Monday 11 August 2014

Mass Insect Extinction; the Elephant in the Room?

Life on planet earth has evolved over billions of years and has, to date, endured five major mass extinctions

Billions of species of flora and fauna have been and gone, but one class of species has proved extremely resilient (so far) to whatever changes have occurred on the planet and - apart from losing a few of their orders and suffering a reduction in diversity during the end-Permian period - has been the only class species to have survived all these extinctions.

I am speaking of course about the class 'Insecta' - Insects to you and me.

Insects are amazing - in every sense of the word. There are currently over 900,000 known species in the world, each performing different roles within our eco-systems. Not only do they form essential ecological links as predators and parasites, but they are also responsible for the vital roles of decompositionsoil processing and, of course, pollinationInsects have also contributed to the evolution of many other species; the most notable being the relationship they have formed with the flowering plants with which they have co-evolved over the last 100 million years.

Many insects are 'keystone species'. This means a number of other species depend upon them for their existence. If you were to remove a keystone species from any given eco-system it would upset the balance and that eco-system would collapse. Nature is all about balance. 

Given the fact that many of the planet's keystone species are insects, it's most fortunate that they have proved so resilient to change. So far.

Insects Facing Mass Extinction

Unfortunately, over a period of just 100 short years, things have changed so dramatically that this amazing class of species is now under threat. For the first time ever, INSECTS ARE FACING MASS EXTINCTION. 

Let me ask you a question......

When did you last have to stop your car during a long journey to clean away dead insects from the windscreen? 

When I was a child (back in the 60s) we used to travel up the A1 to Yorkshire to see my grandmother and I remember my father having to make regular stops to wash the windscreen - which was splattered with so many dead insects that the wipers alone couldn't keep it clean.

I also remember seeing huge flocks of birds following the farmer's ploughs in the fields alongside the road; all of them feeding on an abundance of worms and other invertebrates or micro organisms living beneath the surface of the soil that had just been exposed by the farmer's plough.

These days there are so few insects that our windscreens remain clear from Land's End to John O'Groats. And there are no longer flocks of birds following the tractors, because there's no life left in the soil.

How can this have happened in such a short period of time? Simple. It is down, unequivocally, to Man's chemical poisoning of the land, the oceans and the biosphere. That, and our obsessive desire to tame, manage, degrade, fragment, destroy and 'mow to within an inch of it's life' the once rich and diverse habitats that used to support insects and other biodiversity.

I say this because it needs to be said. Again.

We were warned of this scenario in the 1960's by Rachel Carson in her book 'Silent Spring'. We are being warned again by Henk Tennekes author of 'A Disaster in the Making' and by organisations such as Pesticides Action Network who campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and other toxic substances.

But why is this issue not being addressed as a matter of urgency in the media? Why do I not see any evidence that mass insect extinction is being taken seriously by the powers that be? And why are so few NGOs prepared to speak out about it? Most of our wildlife organisations tackle the issue of habitat loss as a matter of course. However, from what I can see, the only wildlife organisation campaigning specifically against pesticides and the impact their use is having upon invertebrates, is BUGLIFE - the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.....

Having raised this issue myself on numerous occasions with people from all walks of life, I'm tired of hearing the same old arguments from those who advocate that we 'need' these toxic substances to survive.

The arguments range from "We can't feed the world without the use of pesticides" to "What about all the jobs dependent on the pesticides industry…. people can't afford to lose their jobs" - and many more arguments besides.

These arguments are unbelievably short sighted. Without insects (not to mention unpolluted soil, water and atmosphere) man will not survive anyway. Very little will survive. We are destroying our tomorrow for the sake of our today. And the craziest thing of all is that it doesn't need to be like this because small scale, organic and sustainable farming CAN & WILL feed the world. 

Of course it's not just the agri-chemical and pharmaceutical industries doing the damage...insects need habitat to survive too. They need environments where they can forage, nest, breed and hibernate - and this is something we can all help to provide.

Do something about it....

It is time for us to face the facts, however uncomfortable they may be. We can only effect change if we know and understand that change needs to happen. Burying our heads in the sand isn't going to solve never has.

Humans are amazing, resourceful beings. All we need to do is wake up to the reality of the damage we are causing, shift our mind sets a little and  DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!

Ways you can help:

Make your garden a haven for pollinators

Join Buglife

Get involved with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Become a Bees, Wasps & Ants recorder

OR.... simply spend some time lying in the undergrowth getting to know your local insects. They are utterly mesmerising. Once you're hooked you'll wonder how you ever managed not to notice them before and you will be motivated to do everything you can to help them survive.

B x


  1. yes as it starting to happen wars food toxins brain washing

  2. If everyone did just ONE thing to encourage and support all of our wildlife instead of trying to wipe them out it could only help.
    I'm a newbie to chicken keeping and am concerned about the use of DE powder which, I thought was just powdered fossils (I know!) this stuff can kill red mites and lice in hens but, surely there must be another way? Am growing lots of different herbs and once the 3 girls have laid for the day and if it is sunny especially, I open up the coop and let the fresh air in, then scatter fresh bedding and herbs in the coop. What else can I do?
    Despite this, I have had lots of Bumble/honey/mason bees and other insects in the garden, probably due to the amount of nectar/pollinating plants I've grown. Also, am making a 'bug hotel', still collecting more stuff to put in it.
    The garden was quite barren when I moved her 18months ago, gradually bulding up the fertility as naturally as I can. Don't use any slug pellets and only organic fertilisers - pelleted chicken manure and home-made seaweed and nettle and comfrey 'tea' diluted to feed plants. There's a long way to go and I have the help of the hens who free- range most of the day and a very large hedgehog!
    Any suggestions as to what else I could possibly do would be gratefully recieved!
    I'm into recycling too but, have to rely on friends and family and freecycle type sites to get stuff cheaply/free. I'm on benefits as it is unlikely I'll work again due to mental and physical problems and struggle financially but, I will not relent on my personal mission to be as organically growing/living, even if all around me don't seem to care! I get funny looks when I collect plastic drinks cups (Potential planting pots/cane end protectors) and I've always got a supply of recycled bags handy to collect greenery/fruit/veg from the floor of the market! Often these are still good enough to cook with or washed and given to the hens.
    I've rambled on enough!

  3. I forgot to say, I have a 'pond' too. made from sinking a small zinc bathtub into the garden, planted around three sides with reeds and yellow irises. It has pebbles and shells (shells originally from some that were in a bathroom gift). The pebbles are from the garden and a local field. I have stones and bricks in one end of the pond to enable critters to get out, like the hedgehog and the occasional hen! There is a resident frog and elsewhere in the garden a toad, neither seem to have mated in my pond but, may do in time. I'm in the process of screening off the pond from the hens, apparently along with mice they will kill and eat frogs, but, still giving access/exit for the amphibians.

  4. You're right insects are so important, so fascinating too, I've been getting more and more interested in the insects around me over the past few years.

    Friends of the Earth are also campaigning on pesticides and bees i think