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Insects: Why they are so important

Rachel Shaw, communications officer for Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, writes about why we should protect our insects in this month's column:

Apart from butterflies and bees – that we like to see in our gardens – and the annoyance when mosquitoes bite us, insects can be easy to ignore.

But did you know that in the UK there are over 20,000 species of insect? They do all sorts of amazing things for us. Insects pollinate crops; decompose dead plants and animals; provide a source of food for other animals; and control pest species.

A ladybird eating aphids.
A ladybird eating aphids.

However, their numbers are declining. The facts revealed in a new report ‘Action of Insects’ published by The Wildlife Trusts are startling. Insects are dying out up to eight times faster than larger animals and 41 per cent of insect species face extinction. This is a grave cause for concern – it impacts us all as well as all wildlife.

Author of the report, Professor Dave Goulson, says: “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.”

The good news is that it’s not too late to act. The Wildlife Trusts are calling for a new Environment Bill. This would see the creation of aresilient nature recovery network to reverse the decline of insect populations and all wildlife.

We can all make a difference by reducing our use of harmful chemicals at home and creating gardens that will attract and support insects. It means accepting some leaves will be reduced to lace-work patterns by munching caterpillars. But maybe, if we switch our thinking around, we could see a plant that has been eaten as a positive thing. It means the garden is an ecosystem. And a garden which is providing for a wide range of insects and other wildlife should be something to be proud of.


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