Strawberries at Wimbledon: Not to bee?

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Horror at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC)  as The Daily Telegraph reports that one of Wimbledon’s greatest traditions—strawberries and cream—is under threat. Apparently, the mass decline in bumblebees and other pollinators will cause “wonky” strawberries—perfectly shaped strawbs are created only when every single ovary has been pollinated by an insect. During the Wimbledon fortnight, around 28,000 kg of strawberries are sold: the good gentlemen of the AELTC pride themselves on the fact that they are “Grade 1 English strawberries of the highest quality from the county of Kent.” Misshapen strawberries, what, what! No, no, that just won’t do!

The story has a serious side, of course. As in the United States, Britain has witnessed a frightening die-off of bumblebees. No one knows why. Three of the 25 British species of bumblebees are already extinct and half of the remainder have shown serious declines. Bees and other pollinators are crucial to the food chain. One recent study, quoted in The Guardian, found that if all of the UK’s insect pollinators were wiped out, the drop in crop production would cost the UK economy up to $650 million a year, equivalent to around 13% of the UK’s income from farming.

The British government recently launched a $15 million Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI) to investigate the multiple reasons thought to be behind the decline—climate change, pesticides and the growth of large-scale farming are all potential suspects. Yesterday I spent the day at Wimbledon and was again struck by how far the AELTC goes to give the tournament—attended by around 470,000 people a year—a pristine, Edenic feel. Every sign, seat, post, building and fence on the ground is painted a deep, verdant green. Even the grass courts are treated to look lush.  I took a break from a very warm day to enjoy some strawberries under the shade of a tree. They were cool, juicy and—who knows for how long— shaped like tear drops.