House Cat, and Sustainable Bees

Ok, so this is a bit of a departure, but it ties in with some thoughts and other discussions, so bear with me…

Sustainable beekeeping to me is having hived bees in such a way that incorporates them in to the local area so that we can share the fruits of their labours, but not so that it is detrimental to the environment. This of course means ensuring there is sufficient forage not only for my bees, but also for the other pollinators and knock-on beneficiaries: thinking carefully about what plants give maximum results to all wildlife with minimum inputs. It also means thinking carefully about the things I buy and use when beekeeping: which suit will last the longest? What can I reuse or repurpose rather than buying new? I don’t use plastic in any of my hives, apart from feeders which I make from old yogurt pots.

Climate change, plastic use, and threats to our wildlife are so much at the forefront of our consciousness at the moment, and I have noticed a distinct change in my approach. I have always “done my bit” but recently I have felt justified in questioning how much impact my activities have, and communicating this through the bees, and honey. This year I put the honeycomb in to glass jars not plastic tubs. I am allowing plants to self-seed rather than buying them in, and am going to investigate chicken- and cat-proofing an area in the border to use as a seedbed so that I can dispense with compost and pots.

Speaking of cats, I got involved in an interesting Twitter discussion following a tweet by Claire Greenwell about her research in to how a single cat had decimated a population of Australian Fairy Terns. The vitriol which poured forth from the various factions was astonishing (yes I know I shouldn’t be surprised) ranging from “cat ownership should be banned” to “cats are a native species”. I get this with bees too, so I felt obliged to comment, and one response was that I “clearly didn’t understand how the countryside works”. Hmm.

I have owned cats for many years, and they’ve always been free to roam, although I endeavoured to get them in at night. I owned a beautiful cat who I thought might keep the rat population under control, but although he caught the odd one, he did more to reduce the robins to zero, about which I felt bad, but what can you do?

Sadly Oz was hit by a car and killed, as indeed has been the fate of every cat I’ve ever owned. I missed his cat-ness in the house though, so I got a kitten, called Sausage. I decided he was going to be a house cat, as I couldn’t cope with the trauma of losing another cat on the road. There is also a dog over the road who once mauled a cat so badly it had to be put to sleep, bedraggled and bloodied mess that it was. Then there is the poison that gets put down to kill the rats that aren’t touched by the cats until they are pathetic, quivering and wandering around in daylight so ironically make easy toxic pickings for a feline. I keep poultry, so have rats, but my dog does a far better job of killing them than any cat, (even though he’s a soft-mouthed spaniel who should know better!) and doesn’t eat them or play with them so I don’t have to worry. I would like to invite the resident raptors to help themselves as the rodents eat my high quality bird food so are extremely plump and healthy…

Many folk say that keeping cats indoors is cruel or unnatural, but I would disagree. Sausage doesn’t want for entertainment or stimulation as he explores the house and gets attention from me, and the dog. I give him catnip to play with, I open the cupboard under the stairs for him to climb around, and there is always a range of things for him to knock off the windowsill when he wants attention. It’s unnatural to keep dogs on their own, given they live in packs, or walk on leads, yet we oblige them to do so. I’m not suggesting that everyone must keep a cat indoors, or being critical of those who let them roam, but to say it is unfair to keep them in is plain wrong: they can sleep and play and eat and skedaddle around the house and be perfectly content. If anyone is wondering whether they could keep theirs indoors: this post is for you.

Every time a van hurtles down the lane I’m pleased I know that Sausage is in. Whenever I see a ‘Lost Cat’ poster on a lamppost I’m pleased I don’t have to worry about that. Every time I am gardening and discover cat scat in the border, I wish people would keep their cats in. Also, because my cat doesn’t go out and eat things, he doesn’t need worming. He’s not had a flea since he was treated as a kitten, so I can dispense with that chemical warfare. When I see and hear the range of species my neighbours’ cats bring in, dead or alive, I am pleased Sausage is in. Mice, voles, moles, birds, rabbits, frogs, lizards, moths, spiders – even a hedgehog.

So, those are my thoughts.

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