Dave Goulson is a bee man.
Not a beekeeper, though, harvesting honey and maintaining hives; his interest lies with the wild, gently meandering bumble bee, of which the UK has an astonishing 24 different species. In 2006, Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and in 2013 published A Sting in the Tale, an account of his work that charmed the public and prize judges alike.
In this new book, he branches out, inviting us across the Channel to a patch of land that he bought 10 years ago in La France profonde, where the local farmers give him odd looks as he carries out insect surveys and goes running along the lanes.
One should not be lulled into imagining that Goulson is anything of a bumbler himself. For example those runs. Very ambitious runs, as it turns out: in the book, he starts every chapter with a keen report on distances and times. And then moves quickly on to the natural world. Goulson focuses on his single French meadow and tells gorgeous stories of its resident living things: and not just insects, either – there are spiders. And rabbits. And birds. And moles.
Immediately it’s clear that Goulson is a fantastic describer. He is painfully honest about his inelegant farmstead: “To put it mildly, a doer-upper.” But being run down meant it had become a refuge for wildlife, much of which is still in residence. His descriptions of the actual quantity of animals (including western whip snakes and jumping spiders) won’t persuade the arachnophobic to book in for a stay, but for Goulson, it was heaven. Especially as there was a mystery creature in residence, which could take the head off the aforementioned snakes, overnight, leaving them neatly on the drive for morning discovery by Goulson’s sons.
Speaking of headless snakes, this book is not for the squeamish, taking in butterfly genitals, wasp fights, deathwatch beetles, bedbugs, battery chicken sheds, nappy-stuffed landfills, plagues of flies and a quick swim in some coypu faeces.
Nonetheless it’s curiously aspirational as a read. By about page 12, I didn’t just want Goulson’s keen observing eye and fabulous French fields, I wanted his whole life. His blond sons, running through the grass; his ability to identify a Montagu’s harrier in flight; his enjoyment of cheese – although this is a nature book, human beings feature strongly, from French farmers and their guns, to American beekeepers, facing Colony Collapse Disorder. It verges on autobiography, taking the reader through each stage of Goulson’s life – some, surprisingly bumbling.
But bumble or not, the results, in his work and this book, are absolutely captivating.Reuse content