Growing Flowers to Save the World, with Dave Goulson

11 August 2020

“Wherever there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is new life and hope,” says Christy Lefteri in her 2019 novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo, about a refugee from the Syrian Civil War who brings a queen bee with him on his journey to Europe.

It’s a sentiment echoed in its mirror image: the countless warnings from scientists of the impending catastrophe that pollinator extinction represents. Indeed, a world without bees would be a world without hope. But we’re not there yet, and, as Dave Goulson—Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex—says, we can all contribute to saving the world through a simple and beautiful act: growing flowers for our nectar-drinking friends.

While today we’re only releasing a short clip of his Food Talk for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto—the full episode, as with all the others in the series, will be available from October 9—we spoke to Dave about what needs to be done, why we need it do it, and how we can start.

WE’RE USED TO THE IDEA THAT INSECTS POLLINATE CROPS. BUT HOW ELSE DO THEY CONTRIBUTE TO OUR FOOD SYSTEMS?

“Insects are food for a huge number of organisms, including being a significant food source for people in many countries. In turn, insects such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies are important predators of crop pests.”

“Insects are also important recyclers of dung, dead trees, dead bodies, and almost any organic material, and as such are a vital part of organic systems that rely on recycling or organic matter. They also help to keep soil healthy and aerated. There are almost no ecological processes on land or freshwater that do not involve insects.”

YET WE’RE FAILING IN OUR DUTY TOWARDS THESE ANIMALS. HOW BAD IS IT?

“Famously in 2017 a study came out of Germany which seemed to show a 76% drop in the biomass of flying insects over a 26 year period. But lots of other studies, too.”

Another example which is emblematic of our detachment from nature and our ability to observe of changes in ecosystems only insofar as they impact (literally) on our mechanized world is the windshield phenomenon, which holds that people clean dead bugs from the car windshields less frequently nowadays. It may sound trivial, but a 20-year study in Denmark found a staggering 80% reduction in insect numbers over the time period. And as insects play such a fundamental role in nearly all ecosystems, such a decline will have disastrous consequences unless we take decisive action. Luckily, as Dave Goulson says, “the good news is it’s quite easy, we could turn this all around.”

WHERE DO WE START?

It all starts in the garden. “If you have any kind of garden, you can make it insect-friendly. You can grow flowers to attract them, you can provide them with quiet places to nest, and so on. I’ve written a whole book, The Garden Jungle,about how to invite insects in to live with you.”

Indeed, there’s an entire chapter of The Garden Jungle called “Gardening to Save the Planet” which goes into deep but easy-to-follow detail on the subject:

One can have a beautiful, productive garden, teeming with life, without needing to buy anything much at all. The best sources of plants are neighbours, family and friends. The best way to discover which plants will thrive in your garden is to look in gardens nearby. Most plants are very easily propagated, and enthusiastic gardeners are usually very happy to swap or donate bits of plants. There is absolutely no need for artificial fertilisers or pesticides… Aside from some basic gardening tools, there is no need to buy anything. Gardening can be truly green, and it might just contain the key to saving the planet.1

THE LEARNING PROCESS NEVER STOPS EITHER. WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS?

“I think I will be fully occupied for a long time trying to raise awareness of the importance of bees and other insects. I have more books to write, including “Silent Earth”, coming soon. I am still also doing research on bee ecology, and the impacts of pesticides. There is much we do not understand.”

Stay tuned to the Food Talks of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto and expand your own understanding of all the layers of the food worl and the ecosystems which make it possible.

by Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Dave Goulson is a protagonist of the Food Talks, a new and freely accessible format of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. Each guest has ten minutes to explore their thoughts on the world we live in, and the future we want for it. The full Food Talk with Dave Goulson will be released on October 9, along with the other episodes in the series.

1From The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson (Vintage, 2020)

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