Urgent action needed for insects

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.
Tractor spraying pesticide over field

One action for insects the report recommends is a drastic reduction in pesticide use

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. The full report can be downloaded here.

You can show your support for action for insects and see our top-tips for helping them here.

In parallel to revealing the urgency of the problem, the report however also highlights a clear path to reducing 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.”

Wildlife Trusts across the Country are calling for the Government’s new Environment Bill to secure the creation of a far reaching and resilient nature recovery network to reverse the decline of insect populations and all wildlife.

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. 

The report highlights the main reasons why our pollinators and other insects are dying

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.” 

Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust says:

“The report’s message of an unnoticed apocalypse should spur us all to urgent action for insects. Prof Goulson’s findings don’t just show the alarming damage we are doing to insect populations, they also offer us solutions. 

Our work at Devon Wildlife Trust shows that where people take action for insects, then their numbers and diversity recover.

We see this from the re-introduction of species once lost to Devon, such as the southern damselfly at our Venn Ottery nature reserve (East Devon).  We see it at Chudleigh Knighton nature reserve (South Devon), where England’s last population of the narrow-headed ant is doing well enough for us to start moving colonies so that the species can spread elsewhere.  And we see it at Marsland nature reserve (North Devon) where numbers of one of the UK’s fastest declining butterflies, the pearl bordered fritillary, are now growing.

Over the past decade we’ve been working with a range of partners and land managers to create spaces for insects beyond our nature reserves and across wider landscapes. In North Devon this has led to the creation of 94 new wildflower-rich grasslands covering more than 300 hectares. In South Devon’s Avon Valley it has meant 27 new insect-friendly grasslands encompassing 38 hectares.  And in Plymouth and Exeter we’ve worked with schools and communities to create urban meadows on city streets, parks, allotments, school gardens, even on roundabouts.

The work of our Greater Horseshoe Bat Project also shows the vital part insect recovery plays in helping other species.  By reducing pesticide use and creating new areas of wildlife habitat the numbers of insects on which the increasingly rare greater horseshoe bats can feed has increased.  The lesson is clear.  If insect life is allowed to flourish, then wider wildlife flourishes too.” 

Devon Wildlife Trust is asking us all to pledge to take action for insects by visiting its website.

There people will find a host of free resources and ideas with which to help insects. All can be downloaded for free. It contains top tips on how to reduce the use of chemicals at home and how to begin to create wild bug hubs for wildlife.