Sarah Mayhew Craddock finds out how a guerrilla art campaign aims to help our wildlife

Bees & Weeds gives a whole new meaning to the expression food for thought. Though this is no laughing matter, but another case of artists addressing some of life’s big questions.

In the Bees & Weeds exhibition at the Old Fire Station, the big questions are those concerning the destruction of biodiversity and threats of extinction.

The plight of the bumblebee and the erosion of Britain’s biodiversity have inspired an innovative, interdisciplinary six-month art and research project in the county.

Bees & Weeds is led by not-for-profit arts-science collaboration Pale Blue Dot and is inspired by research of UK environmental scientists, including some from Oxford and the University of Sussex, which reveal a dramatic loss of wildlife.

Jane King, of Pale Blue Dot, says: “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.

“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.”

A bee-based exhibition at Blackwell’s Bookshop coincided with the Oxford Literary Festival and a Bees, Pesticides and Politics talk, presented by Professor Dave Goulson of University of Sussex, will take place at Blackwells on Friday, April 24.

They are part of the Bees & Weeds project, but efforts don’t stop there. To demonstrating how the creative arts can communicate complex issues, Pale Blue Dot has harnessed the talents, passion, and energy of Oxfordshire art and design students to develop artistic interventions based on wild flowers and bumblebee species.

From wildflower meadows to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, students have been observing, making studies and taking inspiration from the beauty, strength and fragility of nature to create attractive and exciting work on extinction and biodiversity.

Bees & Weeds features work by Foundation in Art & Design and BA (Hons) Creative Arts and Design Practice students from Banbury and Bicester College, who have employed guerrilla marketing tactics, covering rack upon rack of bicycles across Oxford with their seat covers to raise awareness of declining wild bee populations and the impact it has on landscapes. Cycling may be green transport, but it attracts its share of junk, from water bottles to seat covers made from plastic or nylon and advertising every-0thing from pizza to jeans, noodles, gyms and banking.

Bees & Weeds is intended as an optimistic, fun way to bring positive change. Students learned about combating the effects of lost habitat by growing wild flowers in gardens and patches of land.

They have also been redefining the term “weed”, because wild plants bees depend on can be seen as weeds and are now threatened with extinction. Planting 25 times more wild flowers can increase bee numbers by 50 times, they say.

Embracing designs in fashion, soft furnishings, homewares, stationery and art based on images of native wildlife, the students have created textiles and work using sustainably produced papers, organic linen and cotton, water based inks and biodegradable packaging. They included bicycle seat covers designed for the Oxford intervention, made from sustainable organic calico and printed with images of wildflowers. A selection of their designs are on display at the Old Fire Station now and can be bought in its shop until April 25.

Bees & Weeds
On display at The Old Fire Station, George Street, Oxford
Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. Free
Visit 01865 263980