a critical resource in our gardens and wider countryside and one that we should all be keen to protect. We have collated some information below on how to help encourage and preserve these fascinating creatures.

Ivy Bee © Sophie Cooper

Solitary Bee Ecology

Solitary bees use a wide range of nest sites including tunnels in wood or mortar, plant stems and even snail shells. They lay eggs in a series of cells and then block the entrance with materials such as mud, leaves or fine hair. The female lays an egg with a food source, made from pollen and nectar, before building a partition wall and moving on to the next cell. The bee larvae hatch, eat the food source then overwinter as a cocoon before emerging the following summer as adults.

Solitary Bee cells in the Solitary Beehive

There have been extremely worrying declines in insect numbers recorded across Europe, and solitary bees are no exception. The increased use of chemicals in farming, loss of flower meadow food sources and loss of nest sites in hedgerows and gardens are all combining to drive down numbers. The good news is that it is easy to provide food sources and nesting habitat in your garden to help solitary bees and increase pollination. 

Providing Resources for Solitary Bees

Provide food sources for solitary bees by planting wild flower seeds, native trees such as hawthorn and willow, bee friendly plants such as ivy, foxgloves and lavender and allowing plants such as borage and thistles to flower in your garden. Nest sites can be provided by leaving dead wood and stems standing, creating a patch of bare earth or mud bank for mining bees and by installing wild bee houses. 

BeePot Bee Hotel © Green & Blue

With careful design consideration, bee houses can provide shelter and nesting sites for solitary bees. Bee houses can be manufactured from a variety of materials but should have a good overhanging roof to protect the nesting tubes from rain, nesting holes between 2 and 10mm in diameter and a solid back. It is better to have a number of smaller bee houses, rather than one large house to reduce the risk of parasites finding the nest. Alternatively we have a wide range of solitary bee nesting habitats available on our website.

You can tell which species of bee is using your bee house by examining the material used to plug the entrance hole. Different species also emerge at different points in the year. The most common species likely to populate bee houses are red mason bees who use mud and are active March – July, leafcutter bees who use leaves and are active May – September, and wool carder bees who use fine hairs and are active June – August. Please note that there are fewer solitary bee species in the North of England and Scotland.

Leafcutter Bee in Action © Green & Blue

Solitary Bee House Siting and Maintenance

Insect houses should be sited at least 1m off the ground, facing south or south-east, with no vegetation covering the entrance and in full sun as insects need warmth to keep moving. They should be firmly fixed so that they don’t move in the wind. If your box is likely to be occupied by red mason bees then it is helpful to ensure that there is a patch of damp mud nearby. In order to maximise the chances of adults emerging successfully from the cocoons, it is a good idea to bring bee boxes indoors into an unheated shed or garage during the winter to avoid them getting too damp. The boxes should then be taken back outside in March in time for the new adults to emerge. There is some debate as to whether brick / concrete boxes should be cleaned but they can be cleaned out with a tent peg and pipe cleaner. Boxes with cardboard tubes should have the tubes replaced regularly. Keep an eye out for failed nests and tiny holes in the mud entrance as this can indicate that the nest tube has been taken over by parasites. 

Mining Bee © Ed Phillips

Suggested Solitary Bee Houses

Bee Brick

This Bee Brick can be used in place of a standard brick or as a standalone bee house in your garden or wild patch. Available in four colours. £29.99 £39.99

Solitary Beehive

This unique solitary beehive is made from durable FSC timber and designed specifically to attract solitary bees which are naturally attracted to holes in wood. £23.99 £29.99

 

Red Mason Bee Nest Box

The nest box is supplied with 29 individual nesting tubes, two sets of screws and plugs for mounting, and full instructions. £10.99

 

BeePot Bee Hotel

This is a fantastic concrete planter which doubles as a nesting place for solitary bees. Available in a range of colours and sizes, this is the larger size, the mini version is also available. £42.95 £49.99

WoodStone Insect Block

This WoodStone Insect Block is constructed from durable, FSC certified WoodStone with a nesting area created from reed stems.

£24.95 

 

Urban Bee Nester

This urban insect hotel is part of the contemporary range of wildlife habitats that have a sleek design for city living.

£20.99 £27.50

 

Suggested books on solitary bees

Solitary Bees
Paperback | July 2019| £19.99
An introduction to the natural history, ecology and conservation of solitary bees, together with an easy-to-use key to genera.

 

The Solitary Bees: Biology, Evolution, Conservation Hardback | September 2019| £27.99 £34.99                           The most up-to-date and authoritative resource on the biology and evolution of solitary bees.

 

 

Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles (2-Volume Set) Hardback | October 2018| £130 £150

With photographic material of over 270 bee species, this comprehensive handbook is a once-in-a-generation identification work to the British bee fauna.

 

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland Paperback | December 2018| £27.99 £34.99

A comprehensive introduction to bee classification, ecology, field techniques and recording, a full glossary, and information on how to separate the sexes and distinguish bees from other insects is also included.

 

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees                Paperback | April 2019| £9.99 

Award-winning author, Thor Hanson takes us on a journey that begins 125 million years ago, when a wasp first dared to feed pollen to its young.

 

In order to increase awareness of how vital a role our solitary bees play in pollination, the first week of July has been designated as Solitary Bee Week. You can get involved by pledging to create nesting sites or plant food sources for bees, writing poetry or recording bee sightings.

 

Naturalist, artist and author Steven Falk on his new field guide to bees

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandNaturalist and wildlife artist Steven Falk has had a diverse career with wildlife and conservation, including working as an entomologist with Nature Conservancy Council, and as natural history keeper for major museums. He is now Entomologist and Invertebrate Specialist at UK invertebrate conservation organisation Buglife. His new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland will be published by British Wildlife Publishing next month.

Tell us about your role at Buglife.
At Buglife, I have quite a diverse role. I provide information and advice to colleagues, external enquirers and a plethora of external organisations. I’ve been particularly involved with overseeing the production of new red lists for assorted invertebrate groups, also providing feedback to the various national pollinator strategies, new agri-environment schemes, plus helping to develop projects for some of our most endangered invertebrate species. We also have a consultancy now, Buglife Services, which carries out and coordinates invertebrate surveys all over Britain. We’ve just done an exciting survey of the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall. We need more understanding of road verge invertebrates, especially pollinators.

How did you come to write this landmark identification guide to all the bees of Britain and Ireland?
I was approached by Andrew Branson in 2012 and was initially quite reluctant, because you cannot use a traditional field guide approach for bees, as many cannot be identified to species level in the field (they require the taking of a specimen for critical examination under a microscope) and it is crucial that we keep the national dataset (run by BWARS) clean and reliable by being honest about where the limits of field identification lie. So I agreed to write it on the basis that it covered all 275 species, had reliable keys, and could appeal to both hardcore recorders and general naturalists. I knew this was feasible, because we had faced the same challenge with the seminal book British Hoverflies (Stubbs & Falk, 1983, 2002). So it is a field guide in the loose sense – it will help you to recognise much of what you see in the field, but also indicate at which point you need to take specimens and put them under a microscope. But you don’t need to collect bees or have a microscope to enjoy the book – we made sure of that.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandThere is growing concern about the conservation status of bees – how are our bees getting on, and how might the publication of this book help them?
Yes, we need to be concerned about bees. We have already lost 25 species and several more are teetering on the edge of extinction. Good bee habitat continues to be lost. Brownfield land came to the rescue last century, but most of that has now been developed or lost its flowery early successional stages, which is what so many bees need. The research being carried out on pesticides such as neonicotinioids is also pretty disturbing – check out the work by Prof. Dave Goulson at Sussex University. It seems to be affecting bee numbers in many parts of the country. The national pollinator strategies being published by UK member states are a call to arms – let’s get monitoring bees. But the emphasis is on developing citizen science to achieve some of this, because there is little funding. High quality amateur recording is part of this plan, and Britain’s strong tradition of this makes it a realistic proposition. But the last comprehensive coverage of British bees was Saunders, 1896, and it has been the lack of modern ID literature that has held bee recording back. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and the supporting web feature (embedded in my Flickr site) will hopefully fix this!

Your career as a wildlife artist began early – you worked on the colour plates for Alan Stubb’s guide to British Hoverflies when you were just a teenager. How did this collaboration come about?
I pinned some bumblebees I had caught near my home in North London when I was 12. Half of them turned out to be bee-like hoverflies, and that started a fascination with hoverflies. The following summer holiday, I went out with a net almost every day, and seemed to find a new type of hoverfly daily. I was totally hooked on them, and I painted things that fascinated me, including those hoverflies. I exhibited some hoverfly artwork at the 1976 AES Exhibition in Hampstead, and met Alan Stubbs who told me he was writing a new guide to hoverflies. I said I wanted to do the artwork (I was only 14), and the rest is history. It took 3 years of evenings, and I think I was 17 when I finished it. I’m very proud of those plates, and you can see how my style develops (plate 8 was the first and plate 7 was the last – you can see a lampshade reflection in the early ones!).

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandDo we see any of your artwork in this book?
Sadly not, my eyesight is not great these days and I do very little drawing and painting now. But the British Wildlife Publishing ‘house artist’ is the great Richard Lewington, and he’s done a magnificent job. The bumblebee plates in particular, are just stunning, the best ever produced.

What sort of techniques do you use to produce your artwork – which is strikingly realistic and very detailed?
I painted birds a lot as a young child and was very aware of the bird artists of the time and their styles, people like Basil Ede, Charles Tunnicliffe and Robert Gillmor. I particularly liked the detail and photo-realism of Basil Ede’s work and became aware that he used gouache. So I started to use gouache and preferred it to watercolour. I’d often start with a black silhouette and build up the colour and texture on top of this, which is the opposite of watercolour painting. But others, like Denys Ovendon and Richard Lewington, show what can be done with watercolour, so it’s just a taste thing. For really intense or subtle colours, I’d need to use watercolours, because they produce a much larger colour pallete than gouache. Richard knows his watercolours – you need to if you want to tackle butterflies like blues, coppers and purple emperors. I’m possibly more proud of my black and white illustrations than my colour work. Here I was most influenced by the likes A. J. E. Terzi and Arthur Smith, house artists for the Natural History Museum. Their use of cross-hatching and stippling is so skillful, and I’ve tried to emulate this in my pen and ink artwork. Never use parallel lines in cross hatching!

Any future interesting projects coming up that you can tell us about – artistic, or conservation-based?
There are many more books I’d like to write, especially for wasps and assorted fly groups. It’s not just the subject, it’s the approach. I like getting into the mindset of the beginner and finding the right language and approach. We need to get more people recording invertebrates. I like the double-pronged approach of books plus web resources, and I have a popular and ever-expanding Flickr site that greatly facilitates the identification of many invertebrate groups. On the conservation front, I’m keen to continue promoting understanding of pollinators and to increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes. Invertebrate conservation is in my blood and I’ll be pursuing it to the very end in one form or another. I might even try illustrating again one day if I can find the right glasses!

Order your copy of the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland
Visit Steven Falk’s website

Bzzz… The Superorganism and Other Bee and Ant Colony Titles from NHBS

Some great new books about bee and ant societies have just swarmed into NHBS, including The Superorganism – Holldobler and Wilson’s in-depth analysis of insect societies, a follow-up to their acclaimed 1990 publication The Ants.

Don’t miss Six-Legged Soldiers, the compelling story of how insects have been used as weapons of war from prehistoric times right up to the Second World War and the near future.

175893175893

Browse more new bee and ant colony titles

Check out our new range of homes for bugs and bees in your garden, including the Bee Hut, the Bumblebee Box and the Bug Mansion.

Browse Backlist Bargains – Invertebrates (Our annual sale ends 31 March 2009.)

Browse the full catalogue of Arthropods and Insects