Shed of the Year 2019 and the Dunbar Number; Bees are Back; Jewelled Insects.

In a blatant bit of promotional activity, I’m asking any readers of this post to support “The Hut” in a public vote to find the Cuprinol Shed of The Year 2019.

Having decided to enter “The Hut” into this annual national competition back in spring, it was a big surprise to be contacted about a month ago to discover that it’s one of 21 sheds shortlisted for the title. There are 7 different categories of sheds, “The Hut” is in the “nature’s haven” category, and now it’s over to the general public to vote for their favourites.

Click here to vote, and find out more, and indeed see the huge creativity of ordinary Brits, who design and make these unique structures, for a great variety of reasons and uses.

However, this being my unique and nerdy blog, you really wouldn’t expect to escape so lightly, would you?

So, a couple of bits of HUT related synchronicity.

Firstly, the PR firm engaged to promote the competition sent a lovely chap Marc, an ex-News International – Sun/Times official photographer, to take some decent pictures of the hut and its maker. I insisted I didn’t want to be in any photos in an identifiable way – any regular readers will know that there have been almost no photos at all of me on these pages over the years. It is indeed a conscious counter culture decision in these celebrity/personality/media obsessed times – I’m more interested in what I might see, or think or write about, than what I look like on a particular day.

Marc very gamely respected this, so we agreed to photograph each other, behind the lens.

But I also had to warn him that just the evening before he came, I’d discovered one of many wasp nests about the property, a mere foot from where he was standing in the image below, with the wasps using the hole in the box steel draw bar for the Hut’s ball hitch, as a suitable nesting cavity.

Marc seemed unfazed by this threat, and later told me that compared with the risks attached to photographing in many of the international war zones he’d been sent to in recent times – Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, to name but a few, the risk of a few wasp stings was nothing. Fortunately, the wasps behaved themselves.

Secondly, by chance, I heard “the Life Scientific” on BBC Radio Four, which this week interviewed Professor Robin Dunbar, of The University of Oxford, about his career in animal, and then human, evolutionary and social psychology. Not a field I’ve ever delved into before. But apparently, he came up with the concept, now referred to as “The Dunbar Number”, which to quote from The Wikipedia page can be loosely explained thus:

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar”

Click here to listen to the BBC radio programme, subtitled “Why we have friends“, and hear more on how he developed his thesis. (I should add that I’m not clear what he thinks about how “social media” has distorted, or wrecked the concept in recent years, or indeed might impact on human brain size in the future).

Why mention this? Well, Professor Dunbar explained that the 150 number is an average figure – extroverts may touch 200, introverts struggle with below 100. So, to get the 10,000 plus votes likely to be necessary to win Shed Of The Year is a big ask for a publicity shy introvert living half way up a hill in rural Wales, who is very wary of mainstream media.

The only way it’ll happen is if you, good readers, can be persuaded, or are simply intrigued enough, to actually make another click and vote. This seems very unlikely, given the extremely low number of link clicks that normally happen on one of my blog posts like this (or so the stats page tells me!).

But more than that, it would help the cause if you felt able to share this with other friends and colleagues in your very own Dunbar numbered sphere of social contacts, who you think might be interested or amused.

Then, who knows? The voting closes on August 29th, so it could wing all round the world by then and back.

Finally, if you do click onto the shedoftheyear link, I’ll let you decide just how motivated you think I might be by the potential prizes on offer; or by the fun of a bit of competitive shedding; or even simply sharing this very special Hut and place with readers.

So there you go, plug over, and now for something completely different.


Just before we left on holiday, much to my surprise, I noticed a sudden big increase in bee activity around the swarm 3 hive, which had been savagely robbed to destruction about a month earlier, and since then seemed completely quiet and unoccupied.

When we returned from our break, this hive was still really active, so I’m assuming that a swarm from elsewhere had checked out the hive, considered it up to scratch, and moved in. This was really very satisfying given that the “hive” still hadn’t been finished, and that I’d had to knock it up in a hurry with the swarm flurry in May, from old floorboards and a vintage mahogany table top we’d bought years ago. With some leftover bubble-wrap insulation from The Hut’s construction, added as a late addition.

But a couple of days ago, I suited up and put a proper Warré style quilt box and protective vented lid onto it. There was minimal disturbance involved in this, and fortunately the bees seemed as benign as all the other swarmed hives this year. I’m hoping that this will be all that’s needed for this hive in 2019. So, after starting the year with just one colony in a traditional National beehive, in spite of my low intervention approach, we now still have four separate colonies, moving into August. With the weakest colony of all being in the original “conventional” hive, which of course started off at the end of April with the advantage of masses of frames of honey, built out comb, and larval bees.

Meanwhile the first swarm, in the German butter churn ‘hive’ above, looks to be becoming very active and strong. Fingers crossed that it hasn’t done so well that it won’t be thinking of swarming again this year.


Two more wonderful insect observations to record in the last week. The first, on a drizzly, gloomy and windy Monday was a small, drab grey butterfly which had got stuck on the edge of a white tarpaulin near the house. I’d never have spotted it otherwise, but in trying to move it with a tiny twig for it to grasp onto, its wings flapped open and I got a glimpse of stunning blue.

What was it?

I ticked off all the blue butterflies and it didn’t seem to fit any of them, and finally realised that it was a female Purple Hairstreak, Favonius quercus. I’m indebted to Richard and Deborah for confirming the identification and also for a bit more background as to why these aren’t often seen – as the scientific name implies, the larval food plant is the oak, with the adults spending most of their time high in the tree’s canopy, feeding on honeydew. Eggs are laid by the adults in July and August, at the base of buds and these overwinter, to hatch the following spring. I suspect the butterfly had been blown out of the nearby large oak by the recent strong winds. Apparently one can sometimes see adults flitting above the top of suitable oaks in sunshine in the early afternoon.

A new species for me, and therefore also the first ever sighting at Gelli Uchaf. Click here for more details and photos on the UK Butterflies site.

The second sighting was of one, and then a couple of days later simultaneously two, exquisite Ruby-tailed wasps, Chrysis ignita, as we sat at the terrace table drinking a tea time cuppa. Exactly the same spot we’d seen one about 3 years previously, but that was in late August. Click here for more details on this cuckoo wasp, and here for the most impressive image of it I’ve been able to find on the Zoomology blog. And do look at the brilliant You Tube on the life cycle of the wasp, described by a confidant teenage James Miller.

With a significant ruby themed anniversary looming shortly, it’s also provided Fiona with an idea for a suitable present to give me, after I found this brilliant review article on Ruby-tailed wasps on the Nurturing Nature website. Click here. 

One of their award winning solitary bee boxes arrived 2 days ago, and after smearing the front with mud, where to hang it? The package came without any instructions, which have to be obtained from the designer direct via email, and then a password is provided to unlock the attachment! An interesting way of protecting copyrighted information.

Eventually a site was chosen, and only time will tell how well it works, possibly being a little late in the season to get any interested tenants in 2019, but the removable sides and perspex inner walls should allow a lot more observation in due course than is possible with a nest buried in wall.


Hard to think August is nearly upon us, and the garden and landscape is once again beginning to become desperate for more rain.

17 thoughts on “Shed of the Year 2019 and the Dunbar Number; Bees are Back; Jewelled Insects.

  1. How exciting having your shed as a finalist! I’ve voted and put it in Facebook so hopefully it will get some votes from my page there…I’m not very good with Facebook so I hope I’ve shared it correctly! We still have the bee ‘nest’ /’swarm’ under our roof tiles…a real nuisance which they’d fly your way! Your garden looks amazing and beautiful as usual but it is a worry about all this watering! Maybe we’ll have to dig up some herbaceous plant borders and plant desert grasses ! Fingers crossed for your hut votes!

    • Hello Marianne,
      Thanks for that – you’re probably a lot better at FB than me! Fiona’s the only one who looks at it here. Your bees clearly think they’ve found a great spot – sadly for you – I can imagine it’s a nuisance.
      I should hang on though and not do anything too radical – usually down here, just when we’re getting desperate for rain the weather flips, and we don’t see the sun for ages. But I agree, we really do need some decent rain – the stream’s down to a very slow trickle and we’ve been on semi- water restrictions for weeks now to save our spring supply,
      best wishes

  2. Hi Julian, just voted for you! I am back today from a sweltering trip to Suffolk and watched lots of Ruby-tailed wasps in Minsmere, they were cohabiting in a tiny sand bank a couple of metres wide with Pantaloon bees and some incredible Bee wolfs carrying honey bees back into the sand bank. A real highlight of my trip. I have just bookmarked your link so I can read it properly with a less heat addled brain. The weather has broken back at home, so looking forward to sleep – a drop of almost 16 degrees overnight. Happy Ruby anniversary to you both, Julie

    • Hello Julie,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s amazing where all those years have gone!
      We’ve never been to Minsmere, but it sounds great. We’ve also never seen Pantaloon bees, or bee wolfs, and not sure we want the wolves around here, but I guess they’ll make it over sometime.
      We’ve been fortunate to have avoided the really hot weather here, ‘cos I’d hate not to be able to get out and do stuff, just because it was too hot, plus we now have a couple of grandchildren with us, so really glad it’s not quite so extreme now.
      Thanks too for voting! We hope to have a pop up opening fairly soon once visitors etc, are sorted,
      best wishes

      • Hi Julian, what timing! I had an op on Friday and now cannot drive for 6 weeks, Please let me know when you have the next one. I hope and know your opening will be very successful, and folk are fortunate indeed to get the opportunity to see your garden. Thank you for thinking of me, best wishes, Julie

      • Thank you so much Julian and Fiona and looking forward to catching up in October. Good luck this weekend. Best wishes, Julie

  3. Pingback: Shed of The Year 2019 and the Dunbar Number; Bees are Back; Jewelled Insects. — thegardenimpressionists – PerchSpective

  4. Voted for your beautiful shed. How cool is that? Your shed is a celebrity and requires a professional photoshoot! 🙂 I shared the link, fingers crossed.
    Learned new things, as always on your blog 🙂 Have never seen this butterfly before. Will look out for it in the future.

    • Hello Inese,
      And the Hut says thanks very much for the vote and sharing the link 🙂 A real fluke seeing the butterfly, and such a wonderful tropical blue colour – I’ll certainly try scanning the tops of our oaks at the right time of year on future to see if I spot any more.
      best wishes

      • We have so many butterflies around these days, they even fly in my kitchen window. No oak trees around, but I will keep this in mind 🙂

  5. Of course I gave your shed a well-deserved vote (and some others in different categories) but I never envisaged you as competitive 🙂 It is a great shed. Amelia

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