What’s the news?
Do you remember driving 70mph down the motorway and having to activate your windscreen wipers every now and then with an added spray of screenwash…not due to anything other than trying to get those pesky insects off your windscreen?
Now think back, can you remember the last time that you had to do that? I can’t.
A rapid decline in flying insects has become so prominent that there is even a name for the act of noticing less squashed insects on your car – the disappearance of ‘the windscreen phenomenon’.
You may have heard about the recent study detailing the huge decline in flying insects in Germany. Populations of these insects have declined by 75% in less than 30 years, although the exact causes for this are currently unknown. The data included thousands of insects such as bees, butterflies and moths.
What does this mean?
This insect decline has the potential to be catastrophic, as flying insects are responsible for many different key processes which help to maintain the health of our natural places. These include pollination, pest control, and being a food source for other wildlife including many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles. Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that this study was carried out in 60 different protected areas in Germany, who points to the wonderment of just how many insect species are disappearing from the countless areas that aren’t protected.
The scientists have stated that whilst the reason for such a steep decline in their numbers is unclear at the moment, possible reasons could be the changing weather, the exposure to chemical pesticides, a lack of food for them to eat, or a combination of all of these factors. Although some scientists have pointed to the use of pesticides as a main culprit for the cause of this decline, many others say that it is largely due to climate change, as areas where no pesticides are being used, such as the Ecuadorian rainforests, are still experiencing heavy insect population declines.
What knock-on effect will this have?
Did you know that insects have actually been on Earth for a thousand times longer than humans have? They helped shape the world that we now live in by encouraging and spreading flowering plants, controlling pests and decomposing unwanted matter, so that we can have the beautiful natural world that we now know. But how long will this last if insects are disappearing?
Researchers have stated that the decline of insects in these nature reserves will further affect numerous agricultural landscapes. Insects currently make up around two-thirds of all life on earth, but sadly we may be losing thousands of species before they have even been discovered, meaning that the number of insects that we have lost may actually be far greater than we can even imagine.
If insects were wiped out, it is estimated that humans would only last a few months before completely disappearing too. After the insects go, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would all die out too, shortly followed by flowers and other plants, turning the earth into essentially a huge compost heap of dead trees and animals. A vivid picture and startling thought.
What can we do to help?
70% of all known animal species are insects. And we must protect them from the processes and actions that we have come to think of as ‘standard’ and ‘normal’ because it is how things have always been done. But now we are beginning to see the destruction of humanity’s ways, and it’s almost too late…but not quite if we act now.
Many people have a fear of some sort of insect, and think of them as creepy crawlies that are dirty and crafty and have too many legs for our liking. A lot of people only pay attention to insects when they’re trying to get rid of them for buzzing around their head or their food, but insects are pretty much the source of our lives and even wellbeing. We have learnt that without insects we wouldn’t have many of our favourite foods, such as avocados, or our favourite sights such as brightly coloured flowers.
The main things that you can do to help the steep decline of insects are easy and simple acts that won’t be a huge effort to do, but could potentially have a hugely positive effect on the lives of insects.
- Don’t use chemical pesticides
Chemical pesticides are damaging because they are not specific to the insect that you consider a ‘pest’ and can often end up killing a large number of bees, butterflies, and other insects that are directly essential for our food supplies. Also, once a pesticide has been sprayed and turns into gas or vapour, it can then travel through the air and spread to surrounding land, therefore harming other wildlife, as well as spreading through the soil and groundwater, therefore contaminating our water supply.
- Build an insect hotel
An insect house or hotel is really easy and fun to make and can really help insects during the winter months. You can make one by simply piling up some old bark, dry leaves and other various plant matter and placing it together in a corner, or preferably in a sheltered outdoor space. This provides a great habitat for a huge variety of insects which also keeps them protected.
- Plant insect-friendly flowers
A range of different flowers are essential for healthy insect populations to pollinate, and these will make your garden or outdoor space look beautiful too.
- Spread the word!
Finally, and perhaps most important, tell your friends and family about the shocking decline of insects and why it’s important for us to protect them. In a busy modern day world, people have hectic lives with lots to occupy their minds, and insects are often not one of those things.
But once people know that our own survival depends on the survival of our tiny six-legged friends, I’ll bet they want to save them as much as I do!