Alohomora - How bees unlocked something in me...
I'll start by stating I'm no entomologist. I will only ever to claim to be an 'enthusiastic amateur'. But I'd like to share a little about how I became one.
Glancing through my CV, you'd see I have a Batchelor in Education, specialising in Science in the Environment. 'Aaaaah' you may say, 'so she's been into bees since her degree', and you'd be wrong. I am entirely ashamed to say that I did not focus when I was at university and did the bare minimum to get by (to be fair to younger-me, I'd had a messy time growing up, and wasn't in any state to be doing something as sensible as studying for a degree.) I had little passion for anything, let alone my studies. I sometimes think I'd love to do the Environmental Science part of my degree again. I also wonder what my uni professor Dr Jenny McFadden would think if she saw that I was even attempting to write about bees.
I digress. Suffice to say, it was a long time before I found my love of bees. I'm not a city girl at heart, but my career in fine wine took me to London, and I committed to it by buying myself a small shared-ownership flat in east-London. I loved that it had a large balcony (any outside space for my budget was a bonus) but it was soulless. Even early iterations with my own touches left a lot to be desired, with plastic plants taking centre stage, because I wanted it to look nice all year round. It was modern, and budget, and yet still somehow one bee made its way up to visit me...
...I was outside and saw a black blob darting about, which caught me off guard as I wasn't expecting any life up on the top floor other than the odd cheeky pigeon. I initially thought it was a bluebottle. It was visiting a tulip I'd surprised myself by growing. For some reason it piqued my interest so I took a picture on my phone, found a group on Facebook called 'Bumblebee Conservation Enthusiasts' and posted my dark blur on there in the hope that someone might be able to tell me what had come to see me. Despite the incredibly poor picture quality (see below and please don't judge me for it), and me fully expecting to be told it was a fly, Matt Smith, one of the UK's keen and very helpful entomologists, advised me that my new friend was a female anthophora plumipes, or hairy footed flower bee. A what?! Quite frankly, it sounded like a spell from Harry Potter, and that made me even more excited. I needed more of this magic!
The short version is that from then on, I was motivated to change my planting, keep my eyes open and be as involved as I could on the Facebook page, eagerly looking at the pictures that others had posted and the IDs. Over the years I've become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and bought some useful books which have enabled me to now be able to tentatively identify some of our more common bees. Now when people post asking for IDs I have a go myself, then scroll down to see whether the experts agree and punch the air jubilantly when I am correct. I'll be using my blog to go into some of these areas in more depth, in case anyone out there is interested in following my journey down the rabbit hole that is bees... Bee-hole? Rabbit-bee-hole...? Rab-bee-hole?