Why we should be worried about the world's insect loss
This week, you may have seen the news coverage on the publication of yet another, deeply worrying report about insect loss across the globe (read the full paper published in Conservation Biology here). The research suggests that 40% of insect species are undergoing “dramatic rates of decline” and are well on the path to extinction within a matter of decades.
This work supports findings from other recent studies that reported a 75% decline in the biomass of flying insects in Germany over the last 27 years, and a 98% reduction in ground-dwelling insects in Puerto Rico over the last 35 years. These long-term studies are just starting to shed light on how extreme insect decline is around the world, and we need to sit up and take notice.
But why should we be worried? It’s ironic that those creatures lacking a spine are quite literally the backbone of our ecosystem; without them everything around us would collapse. Insects, and invertebrates in general, provide ecosystem services that are often invisible to the eye but are invaluable, from pollinating a huge variety of plants and recycling and aerating our soils, to forming the foundations of many food chains.
So, how do we help?
Spread respect for bugs
“Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.” Prof. Dave Goulson
Not everyone needs to love invertebrates, but we do certainly need to appreciate them. Some people may think of them as scary or annoying – or demanding to be squashed! When I tell my friends about my job, most of them don’t have any idea of what an invertebrate is, let alone why they are so important. If people don’t know, they can’t help. To stand a chance of slowing insects’ decline, everyone needs to be convinced of their value.
It’s equally important to get adults and children on board with this message! The Mission: Invertebrate team run events across London’s Royal Parks inviting visitors of all ages to discover the fantastic, tiny world of invertebrates that shapes ours. There are many other remarkable organisations that provide similar events across the UK – check out what’s going on in your area.
Volunteer to record them
Recording of insects and other invertebrates is incredibly important to understand trends, populations and what species we have. This knowledge helps us to target our conservation efforts on the areas that are in most need of support.
There are many recording schemes across the UK, monitoring everything from snails to beetles to butterflies so pick something you’re most interested in. Schemes like BioLinks can help you learn the skills needed to get started. You can find a full list of UK recording schemes here.
As part of Mission: Invertebrate, we have carried out sixteen surveys of different species across the Royal Parks, from spiders to dragonflies. If you are London-based join us in Hyde Park for the City Nature Challenge on Saturday 27 April, when we will be asking the public to help us record as many species as possible in the park.
Plant the right thing
Whether your garden is big, small or you don’t have one at all, you can still help. Adding pollinator-friendly plants to your beds, window boxes and hanging baskets is a great way to begin; every centimetre planted with the right flowers can make a huge difference. Aim for a broad range of plants that flower at different times to provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. Plants can also be chosen that provide structure and shelter for invertebrates, particularly over winter.
If you are lucky enough to have the space, planting a small native hedgerow is fantastic for invertebrates as this is usually the first source of nectar for many newly emerged insects. Using a mix of species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, holly and hornbeam is very beneficial.
Go pesticide free
Spraying chemicals not only gets rid of your garden pests, it often gets rid of their natural predators and reduces the biodiversity of your garden. One way to move away from pesticides and other chemicals is to encourage natural predators such as our beloved hedgehogs, birds and ladybirds into your garden.
You can attract invertebrate predators by choosing a plant species that will naturally attract them – try planting it next to the one you want to protect. Slugs and snails are very often the casualties of these chemicals, but they can be just as easily deterred by adding eggshells around the bottom of your plants as they aren’t very keen on the sharp edges!
Leave wild space
Wild spaces are important habitats for invertebrates and other animals. Leaving a bit of green space to its own devices or starting a wildflower meadow from scratch are both great options. You may be a fan of a neatly mown lawn but unfortunately grass alone it isn’t a fantastic habitat for many invertebrates. Plant patches of wildflowers to add interest and colour – there are many species that can take being mown regularly, and will attract more interesting visitors to your garden. The Wildlife Trusts offers good advice on how to get started.
Bryony Cross, Mission: Invertebrate Project Officer
Photography: Penny Dixie