Pollinating Protest: Being Active, Being Activist

Maddy Harland
Wednesday, 10th April 2019

Maddy Harland compares the Extinction Rebellion and Bee Roadzz, a community based project to restore pollinators in our landscapes as two rivers converging. One is protest and the other is restoration and they are both part of the narrative of pollinating change.

In facing the problems of the world head on and seeking solutions, we are frequently told that we need to develop a new narrative. This can seem quite abstract and even a tall order as so much needs to be changed and so quickly if we are to slow down the great challenges of our time like climate chaos and the Sixth Mass Extinction. It may seem like a mouse standing in front of a careering juggernaut, yet we know that how we think influences the world that we create. When we think and act collectively we can have the power to change everything.

From active to activist

For many years, Permaculture Magazine has focussed on the narrative of practical, positive solutions that are focussed on reducing carbon footprints, restoring biodiversity and relinking the bonds of community that our juggernaut culture has fractured or squashed out of existence. We have always been active but perhaps less activist, preferring to create change by our deeds and what we stand for, rather than what we stand against. Yet these are extraordinary times in human history and we believe that we must not only be known by our deeds but also by what we give voice to and protest against. For this reason, we decided to begin issue 99 with the story of a permaculture practitioner who has done all she practically can to live a low carbon family and community based lifestyle – building a house, growing food, planting a community woodland, offering training and education programmes, even a natural burial ground – yet she has decided this is not enough. She explains why she needs to raise her voice and become a peaceful protester by becoming involved in the Extinction Rebellion (see 'Gentle Living to Extinction Rebellion on pages 4-8, PM99).

I believe that we have a balancing act to perform within this new narrative: to do all that is ecologically balanced and intelligent in how we live our lives and then go out and be part of a mass movement for collective change, even if it means becoming civilly ‘disobedient’. We need to stand up and become active Earth Protectors as well as being practical permaculturists. The fulcrum point between the two will vary for each of us, yet it is important that we understand why both deserve our encouragement and support.

In January, at the 2019 Oxford Real Farming Conference, I heard about a project that inspired me. It begun with some sobering facts: scientific research has shown that our insect population has declined by 75% in the last 25 years. Since 1945 Britain has lost 97% of its wildflowers, 80% of its chalk downland and 300,000km of hedgerows (with 10-15% being recently replanted). Like phytoplankton and krill in the oceans, insects are the foundation of terrestrial food chains.

Pollinating change

In the last 50 years, Britain has lost three species of bumblebee with 10 species severely threatened and two more likely to go extinct in the next five to ten years. Transition Marlborough in Wiltshire decided to do something about this by creating a model for boosting pollinators in their area. They got together with local community groups, schools and the Marlborough Farmers group, and decided to create a habitat project, ‘Bee Roadzz’. They are planting year round forage (bulbs and seeds) from Marlborough to Pewsey, a distance of just seven miles. They included citizen science to monitor the project and involved as many people as possible.

The outcome is already a success. One ‘bee road’ has become many, creating a flowery mosaic of pollinator habitat on the North Downs. Having proven that their work is replicable, it is now being adopted in other areas. As Milly Carmichael put it, “One petal becomes a flower, and flowers become a field.” You can read the full story about how the project was set up and where it is going from Milly in PM100!

For me, there is a beautiful balance between a socially diverse group of people resowing a landscape, making it once again alive with insects, and a public protest against the ignominious loss of species worldwide. Like two rivers converging, they are part of a powerful tapestry of healing and change.