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It is with some difficulty that I am writing this post, because thinking about losing Hamish still moves me to tears.

Hamish was a Gordon Setter – a big, beautiful black and tan dog with a heart like a marshmallow and a passion for tennis balls that passed all understanding. It was just under two months ago, on Friday 9th of May – my beloved father’s birthday – that he passed away, on a warm spring day with the bluebells and rhododendrons in full, glorious bloom. He would have been ten in September.

On that Monday he had been happy, healthy, splashing about in Llyn Brenig with his friend Lexie. On Tuesday evening he ate his turkey but didn’t seem interested in his biscuits. I wasn’t unduly concerned, but on Wednesday my instincts told me he just wasn’t well, so I phoned the vet. I could see that the inside of his eyelids – he had very baggy eyes – was very pale, which just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t get an appointment till 4.30, which worried me but not knowing what was wrong, I waited… Now I wonder if that was a bad decision. I have wondered many things since that day.

When we went in, a short walk before his appointment produced a stool with blood in it – which I took along to show the vet. She took blood samples, and said to call her back if he got worse – she prescribed, as I recall, some interesting goo to calm his stomach and antibiotics. At that stage, none of us knew what was wrong.

That night, he wasn’t interested in his food. I squirted some of the goo into his mouth as instructed, and that was all he had to eat. Other than that he slept, and when he got up to go to bed he was wobbly. I phoned the vet, and at 11pm we were back at the surgery, where she did the blood tests on the spot. I could see from her face that the news wasn’t good.

She also looked at the inside of his lip, which was pale, almost  yellow and said that was typical of IMHA. This, I now know, stands for immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia, which is where the body’s white blood cells turn against the red blood cells and attack them. She gave him steroids straight away (I know now this was prednisone), and broke the news then that only 50% of dogs survive this terrible disease. Hamie stayed in overnight with her watching over him. I worried about him, of course, he had terrible separation anxiety, but what can you do if your dog is terribly ill?

Through the next day, the news was in turns good and bad – he had responded a bit, then he didn’t seem to be responding. He stayed in on Thursday night too – all I could do was to cry and send healing wishes in the direction of the surgery. On Friday, the vet said he wasn’t responding well and we went in to see him as soon as we could.

I was shocked by how weak and ill he looked – poor Hamie, our lovely big bouncy boy, so poorly he couldn’t stand… The expression in his eyes broke my heart and still does, when I think of it now. The vet suggested we take him to the Small Animal Hospital in Liverpool and my husband went home to clear the back of the car to carry him. When he returned Hamish was carried out, with his drip, and placed carefully on his comfortable dog bed, and we set off, Mark fretting about finding the place but luckily my phone turned out to have a sat-nav app. I vaguely remember the journey and how hard I tried to make sure we didn’t take any wrong turns, and we didn’t.

It made no difference. I rushed to book him in, but as we went to get him from the back of the car I could see how weak he was – he was lying down, panting heavily, his big head hung low. I just knew – I pleaded with him to stay with us, feeling his heart still beating in his chest and willing him on… He just put one of his big paws gently into my husband’s hand, and died. 

There is a blur, where the hospital rushed him in and tried to revive him, and then I remember a vet gently telling us that he hadn’t survived. She said he had probably suffered a blood clot – it’s the most common cause of death with this illness. Something unrecoverable, she said. And I remember the bluebells, and the rhododendrons on that terrible, empty journey home. 

I am writing this with tears running down my face, but I have to write it. He was the best, most wonderful of dogs, and there is a huge gap where he used to play, and rush round making sure everything was right in the world of Hamish. He was so sweet, so kind, so gentle and loving, and this cruel, awful disease cut him down and took him from us in a matter of days.

I am haunted by memories and fears – fear that I did something that could have caused this, though the cause is often unknown. Fear that I should have spotted something was wrong sooner, or taken him to the hospital earlier. All sorts of things. I would give anything to have him back. His friend Lexie – his aunt – misses him dreadfully, as we do. I don’t think that terrible gap can be healed.

But what I would say, I would beg people if you see your dog has unexplained bruising, a pale inner eye or lip, bloody stools, lack of appetite or weakness, do go to your vet. Don’t wait. And if your dog is found to have IMHA, try to get the best possible help as soon as possible. I will never know if I could have done more – if I could have done something to save him. I have to live with that, if I can.

Goodbye, my darling boy. I miss you more than I can say. 

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Your last day

 

If I had known that it was your last day

I would have thanked you,

Though my thanks are small and mean

Compared to all the love you gave.

But I did not, so when you told me that you loved me

As you did, always, all I said was ‘yeah’

And went about the grey-grind morning.

 

Now all the time is spent, and there is no return

To that warm land where we once played

And you would frolic, love in every minute

Grasping every moment as a gift

Smiling at the sheer joyness of it all

Lighting all the world by being.

 

And now I know, and knowing is such pain

How much you meant, too late –

Too late to say you lived in everything

My heart, my life, my noonday sun,

My boy. And never once again

To see your dear, dear face,

Or light my day the love that filled your eyes.

 

Now I howl, into that vast absence

My thanks, too late, for your brave, generous heart.

My day is still, for you gave me my action

The hollow of my soul breaks, I would give

My all, just for the chance to say

I love you, always, there on your last day.

 

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With the confirmation that the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, MH370, was  in all probability hijacked, its communications systems deliberately disabled, a raft of new questions arise about the airliner’s fate. The most tantalising is the possibility that the plane could have landed somewhere, intact. 

Again, it is necessary to look at the questions that arise from this news. Who took the plane? Suspicion appears to be falling on the co-pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the confirmation that he gave the last ‘all right, good night’ message to air traffic control, minutes after the first plane communication system (ACARS, the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) was disabled. 

After the transponder was also switched off, the plane continued to communicate with an Inmarsat satellite on an hourly basis for over six further hours – for more than seven hours after takeoff in total. The satellite positioning is inexact – it was never intended to pinpoint airplane locations – so the ‘best guess’ location for the plane is a massive swathe of the earth that ranges from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the southern Indian Ocean.

One big question, which was obvious from the outset, is why the alarm was not raised. If one of the pilots took control of the plane without the consent of the other, the other pilot must have been neutralised immediately to ensure that he was unable to punch in the four-digit code to the transponder that would have alerted air traffic control to the hijack. This of course is not outside the bounds of probability, and is something that a hijack plan would have had to take into account.

The other big question is why there was no communication from passengers. During the 9/11 hijacks many passengers phoned home or their offices. However, those planes had seatback phones and the Malaysian Airlines plane did not, so passengers would have had to rely on being able to get a mobile signal. As the plane is reported to have been flying at an unusually high altitude for parts of its journey, it is possible that passengers were simply unable to connect. 

However, during the early part of the hijack the plane was flying over the Malaysian peninsula, where it would be quite likely a signal could be obtained. It is possible, though, that at this stage the passengers were unaware that there was a problem.

The other issue is the plane’s complete disappearance. It does not seem to have appeared on the radar systems of other countries along its possible northward route, such as India. However, its unusual flight height, which seems to have varied from extremely high to extremely low, may mean that it managed to evade detection.

Given this, the problem of finding the plane is immense. Some of the southern part of the search area is over extremely deep water and if the plane crashed into the water here it will be extremely difficult to find. If it was put down somewhere on land in the northern search area, it has been pointed out that although in theory it requires a runway of considerable length, any large flat area might have been considered a possible landing area by the hijackers. It has to be added that while planes have landed successfully off-runway, for a large passenger plane to achieve this without serious damage would be unusual.

However, the hijack scenario presents another uncomfortable question. It is now over a week since the plane vanished. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the hijacking, so if this is what happened, the hijackers must have been acting alone and for some reason have not made contact since the plane was taken. Presuming that the plane was taken for a purpose, the fact that the purpose has not become evident suggests that at some point it met with mishap. 

In perhaps the most tantalising puzzle of this century so far, the fate of MH370 remains shrouded in mystery. Who took the plane, and why? Most importantly, where did it land? Is it possible that some of those on board are still alive? Remarkably, in an age of seemingly blanket surveillance and satellite supervision, it seems likely at the moment that the airliner may never be found.

 

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To say that the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is a mystery at the present time is to understate the case. The information that is available is so sparse and contradictory that it appears almost anything might have happened.

 So what are the possibilities? First, some facts.  The flight, bound for Beijing, took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing at 12.41am on 8 March (local time). Communication was lost less than an hour later, at 1.30am, at which time the plane’s transponder recorded it off the east coast of the Malay peninsula. The flight was carrying 239 people – 227 passengers and 12 crew. 

 All this is known. Beyond this, the story becomes positively murky. According to ABC News, the 777’s data reporting system shut down at 1.07am while the transponder – which sends information back to air traffic control about the plane’s location and altitude – switched off at 1.21am.

 At a press conference, Malaysia’s defence and acting transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein, said the authorities were investigating whether the communications systems had been deliberately shut down and that there were ‘four or five possibilities’ why they may have been shut off. He spoke of this being done intentionally, under duress, or as the result of an explosion – though obviously the latter would beg the question why the systems went off at different times.

 An even odder fact has emerged – that a third system, which transmits routine maintenance data, had continued to attempt to establish a satellite link for hours after the other two systems went silent. However, beyond the point where the transponder stopped working, there was no further communication from the crew.

 With the transponder inactive, as on 9/11, air traffic control was no longer able to track the planes and at that point flight MH370 effectively disappeared from their radar screens. However, it was later revealed that military radar, which tracks all air movements but not with any detail about the nature of the flight, had picked up an unidentified aircraft on a radically different bearing, crossing the Malaysian peninsula from east to west near the Malaysia-Thailand border and flying out into the Straits of Malacca. 

 Why did the two systems pick up such different things? There are two different types of radar – primary and secondary. Air traffic control uses secondary radar, which sends signals requesting information from the plane’s transponder. The plane transmits data back, including its identification, altitude and bearing. Military systems use what is known as primary radar, which sends out signals that pick up the echoes which bounce back from airborne objects. 

 There is, of course, one word of caution at this point. It has not been confirmed, and it is not yet possible to say that this military trace picked up the missing flight and not some other, as yet unidentified aircraft. 

 This total confusion of data has led to equal confusion on the ground, with searches covering an extraordinary area – as yet to no avail. People are left asking all sorts of questions, based around the one key riddle of what happened to the aircraft. Clearly, something extraordinary and catastrophic happened to it, so what are the options?

 The aircraft suffered a sudden, total loss of structural integrity in mid-air at the point when the transponder stopped working. Against this theory is the excellent record of the 777. Although Boeing had issued a warning to check for structural corrosion around a satellite antenna on the aircraft, this particular plane is said not to have been fitted with the system. This also does not explain why the three communication systems stopped working at different times, and why the third continued to attempt to transmit data for hours after the transponder signal was lost.

A terrorist set off an explosion on the flight. This would have had to cause instantaneous disintegration, otherwise the pilots could very quickly and discreetly have punched in a four-digit code that would have alerted air traffic control to their situation. Against this theory, again, is the fact that the communication systems stopped working at different times.

Sudden, uncontrolled decompression caused the passengers and crew to lose consciousness, with the aircraft continuing to fly until it ran out of fuel. This has indeed happened – Helios Flight 522, flying from Cyprus to Athens,  crashed in 2005 because a sudden decompression incapacitated the crew. While this would explain the lack of communication from the pilots, again the fact that the three communication systems stopped working at different times suggests a different scenario.

Pilot error. In modern accidents, pilot error has become a much more common factor than structural failure. The last major unexplained disappearance of a plane was Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which went missing with 216 passengers and 12 crew – the Airbus A330-200 simply disappeared beyond radar cover at night over the Atlantic ocean. A massive search operation eventually located the plane and its cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and data recorders, which revealed that the accident was the result of a junior pilot fatally mismanaging the flight system, pushing the plane’s nose up after its pitot tubes (which measure air speed) froze temporarily, to the extent that it simply became unable to fly and fell out of the sky. If something of this kind happened on the Malaysian Airline flight, which was in contact with air traffic control, why were no messages sent out? And again, why did the communication systems stop working at different times?

Maintenance error. Again, as planes have become more and more safe structurally, maintenance errors have crept up the list of reasons why planes crash  – either due to a lack of maintenance causing a structural failure to be missed, or due to a major mistake in maintenance (real life examples include using the wrong screws to re-attach a vital part, or indeed not re-inserting them at all). For this to be a possibility, the experts will need to explain how a structural issue could cause the communications systems to fail separately.

Fire. This scenario would envisage a sudden, locally-catastrophic fire that immediately destroyed the pilots’ communications equipment, the transponder and then progressed to destroy the other two systems. This would tie in with a report from an oil rig worker off the south-east coast of Viet Nam, who described seeing a plane burning at high altitude at about the time when the Malaysian Airlines flight was initially reported to have crashed.

Hijack. This is an option that is clearly being seriously considered by officials, who are examining the backgrounds of the crew and all the passengers. Terrorism or hijack were made to look more likely by the discovery that two passengers were travelling on stolen passports, though investigations suggest the pair were trying to enter Europe illegally. However, this remains one of the solutions that (so far) fits the known facts. Again, why would the pilots not have had time to enter the alarm code to alert air traffic control?

‘Suicide by pilot’. Again, this has happened in real life. Silk Air Flight 185, which crashed into a river in Sumatra, is a controversial example – this hypothesis was not accepted by the Indonesian National Transport Safety Committee, but the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which modeled the crash, concluded that the only way to achieve the flight profile was as a result of deliberate flight control inputs. EgyptAir Flight 990 is another example of a disagreement between the home country and the NTSB, which again concluded that the plane had been deliberately crashed. While a relatively rare occurrence, a deliberate act by a crew member would also fit the known facts.

Passenger suicide. This would echo the scenario above and indeed the hijacking theory. To achieve this, a passenger would have had to be familiar with the flight controls on the 777 and how to fly it. As an example, Fed-Ex flight 705 was hijacked by a Fed Ex employee taking a lift on the flight, who attacked the crew in an attempt to disguise his suicide as a plane crash – the crew managed to fight him off and subdue him, though they were badly injured. In both the crew and passenger suicide scenarios, one key question is, if the plane is confirmed to have flown on for several hours after the transponder stopped working, why did the culprit not crash the plane immediately? One possible answer is that CVRs record cockpit conversations for a minimum of 30 minutes and a recommended two hours, so the culprit may have wished to erase all evidence of their act from the recorder, in case it is ever found. 

 These are the main options that appear to be under consideration. There are other, wilder theories ranging from missile attack to alien abduction, but none that fit within the realm of the possible. Could the plane even have landed safely? Some relatives cling to this hope. This plane requires a substantial runway though – pilots suggest 11,000ft. There are very few unattended runways of this size in this part of the world, and the plane certainly has not landed at any ‘official’ airport. 

 Even if an abandoned runway of this size exists, to land on an un-maintained runway, without the aid of air traffic control guidance or the automated systems that pilots rely on for landing would be an extraordinary feat. However it is one achieved by an Air Canada flight in 1983. This ran out of fuel but nevertheless managed to land at an air strip one of the pilots remembered from his air force days, at a remote spot called Gimli in Manitoba. Unfortunately (to the crew’s dismay) the strip had been turned into a motor sport park since that time, but the plane was brought down safely, and the remarkable feat saw the plane labelled ‘the Gimli glider’. So while unlikely in the extreme, this is not entirely impossible.

 What happens now with flight MH370? Everything depends on whether the plane can be found, and the CVR and flight data recorder retrieved, and whether the remains of the plane and the data provide answers to this deepening mystery. On the positive side, these seas are not deep (around 80m). Retrieving a plane from the Atlantic is far more difficult, in theory, because of the extraordinary depths involved (the Titanic is 3784m down, for example). However, the uncertainty over the location of the Malaysian Airways plane makes finding it extremely challenging – the search area is immense and vague. It is to be hoped that the intense search-and-rescue activity and examination of satellite data can produce answers for the grieving families. If, as seems increasingly possible, no trace of the plane is found, it will go down as a mystery on a parallel with Flight 19, which disappeared in 1945 in the Bermuda Triangle.

Residents of Staines have finally unearthed (or rather un-watered)Image the dastardly nemesis that has caused the river Thames to flood their properties – the Depressed River Mussel. The Environment Agency has admitted that it has avoided dredging the river to ensure that the rare creatures are not damaged.

A spokes-mollusc for the species is reported as saying: ‘Oh, don’t mind me. Brain the size of a small pea and yet somehow nobody has managed to scoop me up in a bucket. Get on with it, won’t you? I haven’t got all day to be hanging around here, feeling bad about the world.’

New Age activist Lucinda Strop, speaking from a flooded mansion on what used to be the banks of the Thames, has volunteered to provide counselling for the mussels, so that they can lead a more fulfilled life in another location. ‘I have a lovely pot with some wine, cream and onions that I think they will absolutely adore,’ she told local press. 

ImageRecent winter storms brought serious flooding to the UK – from mid-December onward through the beginning of January the rains seemed endless, and pictures of flooded fields and houses commonplace. Add to these the ferocious storms that swept away chunks of the seafront at Aberystwyth and various other locations on the west coast, and it begins to look as if climate change predictions are coming true – as David Cameron said at the time.

Residents of the Somerset Levels, which were badly hit by flooding after similar floods in 2012, have put forward different explanations. They point to the fact that in their area rainfall was not significantly in excess of the annual average, yet houses that previously had not flooded in over 80 years had been flooded twice in just two years. Some, in other blogs, have blamed the Environment Agency for not  dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone – the EA’s own computer modelling, according to the Western Morning News, has showed that dredging would have increased the rivers’ carrying capacity from its current 60% to 90%, significantly reducing (the EA’s words) the flood severity.

There are other obvious, well-rehearsed culprits in flood events, key among which is upstream development. Here, large areas of previously permeable land have been converted into impermeable surfaces, off which rainfall runs into watercourses quickly and in far greater volumes than before, creating sharper and higher flood peaks. 

Development in flood plains has long been identified as a risky practice, but one that has been allowed regardless of the obvious issues. So what is the truth? Who is to blame? Is the Environment Agency, as some have suggested, keen to see the Levels returned to their original marshland state? On the east coast the EA’s philosophy of ‘managed retreat’ has seen sea defences dismantled so that land can flood, reducing (where this is possible) the impact of flooding from this source. The EA is also an advocate of restoring flood plains to their original use where possible. This would indeed reduce the impact of flooding by allowing waters to spill onto permeable land and percolate naturally into the ground, rather than be channelled swiftly downstream to flood some other location. 

In its defence, the Environment Agency points to the environmental impact of river dredging, something that was not considered as an issue of any significance when it was regularly undertaken. Since the engineering-led solutions of the 1960s and 70s (‘dredge, channel and hope it goes somewhere else’ might be an apt description) much more importance has been assigned to environmental impact – what happens to the invertebrates in the rivers, the plants they feed on, and the fish that feed on them – the whole complex food web that dredging disrupts? And of course, dredging is a solution that simply pushes the problem downstream rather than solving it, possibly creating flooding for another area in the process. The EA by definition has to consider environmental impacts, although the residents of Muchelney might well, with feeling, suggest that their needs are somewhat more important than those of a few river creatures and their downstream neighbours. 

Identifying the key causes of the flooding is an important part of finding the solution. There are advanced computer modelling programmes that can do exactly that, factoring in the upstream rainfall, the impact of storm water discharges from all identified sources, permeable and impermeable surfaces and other structures that either speed or impede the flow of water. Such models can provide deep insight into flood events – one of the country’s leading water research bodies, HR Wallingford, modelled the Boscastle flooding, a fascinating exercise that proved the local terrain, a series of almost stationary storm events over the river basin and the cumulative effects of detritus blocking key water access points, worked together to create an extreme event.

For the Levels, it is likely that a combination of factors again played a part. The area is a natural floodplain, so upstream influences are almost inevitably going to have a major effect. These would include upstream flood defences to protect major towns (an investigation would look at whether new defences had been added that might have exacerbated the flood risk), and of course development, as well as whether a dredging regime of some sort would have made the situation better.

Resolving the flooding will have to take account of the highly-engineered nature of the area – like the Fens, the Levels have been reclaimed from their natural state and a ‘natural’ solution is therefore not possible. However, any solutions will have to be flexible, sustainable and smart. One good starting point would be upstream attenuation through SUDS – sustainable urban development systems. 

SUDS means introducing retention ponds, grassed areas that can be  used to collect rainwater during storms, swales to guide storm waters to such features and permeable paving, which would allow rainfall to soak through car parks and pavements rather than run off into drains.  If these systems were widely adopted upstream, they would undoubtedly help.

Farmers could be encouraged to plant trees, which are a valuable means of absorbing water – EU funding tends to provide financial incentives to reduce, rather than increase, the number of trees on agricultural land, and this needs to be addressed. The EA’s reduced funding and manpower (it is losing 1700 staff) could be a real obstacle in the search for solutions – local flood schemes, which are within the EA’s remit, could help, as might planned use of those floodplains that can flood harmlessly. 

People may also have to work to make their own homes more flood resilient, and plan for flooding – those who live on flood plains would be wise to take as many precautions as they can regardless of other improvements. Devices to block air bricks are available, as are ‘dagger boards’ to protect doors – these are used in Venice, one of the most flood-prone cities in the world. People have built bunds to protect their properties. 

The culprit, when it comes to flooding, should not be identified as global warming – it is not yet possible to attribute single events to that source, and  it is a concept too easily used as a way of dismissing problems rather than solving them. It is, rather, an inheritance of various short-sighted actions in the past that have come back to haunt low-lying areas.

There are ways to reduce the likelihood of flooding, but they will take concerted efforts from various sources starting with homeowners and including upstream town councils, the Environment Agency and national government. In order to make change happen, there will need to be commitment to do so from the very top. The whole subject is discussed in much detail in the Pitt report on the 2007 floods, which is still available on the internet – the BBC has key points at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7472813.stm. The current Water Bill going through parliament is supposed to address some of the issues, such as flood insurance. More information about the regulations (and there are many) can be obtained at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-the-threats-of-flooding-and-coastal-change

It’s not that nothing is being done, it is more that there is so much to do. Bearing that in mind, people living on flood plains should do as much as they can to protect themselves, because a complete solution is impossible.

 

 

Geranium Magnificum

Geranium Magnificum

Bees are in trouble. Although Europe has announced a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, bee numbers have crashed in recent years, and our fuzzy little friends need all the help they can get. If everyone were to grow a pot full of a flower that bees love, it would help enormously.

But what flowers do bees like? The answer tends to be, simple ones with lots of nectar and pollen (of course!). Frilly, complicated flowers like roses that bees have to fight to get into are not on their dinner list. One that is, is the flower above – geranium magnificum, which lives up to its name in June with a magnificent display – masses of purple flowers that will be filled all month with browsing bees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Foxglove

Another flower that bees love is the humble foxglove. Depending on where you live in the country, this will either be a plant you need to buy from a nursery (it can be grown from seed, though the seed is incredibly fine) or it will be a weed in your garden that you find yourself pulling from every pot. Don’t pull it all out though! Those bell-shaped flowers are irresistible to bees. Just make sure that you keep them well away from children – their berries are poisonous, and their hairy leaves can also cause irritation.

P6140707 Lavender

The beautiful scent of lavender is something that attracts people to the plant almost as readily as bees. The yellow plant in the foreground, on the other hand, is goldenrod and although its flowers are very simple they appear not to appeal to bees in the slightest. But a lovely mound of sweet-smelling lavender will be smothered in bees through August and into September – well worth the space needed to grow this large shrub.

Buddleia_davidii

The buddleia is another plant that needs little introduction – a familiar site everywhere, this hardy little bush can be found growing alongside railways, clinging to cracks in high brick walls – anywhere, indeed, where it can get a foothold. And where the buddleia goes, insects follow. Long, fat spires of tiny purple flowers adorn the bush throughout August and provide both butterflies and bees with an excellent feast. Indeed, it’s hard to take a photograph of a buddleia flower without a feeding bee or butterfly upon it!

Snapdragon

The snapdragon – antirrhinum – is another cheerful and common garden plant, a biennial that flowers profusely throughout the summer. It’s a favourite with children because of its amusing composition – the plant’s stamens are hidden inside the closed ‘mouth’ of the flower, which bees (as you can see) love pushing their way into. A border favourite and very easy to grow, this is a great summer bee feeding station.

oregano

Oregano is best known as a herb, often used in Mediterranean cookery, but it is also another bee favourite. Simple sprays of lilac to deep purple flowers are found throughout August, a month when bees are quite spoiled for choice! Simple to grow, oregano can be kept in a pot on the windowsill if you are short of space, and will be quite at home on a sunny patio.

Sweet pea

The sweet pea is the florist’s favourite, a sentiment that bees would undoubtedly agree with. These gorgeous, beautifully-scented flowers unfold their delicate wings as early as May. A frame of some sort is needed for this popular garden climber – something as simple as a wig-wam of canes in a large pot will suffice, or they can be intermingled with runner beans for an interesting effect. Sweet peas will carry on flowering throughout the summer, providing they are dead-headed regularly. Picking a bunch to allow their sweet scent to fill your living room will encourage even more flowers!

***Apple

It’s easy to forget that one of the bee’s main jobs, from a human point of view, is the pollination of fruit. Therefore an apple or pear tree is also a wonderful bee attractant during the early days of a warm spring when bees are just beginning to venture out and are in most need of nourishment. A tree is not an option if you live in a flat, of course, but even a small garden can usually find room for an apple tree grown on dwarfing rootstock – this type of tree is far less vigorous than a ‘normal’ apple tree and needs no more than a few feet of space to thrive. A good prune every year, once winter has set in, will ensure it stays in shape – and of course, you get the extra reward in autumn of the juicy apples!

Red clover

Red clover is another early bee favourite and can often be found in the slightly wilder parts of a garden – having everything completely neat is not always good for insects! A small rough patch, where the grass is not regularly mowed and where a small patch of nettles and red clover can flourish, can be really helpful to both butterflies and bees. It’s also possible to buy red clover seed, as it is used by vegetable gardeners as a green mulch. The pom-pom flowers are also very attractive, nestled into a bed of grass.

Honeysuckle

Last, but not least, is the honeysuckle. Possessed of the most glorious scent in the cool of an early summer morning or evening, honeysuckle is a rambling shrub that will climb up and mask even the ugliest of walls. Honeysuckles come in a wide variety of colours, ranging from dramatic reds and oranges to pale cream.

In among this ‘top ten’ is a plant for (almost) everyone – why not find a space in your plot for one or two. Or even all ten! The bees will thank you for it, and you will be rewarded with a scent and colour-filled summer.