Gemma Alexander – Community Engagement Officer
To coincide with the launch of “Garden to Garden” this month I would like to shine the spotlight on bugs; not the kind that get into your computer and wreak havoc but rather the insect kind. There are 27,000 different species of insect in the UK alone and they are essential for the continued health of any green space, be it public park or private back garden. It might be hard to believe whilst swatting a persistent wasp away at a picnic or admiring a butterfly on a walk through the Italian Gardens, but insects are in rapid decline. They may still outweigh human numbers by 200 million to 1, but scientists fear we are on the verge of a mass extinction across species and that insects are one of the hidden casualties. 40% of insect species are already in decline globally, with a third listed as endangered. Their numbers are falling by 2.5% each year meaning that in just ten years’ time we could have lost a staggering 25% of the world’s total insect life with a catastrophic knock on effect for the species who rely on them to survive.
The simple inescapable fact is that love them or loath them we are one of those species, they are the lynch pin of our eco system, they pollinate our flowers, clear away our mess and feed innumerable other species. Even the pesky Diptera, more commonly known as fly, has an indispensable role to play. They are an important food source for many different species of birds, lizards and mammals as well as other insect species and also act as nature’s housekeepers, clearing up things we would probably rather not think about. They and their lave have been used in a diversity of ways including medicine, crime scene detection and fresh water fishing, so next time you are visited by one, remember that whilst they can undoubtedly transmit pestilence and are always an unwanted visitor around food, they are also one of nature’s top grafters and a necessary evil.
Sadly the usual suspects are to blame for their wane in numbers. Loss of habitat, poor farming methods, including the use of toxic pesticides, and climate change are all driving insect life to the edge. In the UK we have already lost 58% of butterfly species commonly found on farm land. Numerous other species, including beetle, moth and bee are all facing decimation. In the case of bee loss, the consequences could be catastrophic for humans globally. 70 out of 100 crops we consume are reliant on these tiny workers for pollination.
The big question is can we do anything to help as individuals? The simple answer is yes and the good news is it doesn’t have to be difficult to make a real difference!
If you’re growing your own this year then ditch the pesticides and go organic. Hints and tips on organic food production can be found all over the internet but these are great places to get started:
Encourage insects into your space by creating a wildflower patch, this could be anything from a window box to a corner of the garden left to go wild. To misappropriate a phrase from the film Field of Dreams, if you grow it they will come. Also remember to plant some spring bulbs to support emerging insect life and to leave dandelions whilst they are in flower as they are often one of the only food sources for insects such as bees in early spring. A guide to insect attracting plants and shrubs can be found here:
Give nature a home by building a bug hotel, a handy how to guide can be found here:
Record the insect species you spot and help the UK’s entomologists get a better picture of the health of our nation’s bugs. All the details on creating a biological record can be found here:
That’s just a few simple ways we can all help and there are lots more ideas to explore online.