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A busy bee-kend...

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust's AGM and members' day was on Saturday 19th October, and as a member, I just had to be(e) there to support them. As some of you may be aware, I have an annoying issue with social anxiety, so I roped in my long suffering friend Steff to come with me as my 'emotion support animal'. I booked a nice flat for us to stay in, train tickets to Manchester and we were all set.

A bit about my pet-sidekick Steff, if I may? We actually were at the same primary school in Devon many many years ago (yes Steff, not in the same year - I am a veritable desiccated husk in comparison to your youth...), and then later ended up working at the same bowling alley in our early twenties. We lost touch for about a decade or so, but then thanks to a certain gargantuan social media platform, we realised we had both ended up in London. She has a huge heart and huge... personality, as well as a fab 'bring me your manager' haircut. Steff picked up my love of bees, and she has been doing whatever she can to make her home appealing to pollinators, which is quite impressive considering she currently lives on a canal boat. Any readers who are members of the Bumblebee Conservation Enthusiasts Facebook group will not be surprised by the fact that I packed her off with a decent amount of phacelia seeds for the many pots on the roof of her boat. I unashamedly love phacelia, and whenever anyone asks 'what should I plant to support bees?' it is my go-to recommendation. I'm sure this will not be the last you hear on the matter from me.

My 'emotional support animal' Steff, with me looking peaky bringing up the rear

The morning of the AGM, we had a 'fun' awakening at about 6am due to a resident of the block we were in, drunkenly deciding to cook food and passing out, which resulted in Steff and I meeting some charming members of the fire service who attended the ensuing shenanigans. After lots of tea, we headed to Old Trafford for the AGM. Every member of the team we met was helpful and enthusiastic, reminding me once again why I fell in love with this particular charity. After picking up our goody bags, including the obligatory seeds (you can never have enough!), and bee-friendly Calvados, we made our way up to the reception area, where there were displays around volunteering, and the educational work done by the Trust. As I have a (very faint) background in teaching, I was impressed that the team ensure they tie in as much as they can to the National Curriculum, which is just great for teachers.

Images: some of the educational displays, guess which bee?! And the volunteering table

All of the displays were interesting and had been well thought out, but I think one of the most fascinating parts was experiencing how bumblebees see flowers. Gill (the CEO of the Trust) excitedly thrust some yellow glasses at me and told me to stick my head in a darkened box (she's the boss, what could possibly go wrong?), as she poked a black-light in behind me. I was aware that bees saw colours differently to us, but this practical demonstration was clear and enlightening. 

The volunteering table was decorated with the most utterly adorable hand knitted little bumblebees you have ever seen. They were such a hit and were there to demonstrate that you can volunteer in all sorts of ways; it really does make a difference.

Images: Flowers as we see them, and as bumblebees see them

Then it was time for us to shuffle in for the AGM (after a cuppa); I won't go into details of the AGM itself as it was simply passing motions and appointments that had been voted on (although I cannot fail to observe that I think one of the voters got out of the wrong side of the bed the morning they took part; attendees will know what I mean...) There were two types of speaker on the day; those representing the Trust and their projects, and guest speakers.

Because I can see this blog getting a bit on the hefty side, I'm hoping the Trust can forgive me if I group up their projects. Some of the initiatives we heard about included Making a Buzz for the Coast a project spanning 135 miles of Kent's coastland, and Pollinating the Peak, which is working on improving habitat and monitoring numbers of the Bilberry bumblebee in Derbyshire. We also heard from Dr Nikki Gammans about the Trust's work on trying to re-introduce the short-haired bumblebee. The Trust's website has lots of information about the activities and work carried about by these worthwhile projects.

For anyone like me, who has often pondered the plight of insects next to roads, and been curious to know whether by letting roadside verges grow wild, we are inadvertently luring bumblebees to a windscreen-based death, there is the work of Claire Wallace, who is part way through her PHD. Entitled 'Road verges for bumblebee conservation; a green infrastructure opportunity or an ecological trap', I for one am genuinely keen to hear her findings.

Dr Nikki Gammans speaking about the short-haired bumblebee project

For me, what I took from the presentations, was the massive amount of enthusiasm from all those involved, the importance of volunteers, and also how much the Trust values their supporters. The Trust is excited whenever a member of the public is engaged about bumblebees, whenever some wildflower seeds are planted to support them, and whenever a woollen bumblebee is knitted. The BBCT is a hugely positive charity, based in science (which, as a bit of a geek, I just love), but which doesn't underestimate the power of the individual.

Keynote speakers were Mark Ferguson, wildlife sound recordist and composer, and George Hassall, RHS young ambassador and Blue Peter Gardener, amongst other accolades. We learnt about Mark's (rather wet and windy) journey recording the great yellow bumblebee, and we were moved and inspired by George's speech which went from his personal beginnings in gardening and nature, to warning us all about the future of our precious world. We can all see a bright future for that chap. And I was delighted that George had his own support in the form of the lovely Charlotte.

Towards the end of the day, Jack, who wrangles the Trust's volunteers, presented awards to some truly deserving people who have really made a difference to their local communities, and also to me. I'm just sticking this in here as if my mother reads this I'll get it in the ear if I don't include my pics for her. And for Steff. She'd be 'disappointed'; particularly because when my name was called, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up and for it to be over, so I ran toddler-like to Gill, the CEO of the Trust (pictured below), attached myself to her for a hug and then shook like a leaf as Steff took my pic. She'd had to up her pace considerably in order to catch me.

Considering it was a relatively small-scale event, there was so much to see and do. Steff was enchanted by the postcards which have been donated by the Association of Animal Artists and are being auctioned for the Trust, and we both had fun with the raffle, with a super range of items donated by some of the Trust's corporate members and partners. Sadly we didn't win the bee-friendly gin, (let's face it, Steff would have ensured that didn't make it back to London anyway...) but I was delighted with my seed-grenades and Steff has a stunning piece of art for her move to land. There was merchandise and seeds and badges to buy, and I admit I had a bit of a fan-girl moment when I met and had my picture taken with Steven Falk - I have his book at home and it is just so useful for bee identification (I'd go as far as saying it is considered essential to the developing enthusiast); he is so talented and knowledgeable about flora and fauna in the UK, and such a friendly guy!

I had such a wonderful trip to Manchester; I really felt welcomed as a member of the Trust, and Steff and I are going to look into volunteering in a more hands-on way in 2020. Thank you to the Trust for creating such a safe environment; everyone we met, from Tessa on the raffle table, to Jack the volunteer-wrangler, to Gill Perkins the CEO and all the other members we met, were so friendly. And of course, huge thanks to Steff for enabling me to be there; everyone with anxiety issues needs a Steff or a Charlotte. THANK YOU!

PS Did I mention I met Steven Falk? :)

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