A new report, Insect Declines and Why They Matter, commissioned by a group of Wildlife Trusts in the south west has revealed conclusively that drastic declines in insect numbers look set to have far-reaching consequences for wildlife and people. The new report, authored by invertebrate expert Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, highlights the real and lasting knock on effects of the declines on insect eating birds, bats, and fish, and also the cost to society in terms of the millions in lost revenue and broken ecosystems.
In parallel to revealing the urgency of the problem, the report however also highlights a clear path to reversing the worrying rate of decline and suggests measures that could take the nation off the route to what is an imminent ecological disaster. The Trusts believe that with a coordinated and concerted action from government, local authorities, food growers and the public, insect populations can recover and thrive once more so they can fulfil their incredibly important roles in the ecosystems that support all life.
Prof Goulson, author of the report, says:
“Insects make up the bulk of known species on earth and are integral to the functioning of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, performing vital roles such as pollination, seed dispersal and nutrient cycling. They are also food for numerous larger animals, including birds, bats, fish, amphibians and lizards. If we don’t stop the decline of our insects there will be profound consequences for all life on earth.
And it’s not just our wild bees and pollinators that are declining – these trends are mirrored across a great many of other invertebrate species. Of serious concern is the little we know about the fate of many of the more obscure invertebrates that are also crucial to healthy ecosystems.
What we do know however is that the main causes of decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, and the overuse of pesticides. Wild insects are routinely exposed to complex cocktails of toxins which can cause either death or disorientation and weakened immune and digestive systems.”
In a sobering warning the report concludes: “The consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.”
The group are also supporting the introduction of an ambitious and legally binding pesticide reduction target for the UK; a crucial step in safeguarding invertebrates. A number of other countries in Europe already have such targets and are making significantly more progress than the UK towards achieving the urgently-needed transition away from routine use of harmful chemicals in urban green spaces, gardens and farmland.
In addition, the Trusts are asking the public to show their support by pledging to take action for insects at home by reducing their own use of pesticides and to change their gardening habits to provide havens for insects and wildlife.
Habitat loss. The report says:
“Over the last century, natural and semi-natural habitats have been cleared at an accelerating rate to make way for farming, roads, housing estates, factories, lorry parks, golf courses, shopping centres and a multitude of other human endeavours…[Today] many important insect populations [only] persist on small, highly fragmented and isolated islands of habitat.”
Pesticides. The report says:
“c.17,000 tons of poison [is] broadcast across the [UK’s] landscape each year.”
Much of this is associated with intensive farming, but the report also highlights the destructive capacity of domestic usage, where “numerous insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are freely available from garden centres, DIY stores and even supermarkets.”
Dr Gary Mantle MBE, Chief Executive of Wiltshire WT and sponsor of the report says:
“This unnoticed apocalypse should set alarms ringing. We have put at risk some of the fundamental building blocks of life. But as this report highlights, the main causes of insect declines are known and we can address them; insects and other invertebrates can recover quickly if we stop killing them and restore the habitats they require to thrive. But we all need to take action now in our gardens, parks, farms, and places of work.”
Steve Garland, entomologist and Chair of the Wildlife Trusts policy setting body for England says:
“As a child, I was excited and inspired by an abundance of wonderful insects and developed a lifelong love of wildlife as a result. It saddens me that young people are now missing out on this and I want to do something about it. I really believe that the catastrophic decline of insects can be reversed by drastically reducing the use of chemicals in the environment and creating strong Nature Recovery Networks to give them space to live and thrive in safety.”
Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns for PAN UK says:
“Reducing pesticide use is a challenge that society can no longer ignore. We applaud the Wildlife Trusts and others for highlighting that routine overuse of pesticides is harming wildlife and the ecosystems that underpin our health and prosperity. If the UK government is serious about its commitment to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it” then it urgently needs to adopt measures which drive a massive decrease in pesticide use. We need an ambitious pesticide reduction target accompanied by a package of support for farmers to help them transition to non-chemical alternatives.”
Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife says:
“Recent declines are part of a long term loss of diversity and abundance caused by habitat fragmentation. The very latest research shows that quality habitats are so isolated that most invertebrate species are failing to move north to keep track with the climate envelope in which they can survive. Restoring networks of habitats for insects is now a number one priority and it is excellent that so many Wildlife Trusts are already working to create a network of B-Lines. We have the solutions that should enable our children to again experience ‘moth snowstorms’.”
John Clarkson, Head of Conservation for Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust says:
“Insects are brilliant, they are such beautiful and amazing creatures. Yes, of course, some can be really annoying, like when they bite or sting, but they actually all do some really important things that we really could not live without, like pollination. It’s a tragedy that we have, and continue to reduce their numbers so drastically, and yet it’s so easy to do the right thing - to reduce our use of pesticides, for instance, or leave part of our garden to grow wild – and to be rewarded as a result by the sight of butterflies and beetles, not just for us, but for future generations.”