13th November 2019 – A new report, Insect Declines and Why They Matter, commissioned by a group of Wildlife Trusts 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. (see Appendix A).
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, including Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, are calling for a 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.”
Dr Nicky Rivers from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust says:
“The 2018 State of Nature in Sheffield report highlights a number of insects and other invertebrates that are under pressure from environmental pressures such as habitat change and pollution. We support any action that will help reduce these pressures and allow insect numbers to recover. These include reducing unnecessary pesticide use and connecting habitats as part of a Network for Nature”
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.”
The group of Wildlife Trusts are joined by other experts in their call for urgent action:
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.”
What you can do – Take Action Now!
By working together we can change the future of insects, starting right now, you can help by taking our pledge (HERE!) to take two simple actions in your home or outside space that will make a difference.