The vaccine bug

Mosquito

The mosquitoes of Peckham are feeling really miffed. At the start of the year, much fuss was made of the new Covid-19 vaccines and a call was made for helpers in the vaccination rollout. The mosquitoes, still in larval form, got wind of this and started congregating in the ponds, pools, and puddles of Peckham. They were excited as by the time they emerged as adults they were eligible to volunteer. Basically, they had the right equipment – a long proboscis acting as the thinnest of syringes, together with a light touch, and the ability to bite you in unlikely places. And they didn’t need PPE or to sanitise their legs or wear masks; they even knew that a large proportion of them would die splattered against a bedroom wall. A real kamikaze attitude.

They applied and were instantly rejected. “Not enough experience”. Not enough experience? the mosquitoes whined in unison. After all, they were experts at spreading diseases – malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus, yellow fever, West Nile virus – why not just load up with the vaccine and inject people? Some even tried to volunteer for the vaccine trials, especially as a lot of their friends had already escaped the swamps and were being reared in sterile white laboratories. Admittedly they were being subjected to genetic modification for other uses, but hey-ho, it seemed a small sacrifice.

The mosquitoes felt it was time to rebrand themselves as the good guys – how marvellous it would feel to be held up as the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than one of the most hated insects on the planet. They talked about saving the NHS millions of pounds, calculating if they all pulled together they could jab a whole country in a week given the right muggy conditions. They even had perverse ideas about how to dupe the anti-vaxxers by convincing them the swollen itchy needle hole in their arm is ‘just a mosquito bite’. Obviously, they would have to get around DDT and other nasty mosquito repellents, or flying too close to citronella candles; and those pesky nets are an obstacle. Nevertheless, they were experts at surreptitiously crawling up inside someone’s trousers or under a t-shirt, though they would have to quell their annoying whiny buzzing so as not to be squashed. But in their tiny minds, it could be done…

Stripes are in Vogue

As featured in the latest issue of BQ magazine

Its early October and the insects of Warwick Gardens are so excited – it’s time for the annual Autumn Fete. The grasshoppers are fat and fully grown and the mottled shield bugs are finally adults after several moults, whilst the Roesel’s bush-crickets, whose love songs kept up the spirits of Summer, can barely wheeze after weeks of wooing. The long grass is faded and falling over and the blackberries have been picked. Thankfully the green alkanet, a Trojan of the plant world, is still opening its blue flowers to everyone. It is time for one last party before the winter sets in. And as usual the Fete will be held at the most popular bar in the park – the Ivy Bush – currently in full flower and offering free nectar and pollen on tap.

This year there is a fashion show for the pollinators and the theme is stripes. There is a real buzz in the bush as the designers step up onto the stage.

Lesser hornet hoverfly – Volucella inanis

First up are Diptera & Gabbana presenting their new ‘Bella Volucella’ plus-sized range. The lesser hornet hoverfly showed off an elegant bodycon frock in light orange and black striped suede with a shiny black and chestnut patterned collar. Everyone loved their creation and applauded the designers for their inclusivity.

German wasp – Vespula germanica

Next up is Vivienne Waspwood waving a placard shouting ‘God Save the Pollinators’. Having spent years dressing the individualistic ichneumon wasps in her retro punk black leather-look catsuits she finally had a chance to bring in some colour and produce a uniform for the social wasps: black and daffodil yellow stripes with a few dots and a scanty black hairy ruff. Everyone cheered except for the tiny flies who flew away in fear of being eaten.

Ivy bee – Colletes hederae

Ivy Saint Laurent chose to dress the ivy bee. A sleek black and beige striped pencil skirt with a massive furry stole in rich caramel. The other insects oohed and aah’d at the sheer beauty of her, as they had only seen her a couple of times since she arrived from France a few years ago. The stylish design was one step up from the honey bee deemed rather dull at last years’ show.

Holly blue – Celastrina argiolus

Then Galliano rocked up with a butterfly. He hadn’t read the brief and presented a holly blue. Not a stripe in sight, but a thin white border around the lustrous blue ombre wings. To the audience this was a breath of fresh air – the stripes were getting confusing and all too similar.

Wasp spider – Argiope bruennichi

Meanwhile down amongst the grasses is the circus of wasp spiders who have been dressed by Gaultier, flamboyant in cream and lemon yellow stripes outlined in black. They have spent the night spinning their famously chaotic webs with its striking zig-zag pattern ready for the classic game of Catch The Grasshopper. As for the grasshoppers they are enjoying outwitting the spiders with spectacular leaps and bounds over the webs, though occasionally one mis-steps and gets quickly pounced on and wrapped up in silk.

It was a day to remember. And now to look forward to spring.

Insects on the telly

It was a Wednesday evening in June and the insects of Warwick Gardens were all a-fluster. It was the day they were going to be on BBC Springwatch. They were huddled around a window on a house on Lyndhurst Grove peering through the glass at the television.

And then it started. They watched in anticipation as they were taken on a whirlwind tour of Norfolk, northern Scotland and Northern Ireland. They ooo’d and aaah’d at the glorious habitats in these far flung locations and realised they’d never even seen the sea before. They laughed at the shelducks waddling out of a tree, booed at the hatching of grey wagtails, and the caterpillars celebrated the decline of the blue tits! They learnt about tracking pine martins (which they thought looked like the local foxes) and marvelled at otters. And they were staggered by the sheer amount of sea birds on cliffs and gaped in awe at the guillemots that looked like badly drawn penguins.

And then they were on. Iolo Williams introduced Penny Metal and the insects chirped in delight as they saw their friends on national television. They cheered when they saw the scarce fungus weevil, who they thought had left the park years ago, emerging from lockdown. They saw their park from above, shot via a drone, and those who couldn’t fly finally saw where they actually lived – the dragonflies were surprised that anything man-made could fly that high.

As usual the common green shield bugs were having sex, and the more modest gorse shield bugs covered their faces in embarrassment at the behaviour of the local chavs. Local superstar Myopa, already a Twitter celebrity who had previously appeared in a blog, in a book and in Time Out magazine, also made an appearance and now has primetime television to add to her CV.

And then the film finished and the insects were so excited to see Michaela Strachan holding the book they all starred in and she loved it! As she flipped through the pages they all saw themselves, and they couldn’t believe someone so well known liked them and was telling other people to look at them too. And they did! Ever since, they have been peered at and prodded and photographed by every passerby who has been looking in the bushes at Warwick Gardens.

To watch the episode: BBC Springwatch

To fly or not to fly

Greenbottle – Lucilia caesar

The flies of Warwick Gardens are really perplexed by the latest government rules for flying. On the one hand their need to fly relates to work (pollinating and cleaning) but it seems they can’t fly off to meet friends in another part of the park. There is a red, amber and green traffic light system in place which offers a confusing list of where you are allowed to fly or not to fly.

It means the greenbottles in Poo Corner need to sanitise their feet of dog shit and get tested before they can go to the Log Quarter, but they also need to take a test to fly a few metres to the Railway Quarter despite the fact that part of the park is also full of dog shit. Even if they wanted to fly to the Log Quarter they will have to self-isolate on a leaf for 10 days, by which time their life-span will probably be over. The Football Quarter is an amber destination where you can only go ‘for some pressing family or urgent business reason’ but you will need to take two tests and quarantine, and most flies can’t be bothered as they know they will be eaten if they sit around in the same place for too long.

Marmalade hoverfly – Episyrphus balteatus

The hoverflies can fly to Greendale, which is on the green list, but not Peckham Rye Park (red list). They can’t visit red-listed Burgess Park, but Hyde Park, a destination completely out of reach to the average Peckham fly, is on the green list. And a trip to Goose Green (green list) is hardly worth it as there are no flowers there. They are rightfully anxious as the economy depends on them for pollination, and having been furloughed all last year are in danger of dying out.

Common orange legionnaire – Beris vallata

Meanwhile the soldier flies are being mobilised to survey the swathes of flies returning from amber parks, with the Home Secretary threatening ‘a knock on the door to check they’re all obeying the rules. But it might take a while as the soldier flies have yet to emerge, once again showing how incompetent this Government really is.

End of season

Male and female hairy-footed flower bees – Anthophora plumipes

Its late February and the hairy-footed flower bees have defied the Government and broken all the lockdown rules by emerging from their nests. The boys fly out first, all fluffy and bright ginger with hairy-legs, and an exuberance that says ‘Hello! Look at me’. They are a delight to behold and a true sign Spring has arrived. The flowers have yet to unzip themselves, and the bees whizz through them, darting around our parks and gardens getting a feel for their territory. They are inquisitive, getting to know the neighbours and generally being seen.

A couple of weeks later the girls fly out, looking fashionably dressed in black tunics and the bright orange trousers she uses to collect pollen. By now the comfrey flowers are open for business and she tentatively sups on the nectar with her long tongue. She has a long list of things to do: find a place to nest, go shopping for pollen, start a family, pollinate some flowers and generally do things the boys are incapable of.

Mating is her first challenge and there is no shortage of suitors sniffing her out and harassing her while she goes about her daily life. She has to bat them away, out-fly them and fight them off before conceding to the strongest boy, making her the perfect calendar girl for the #BeeToo movement.

Then she has to find a hole to build her nest, preferably in a housing complex of soft mortar near other flower bees which makes it very noisy. She will live in her own flat, crafting cells to fill with pollen where she will lay her eggs. It’s hard work!

Mourning bee – Melecta albifrons

And that’s not the only moan. The mourning bees have taken over her nest, redecorating the cell walls and chucking out anything bought from John Lewis. They have replaced the flower bee eggs with their own, commandeered the pollen larder and are now buzzing loudly about squatters’ rights for cleptoparasites.

By mid-May the boys are looking old and faded, a trip to the nectar pub is about all they can muster. The girls are still out collecting pollen and weeks of hard work have left their wings in tatters. She has nearly finished her jobs. And they have been meeting the new late-Spring bees who have just emerged all looking dapper and pimped-up ready for World Bee Day. And it is with a sense of pathos that the flower bees won’t be looking at their best as they come to the end of their season just before the world spends a day celebrating them.

Electing the next leader

Beetles candidates 2

Candidates for the leadership

Well that was that. Squashed at the General Election. For the fourth time. The beetles, blinded by their dogmatic approach to intellectual thought and idealism, are wondering why they lost. Could it be that Jeremy, a weevil with a lot of baggage having spent his life voting against the allotment, was utterly useless and had no idea about leadership? Or maybe the strategy was all wrong – the beetles, in their enthusiasm of offering everyone everything for free, were incoherent and had total disregard for the scepticism amongst the other insects who felt their policies were just not credible. And instead of taking responsibility for losing the election they are blaming the wasps’ propaganda machine and ridiculing the bugs and bees for having the audacity to vote for someone else. Admittedly the wasps out-buzzed everyone, being an insect that nests together rather than a bunch of disparate beetles. The weevils had a real chance and blew it, dashing the hopes of half the allotment and consigning it to a dystopian future. So some soul searching and that old trope lessons have to be learned is being rolled out. Yet again.

Now they are scurrying around looking for a new leader. Do they elect another weevil in the image of Jeremy, or a different species? There are plenty of them willing to throw their antennae into the ring. Some suggest the legally competent black-spotted longhorn beetle. He certainly has gravitas but is hinting at a slight move to the centre ground. Others want a ladybird, preferably with a northern reach. Could a media-savvy flower beetle have a chance? Potentially yes, as it is popular with the bees, flies and butterflies sharing the same habitat and these are the voters the beetles need. And many want a dung beetle who has spent a lifetime shovelling shit and has actual experience of what it is like to be working class.

They certainly don’t want the stag beetle who won 3 elections, took the allotment into an illegal war, and is now an endangered species.

In the meantime the allotment will be dug up, sold off and paved over with expensive housing for humans.

For the many…

Figwort weevil_9917

Figwort weevil (Cionus scrophulariae)

This is Jeremy. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, on a leaf-edge at the possibility of winning a General Election. He’s a small beetle up against the Tory wasps who feel they have a God-given right to rule the allotment. He was unexpectedly voted in as leader by a committee of momentum beetles who realised this maverick backbench weevil might actually be their ticket to power.

His plans for the allotment are simple: organic planting for the many insects who have suffered for years from the effects of insecticide, public owned plots and free compost for all. He wants state ownership of the old logs and leaves left lying around to rot for the essential mulch munching woodlouse workers, the nationalisation of pollen and a ban on the building of privately-owned insect hotels for the privileged few.

Every insect will be considered in his manifesto. Sustainable aphid farms for ants, higher taxes for corporate honeybee hives, the scrapping of homogeneous flower banks and adequate welfare for winter hibernation. There will be protection of sap-sucking rights for bugs, squatter rights for nomad bees, and the right to self-identify as both a caterpillar and a butterfly.

Campaigning hasn’t been easy. The wasps, led by a rather toxic individual, have been very noisy, swarming around the allotment buzzing ‘Get Wexit Done’ and lying about absolutely everything. Their manifesto is based on stinging all the insects and privatising the fruit and vegetable crops so only they can reap the rewards and screw everyone else.

Yet the vote is split amongst the other insects – some view Jeremy as a natural campaigner for those at the bottom of the food chain, others see him as a pest for munching through all the vegetables and upsetting the status quo. The flies quite like the idea of having a share of the fruit with the wasps. The solitary bees, set to benefit from the new proposals, are conflicted as they can get rich on all the pollen in the allotment and are considering setting up a more liberal party and going into coalition with the other key pollinators the hoverflies. Even the beetles, historically loyal to their own kind, are rebelling against a socialist weevil takeover.

But it is winter and most insects are hibernating. It might only be the flies and woodlice at the ballot box. Whatever happens it will be interesting.

 

The We’evils of Peckham’s Gentrification

This article first appeared in the Space #147 issue of Litro magazine.

Scarce fungus weevil Platyrhinus resinosus, with mite infestation

My name is Platyrhinus resinosus and I live in Peckham

My name is Platyrhinus resinosus. I am a weevil and I live in a log in a small park in Peckham. I moved into a council log when a grant was given to spruce up Warwick Gardens a few years ago. It suits me well as I have my own cramp-ball fungus to feed on, though I do have to contend with upstart spiders who weave their webs over my patch with absolutely no regard for my personal space. My home is in the Log Quarter of Warwick Gardens, an area of high-density log housing, populated by beetle larvae, woodlice, earwigs, spiders, solitary bees and wasps. We have a buzzing little community here. Yes, we have our problems – the mining bees have a hard time in the summer when they have to fend off parasitic wasps wanting to inject eggs into their nests; the beetle larvae cause havoc to the log interiors, and the woodlice make quite a noise at night with all their chewing. And spiders can be a nuisance, especially for the flies. All in all we try to get on with each other. But things are changing.

New species have moved into the area, with fancy names like ‘mottled shield bug’, ‘mosaic leafhopper’ and ‘southern oak bush-cricket’. They have taken over the lilac bushes, conveniently positioned to look down on the more common species in the park. This area, next to the football pitch, is the main food boulevard with its ivy bars, thick long grass, lush blackberry bushes and the big-leafed showy lilac bushes. It’s the trendiest place to be and full of pop-up food stalls offering a range of artisanal kebabs of plump aphids and shield bug nymphs, alongside cocktails of dandelion nectar, ragwort pollen and craft yarrow stem juice.

It used to be relatively quiet here, but since the council stopped mowing a patch of grass and let it run wild with flowers it’s become really noisy with visitors swarming in from the surrounding areas to party. The hoverflies tell me stories of ladybirds running amok, bees drunk on pollen and crickets chirruping loudly all day long in a desperate attempt to find someone to mate with. This is the place to see all the well-heeled fashionable insects: the brightly coloured butterflies, sleek whizzy dragonflies, jewel wasps in their fancy metallic clothes, and the hipster ladybird flies with their beards and orange polka-dot shirts. Habitat is at a premium and I did hear that the parent bugs and their families had been pushed out due to the high rent of catkins and forced to move to the silver birch tree next to the railway line.

Solitary wasp with shield bug nymph

Solitary wasp with an artisanal shield bug nymph kebab

In my log a plethora of new kitchens have popped up. In the days before gentrification we called them ‘caffs’. The solitary wasps have repurposed, upcycled and retrofitted old beetle holes in readiness of opening their own seasonal pop-up kitchens. Their menus promote ‘locally-sourced produce’. Juicy organic aphids farmed by ants and plucked from the stem of an award-winning rose bush, or fed exclusively on the sap of a mature sycamore tree; spiders that have been fattened up on free-range hoverflies who have been allowed to roam free amongst the flowers and whose blood has a piquant of ragwort about it; and plump bluebottle flies with their robust meaty flavours of dog poo. Preparation is simple. Aphids and flies will be ‘lightly paralysed’ so as not to destroy the delicate juices and to ensure they keep their freshness. Spiders will have their legs skilfully sliced off with sharpened jaws and the precision of a master butcher, their bodies stacked high in larders like slowly drying hams. In a true ‘once-in-a-lifetime dining experience’ each diner will have its own room in which to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet. And these diners are special – they are the young wasp larvae.

One of the logs on our manor is up for renewal. It finally succumbed to being rendered useless partly due to decomposition. This log has been home to bees, wasps and beetles for the past few years and they are now being forcibly evicted by either the council foxes or human vandals with nothing better to do. Admittedly it has seen better days – a rather shabby exterior full of holes, cracked bark, and fungus graffiti’d along the damp ground-floor walls. The interior is a brittle honeycomb of lignin, filled with sawdust echoing their use as bee and wasp nurseries and still ringing with the distant sounds of buzzing gone by.

The Log Quarter in Warwick Gardens

The Log Quarter in Warwick Gardens

Unfortunately some of the residents didn’t receive their eviction notices in time and their homes have been brutally ripped away and strewn across the park, the contents spilling out onto the grass exposing still-ripening larvae cocooned in silk. Tiny beetle larvae caught up in the carnage struggle with being exposed to the outside world and succumb to being carried off by ants, whilst the centipedes emerge from hiding to see what all the fuss is about. The woodlice, who occupied the lower floors and have always had their antennae to the ground, have already moved their families to another log after realising the beetle larvae neighbours had been eating away at the upper floors and were in danger of being crushed. And the common wasps have moved in, like bailiffs, to pick over the remains and take all the free sawdust to build their nests.

Soon the developers will move in with “a vision of the log as a horizontal city for thousands of insects to live in and enjoy”. Knowing developers they will probably replace it with a shiny new MDF log, complete with layers of impenetrable varnish rendering it totally useless to us beetles. Holes drilled in neat and tidy rows, inspired by some of those fancy bee hotels, will be sold off as ready-made bijou homes for the wealthier bees and wasps, with a noticeable lack of affordable lignin making it impossible for the hard-working mulch-munching insects to set up home. And they will make it multi-functional to include habitats for humans complete with a rooftop picnic area, parking for pushchairs and nice tidy planting.

There is even a new edible hedge stretching all the way along the side of the railway line. This regenerated area is a sprawling estate of shiny new shrubs and fruit trees, replacing the perfectly established clusters of black horehound, thistles and nettles deemed rather unattractive and scythed into oblivion. Stylish architectural sculptures of dead wood dot the area, no doubt hoping to attract the rather distinguished stag beetle to make a home here. At the moment the local insects are not keen on the hedge as it contains plants they have never seen before, and as they were never consulted on what plants they would like, are rather pissed off. Instead they have been converging on a tiny patch of tatty thistles, purposely left off the weeding roster and preserved as a nod to the ‘heritage’ of the area, in an act of defiance. My cousins the vine weevils have had to find somewhere else to live as their habitat has gone, and we really don’t know what will happen to the tiny spear-thistle lacebugs who have lived in the park for generations.

It will be interesting to see who moves in or whether it will end up half-used and entomologically unloved, a moral of regeneration gone wrong. And now there is talk of creating a meadow full of all the big flashy commercial wildflowers such as ox-eye daisy, poppy and knapweed ‘to bring more pollinators into the area’ – a sort of Westfield of the wildflower world. Yet another expensive homogeneous development devoid of individualist character promoted by over zealous but under-appreciative landscapers, upsetting the local demographics and taking all the credit away from the lowly daisies and dandelions who have spent years effectively doing the same job.

So I sit here, on my log, watching the changes with a sinking heart. The park has become unrecognisable to when I moved in. I see fewer of the insects I grew up with, having had to move to ever decreasing pockets of habitat just to survive. Gone are the days when we would stop and have a friendly chirp over a blade of grass, the new neighbours deigning to give me only a cursory glance as they scuttle by with an air of snobbish arrogance. And soon even I will be gone, a remnant of old Peckham, remembered only in the pages of an insect identification book.

No more honey bees, please

The recent chatter to encourage more bee hives in our cities is somewhat alarming to me. I wouldn’t want to be a honey bee – spawned from a hybrid queen sent in the post, brought up to live a life of domesticated soviet-style drudgery, drugged up to the wing tips on pesticides, plagued by viruses and under attack from mites and fungus, worked too hard, often on a monoculture diet, continuously smoked out of their homes to have the fruits of their labour wrenched out beneath them, then left in the winter with barely enough food to eat. All in the name of having something sweet to spread on our morning toast. No wonder they are such moody insects and no wonder their colonies are collapsing.

A honey bee having a rest from the drudgery of pollen collecting

A honey bee having a rest from the drudgery of hive life

I am being cynical. Of course honey bees are important. ‘The economic value of honey bees, and bumblebees, [note the add on and why not just ‘bees’] as pollinators of commercially grown insect pollinated crops in the UK has been estimated at over £200 million per year’. (The British Bee Keepers Association). All well and good but I see there is no mention of the other economy – the sale of honey – which I see as a bigger problem and rarely seems to be included in statistics. And we are being misled – honey bees only pollinate 30% of our crops. Which leaves me to wonder why we need them in our cities? The only ‘crops’ we have in cities are allotments and orchards and pollination of these is easily done by our other pollinators – solitary bees, wasps, flies, hoverflies, beetles, bugs, butterflies and moths. And its these we need to be focussing our energy on.

Mason bee Heriades truncorum collecting pollen

Mason bee Heriades truncorum collecting pollen

Research has shown honey bees maybe infecting bumblebees with diseases, but we don’t yet know what the effect of honey bees have on our other solitary bees. Viruses and mites brought in by honey bees, often imported, surely must have an impact, as well as the pesticides to control these. Much is made of colony collapse but how long before we see a collapse of all our insect societies due to measures taken to preserve the lives of honey bees. Less hives, especially in cities where habitat is at a premium, would allow our native bees to flourish and restore their populations which are on the decline. But we need varied and healthy habitats to ensure the survival of all our insects, not just bees. To consider preserving and encouraging the plants that naturally occur in an area – local planting feeds the local insects. Even the current trend for wildflower meadows in parks to ‘attract pollinators’, though commendable, is rather worthless if stuck in the middle of a large swathe of lawn with no shade or allowance for nesting habitats. They are also costly and time-consuming to manage. Far better to distribute those wildflowers amongst other planting, or scatter a few seeds next to a wall. Or even just ‘let it go wild’! The area left unmown in Warwick Gardens is a good example of allowing the natural growth of local plants – after 3 years we are seeing crops of clover and mallow flourish, creating a carpet perfect for grasshoppers to hide in and flowers for hoverflies and butterflies to feed on. The yarrow, loved by beetles, has also expanded its range. Yes sometimes we do need to manage it but at a much lower level – pulling up the odd fat-hen plant that has run riot is maybe not a bad thing! We often forget we have to allow for some of our pollinators that feed on other insects and this is rarely mentioned in plans when considering planting. Some solitary wasps stock up on sap-sucking shield bugs and aphids to feed their young, and the inclusion of plants and grasses to accommodate these is vital. Meanwhile, all these insects will be pollinating the beans and peas you are growing on your allotment.

Thick-legged beetle Oedemera nobilis covered in pollen

Thick-legged beetle Oedemera nobilis covered in yarrow pollen

So why do we need hives in our cities? Education? Studies of beekeeping for ‘unruly’ kids has benefits, especially around respect and responsibility. I can’t argue with that but a big part of me would prefer to promote the life of our solitary bees. Watching mason bees and leafcutter bees building their nests in a bee hotel is not only fun, it also teaches us important lessons about the fragility of life. Solitary bees have to defend themselves against cuckoo bees and parasitic wasps without the back-up of an all-stinging all-waggle dancing army. Their life is harder and more hit and miss. All the more reason to treasure them.

And the other reason for hives? Honey. Honey should be a speciality food, like truffles, expensive and hard to come by. I worry that the current trend for all things ‘olde and crafty’ will see a rise of pop-up hives, hipster honey and mead. The air in our city is pretty grim so I can almost see a diesel flavoured honey appearing on the shelves, along side a bottle of mead with a ‘hint of carbon monoxide’. And all the while the poor little honey bee is working itself to death to put that sugar hit on your toast. Harsh, I know. But ideally I would put a ban on hives altogether until the honey bee has had a chance to recover, and allow our other pollinators to take the credit for all the hard work they do.

 

House clearance

Rotten Lodge

Rotten Lodge

There has been some major demolition happening in Warwick Gardens. One of the logs mentioned in The Bug Quarter has finally succumbed to being rendered useless partly due to decomposition. This housing block in the Log Quarter has been home to solitary bees and wasps for the past few years and they are now being forcibly evicted by either the council foxes or youths with nothing better to do. Admittedly the log has seen better days – a rather shabby exterior full of holes, cracked bark, and fungus graffitied along the damp ground-floor walls. The interior is a brittle honeycomb of tunnels between the lignin, and filled with sawdust echoing their use as nurseries and still ringing with the distant sounds of buzzing gone by. The structure is just not safe. And no, an estate agent certainly wouldn’t recommend buying this log, not even as a fixer-upper.

Solitary bee, wasp, and wasp larva in cocoon

Solitary bee, wasp, and larva in cocoon

Some of the resident bees and wasps have already excavated their nests, stocked their larders and laid their eggs. Unfortunately they didn’t receive their eviction notices in time and their homes have been brutally ripped away and strewn across the park, the contents spilling out onto the grass exposing still-ripening larvae cocooned in silk. Tiny beetle larvae caught up in the carnage struggle with being exposed to the outside world and succumb to being carried off by ants, whilst the rove beetles emerge from hiding to see what all the fuss is about. The woodlice, who occupied the lower floors and have always had their antennae to the ground, had already moved their families to another log after realising the beetle larvae neighbours had been eating away at the upper floors and were in danger of being crushed. And the common wasps have moved in, like bailiffs, to pick over the remains and take all the free sawdust to build their nests.

Rove beetle

Rove beetle

Soon the developers will move in with “a vision of the log as a horizontal city for thousands of insects to live in and enjoy”. Their ideal would be to replace Rotten Lodge with a shiny new log, the longest in Europe, complete with layers of varnish for an impenetrable surface to keep out the riffraff – “we certainly wouldn’t want woodlice and weevils littering the neighbourhood”. It would be designed with style in mind. Holes drilled in neat and tidy rows, inspired by some of those fancy bee hotels but much more minimalist, would be sold off as ready-made bijou homes for the wealthier bees and wasps. It would be multi-functional to include habitats for humans complete with a rooftop picnic area, parking for pushchairs and nice tidy planting. And they would call it The Seat, befitting their ideal vision of a new Peckham!