Insect Armageddon?

4 March 2019
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4 March 2019, Comments Comments Off on Insect Armageddon?

Back in the 1970’s and early 80’s it was not at all unusual in the spring and summer months to find the front of people’s cars plastered with thousands of insects; from butterflies to bees and wasps. But those days have gone now and across the whole of Europe and North America it is the same story of rapid insect decline.

As we have lost birds, plants and mammals, the decimation of insect species has been missed by many. We all have a love-hate relationship with our six legged friends. Some bite, others sting and some look downright scary. Yet without insects, the planet would slowly die. Insects are critical for pollination; they also provide food for birds, which in turn are the main prey for many mammals – remove insects and you lose one of the key building-blocks of biodiversity.

In the last 50 years, our best estimate is that the UK may have lost about 60% of its insects.  Nationally we are losing as much as 2.5% of the remaining insect population each year.

So why is it is happening and what can be done? Our farming methods went through a significant intensification process in the 1950’s and 60’s. Insecticides and pesticides rapidly wiped out not only pest species but also non-target organisms. Our gardens too – tidy squares of grass with a few foreign plants and giant concrete patios – have become inhospitable environments for insects.

If we are to rescue the UK’s insects, we are going to have to act incredibly quickly. Whilst a large focus is on our farmers and helping them to protect insects; we also need to act at home. Easy steps include:

  1. Leave an area of grass uncut from March to the end of September. Long grass support a greater variety of insect species.
  2. Leave a few patches of nettles, thistles and blackberry bushes; they may not be pretty and have spikes and stings, but they provide great habitat for insects.
  3. Leave a source of water available all year round; either a small pond or even an upturned bin-lid. Insects need a regular supply of water to feed and breed.
  4. Don’t use insecticides unless absolutely essential.  When you use them, target the pest species and leave everything else alone.
  5. Create a compost heap, with clippings, flower heads, non-citrus fruit peels etc.  Composts can be great for insect life.

Let’s see if we can make 2019 a year in which the UK fights back to save our remaining insects.