Bee Friendly Faith Communities:
Creating a buzz in green spaces
In 2015 Oxford Friends of the Earth (Oxford FoE) is running a unique programme. We plan to work with Oxford’s faith communities to take practical action to create bee-friendly green spaces that are beneficial to both people and wildlife. Many green spaces around faith-based buildings are important assets for the local community. These are shared public spaces as well as being places of cultural and often, historical value. Such spaces can be very suitable for planting wild-flowers and bee-friendly plants. As well as increasing biodiversity (the variety of life) it can increase aesthetic appeal and build cross-community involvement in planting and maintenance. We hope that this project will encourage more people to volunteer and will strengthen local neighbourhood activity. ‘Creating a buzz in green spaces’ will raise awareness about the role of bees and other pollinators and our dependence upon them for much of our food. We would like to create 10 bee-friendly green space habitats around different faith buildings and across faith traditions. We hope to recruit and train at least 20 people as ‘Bee Champions’. We will provide free seed and bee-friendly plants, tools for volunteers to use, along with training and support and a toolkit of information. Work could involve anything from more planting in churchyards and around places of worship, to creating new green spaces around faith buildings, to simply putting in some planters with flowers and pollinator-friendly plants outside a building where space might be limited. There will be wider opportunities to link these aspects with congregations and ongoing activities within faith buildings. Oxford Friends of the Earth has been awarded a small grant from the Big Lottery Fund to develop this pilot project throughout 2015 and report back on lessons learned. We also have some limited funds from another source to support this work and will be doing some more fundraising. The project will complement Oxford FoE’s other work on protecting and improving the environment for bees but this project will be more reflective in tone. In 2013 Oxford FoE established the first ‘Bee World’ near the Thames in East Oxford. We also held Oxford’s first ‘Bee Summit’ at the Natural History Museum in February 2014 and continue to work with the City Council on how best to manage public open spaces as pollinator-friendly habitats. (See website www.oxfoe.co.uk)
Getting involved We are keen to work with faith communities, congregations, other organisations and local people. We have some interest already but would like to hear from anyone involved with local faith organisations. We can visit you, explain more about this project and discuss the spaces that you might have for planting.
We can provide tools, seeds, plants and guidance – the tools will be yours to keep. What we need from you is a group of local people willing to work with us on a voluntary basis. It won’t be a lot of work – the exact amount will depend on the site. There’ll be work on the initial design and planting and then some ongoing work to maintain the site. There will be opportunities for volunteers to get involved in other activities besides planting. We’ll be producing information and ideas early on to help you get involved. This will be freely available to any faith community – not just the pilot groups. The whole idea of this project is to get people talking, helping and acting together irrespective of faith or philosophical beliefs. We want to create spaces and ideas that work for people, bees and other pollinators. The project will be launched at a meeting Monday 16 March (6.30pm) at Friends’ Meeting House, 43 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LW. Open to all. We will have some of our project planting spaces identified by then. After that we’ll be holding planning sessions at each site and as spring comes, so we’ll start the planting. This work is to encourage wild bees, but if there are people who would like to go one step further and have one or more beehives (free) situated on property, we can also put you in touch with local beekeepers who can help and who will manage the beehives. If you’re interested or would simply like to talk to us about these ideas, please contact Jan McHarry. Call on (01865) 236254 or email [email protected]
Bees and Faiths: why we should take action?
There is a historical link between bees and faith communities. Many faiths’ sacred texts and ethical teachings contain references to bees as well as safeguarding and looking after the natural world. Keeping bees has been a traditional livelihood and many faith communities use bee products e.g. beeswax candles, honey etc.
75% of our main food crops depend upon bees and other insects for pollination. Fewer bees would mean fewer of these plants and fewer of all the animals and birds that eat berries, seeds and insects. Without this free service, scientists estimate that it would cost £1.8 billion each year to pollinate crops by hand.
97% of vital wildflower meadows have been lost in the past 70 years.
20 bee species have already become extinct and a quarter of the remaining bee species are on the ‘red list’ of threatened species.
There are three types of bee – honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees. There are 24 species of bumblebee and more than 250 species of solitary bee in the UK.
Many faith communities are already engaged in work to improve their environment – and there’s a lot more that can be done.