Pip Howard: Work and Passions

Saturday 10th July 2021, Quince Honey Farm, South Molton

Pip Howard

It was wonderful to be at Quince Honey Farm on Saturday 10th July to see Pip Howard give the second of two talks there, as part of Arts Destination South Molton’s Deep Roots Festival. This was my first visit to the Farm, which has been on its present site since 2019. Hexagonally themed and beautifully landscaped, it is designed to provide the best possible environment for bees, and for humans to learn about bees.

Pip is the Quince Honey Farm’s Head Gardener, and as such is responsible for the landscape design and creation there. The result is the largest bee-specific arboretum in the world!

As a layman in the world of trees, I was wondering whether this event might prove to be too technical for me. I need not have worried. Pip’s talk was entertaining and wide-ranging, drawing on his experience not only in Devon, but also from his work on research projects across Europe. The event was well attended, with the many questions at the end demonstrating how well Pip engaged with his audience.

With so many fascinating facts in his talk, it is only possible to highlight a few. We are all generally aware of how important trees are to the health of our planet, with each reasonably large tree absorbing around 21 kg of Carbon every year. But trees are not just simple absorbers of carbon. Groups of trees form complex ecosystems with complex interactions between individual trees. A mother tree within a group will divert nutrients through its root system to younger trees nearby; while trees can warn each other of parasite attacks and consequently defend themselves by increasing tannin production in their bark.

We learnt about the importance of hedgerows in Devon, and their role not just as boundary markers, but as a vital part of flood control, and producers of nectar at the rate of 5000 litres per year for every kilometre. And we were told about the French approach to managing the rural environment through the terroir – aiming to optimise an area of habitats in order to maximise the quality of products such as honey, wine, corn and timber.

Questions at the end elicited some interesting thoughts from Pip about rewilding. This is a term he is not keen on, mainly because it is too vague, and can result in the impression that areas of the countryside should be left to go wild following the reintroduction of plants or animals. The problem is that mankind has had far too great an effect on the environment to be able to reverse it simply in this way; any reintroduction has to be supported by a large amount of land management.

Lastly, those of us who need further advice on managing woodland and bee habitats can find it at The Forestry Commission, DEFRA, Buglife and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Simon Quayle
13th July 2021