With Easter bonnets safely stored until next year, the coffee-house discussion this month focused on the wonderful world of bees. Although it was advertised as looking at the problem with bees in fact it was a couple of hours of delight in this humble insect we have all taken for granted. Many of us, as one new enthusiast put it, just fell in love with bees. (There was also some nostalgia for the wasps which used to ruin our childhood picnics.)
We've all learned that bees are important because we need them to pollinate our crops but most of us were surprised to hear that there are 255 other species of bee in the UK other than the honey-bee - and 25,000 species worldwide. The bee is suffering - colony collapse and rampant spread of mite-borne and fungal disease are threatening its survival.
The speakers included Tom, who keeps bees and is involved with the Stroud Beekeepers' Association, Sheila, who teaches about bees at Hartpury College, and Carlo of the World Bee Project which is - you've guessed - based in Stroud. I hope the pictures give an idea of the intense and passionate debate that our small, furry, stripey friends brought to Star Anise last night.
The cause of the bee crisis results from the same movement to intensive farming with heavy pesticide use and the pressure to exploit every scrap of land that has caused so many of our environmental problems. Part of the solution may be offered by the Red Mason bee (seen here) which is an excellent pollinator and could play the role of the honey bee in agriculture - but not produce any honey.
Life for bees in Gloucestershire seemed fairly rosy. The Beekeepers' organise training at their exemplary apiary and farming practices have improved in recent years, with more hedgerows and areas of uncultivated land where bees can breed. If you want to help the bees you can become a bee guardian and put a bee house in your garden. You could also join Gloucestershire Orchard Group in revitalising dwindling orchards, which provide useful early feeding grounds.
Next month's coffee-house is about why you should bother to vote - if you feel strongly about this either way make sure to be there. It will, as usual, be the fourth Friday in the month at Star Anise cafe.