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Arts project creates a buzz for biodiversity

The plight of the bumblebee and the erosion of Britain’s biodiversity have inspired an innovative arts project in the county.

Bees & Weeds is led by not for profit arts-science collaboration Pale Blue Dot, and features work by art and design students from Banbury and Bicester College.

The project, based on research results from UK environmental scientists, including those from Oxford and the University of Sussex, reveals a dramatic loss of wildlife in our countryside.

Through exhibitions and arts interventions - including covering hundreds of Oxford bicycles with specially-designed seat covers – the team hopes to raise awareness of declining wild bee populations and the impact on landscapes and food production.

Jane King from Pale Blue Dot said: “The UK is seen as an urban nation, but around 70 per cent of our land is agricultural. Research by environmental scientists published in the report State of Nature 2013, shows that over half of our wildlife is in decline.  This is largely due to changes in the landscape caused by industrial methods of farming.  We have lost half of our bird populations from the countryside and wild pollinators, such as bumblebees that are essential for food production, are in serious decline.

 “The impacts are greatest in rural counties such as Oxfordshire. Recently published research from the University of Sussex shows that bees are declining due to a combination of parasites, pesticides and lack of flowers and there are now more bumblebees nesting in urban and suburban gardens than in our countryside. We want to raise awareness of the issues and encourage people to support wild pollinators in their gardens by planting more wild flowers.

“We are interested in using the power of the creative arts as a motivator for change and have been delighted by the response from a host of groups and organisations which are now partnering with us.”

Students on the Foundation Degree, BA (Hons) and Foundation Diploma Creative Arts courses at Banbury and Bicester College have been developing a range of art and design pieces inspired by the issues, and based on British wild flowers and bumblebee species from the collection at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Their work includes a series of calico bicycle seat covers, printed with images of wild flowers, which were used in a cycle seat bombing supported by volunteers from Oxford Friends of the Earth. The event, on Monday 16 March, was put on with the help of bicycle hire company, Bainton Bikes and hosted by the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op in Pembroke Street.

Other events include an exhibition at Blackwell’s Bookshop until 31 March, to coincide with the Oxford Literary Festival. This precedes a talk on 24 April by Professor Dave Goulson, from University of Sussex, about the perils facing bumblebees in the 21st century. 

A range of items including printed homewares, gift cards and artworks – all produced by students from Banbury and Bicester College – will also be displayed at The Old Fire Station gallery in George Street and sold in the gallery shop from 23 March to 25 April. The exhibition opens with a private view on Friday 27 March.