Selling Bugs

Friday 8th August 2014

This week is a guest blog – by Buglife’s Director of Communications and Fundraising, Paul Hetherington. Enjoy. Matt Shardlow.

Selling bugs is quite a challenge, but it shouldn’t be. The scientific evidence for the importance of our invertebrates is more compelling than for any other species. Two out of every three species found on our planet are invertebrates, 40,000 alone in the UK. But against the compulsion of reality lurks the mythology of prejudice, fear and hatred peddled throughout time by bard, author and more recently the media.

To quote Sir David Attenborough ‘if we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world's ecosystems would collapse.

Loss of pollinators in the UK would create an annual £2 billion hole in our farming economy, leading to a massive price hike in our shopping baskets. Asain Hornet (Vespa Velutina) © Steven Falk

But bugs are the victims of speciesism with a constant drip, drip feed of scare stories; deadly Asian hornets poised to invade, malaria mosquitoes could colonise the Essex marshes, killer spiders in our houses and wasp invasions.

Horror genre and science fiction have long dwelt on bugs as alien threats, killer bees, mutated human/insect crosses, Shelob the spider – Tolkien’s most deadly bug, Aragog the Harry Potter spider, biblical locust plagues, the list of ‘evil’ bugs is endless.

Furry cuddly species such as the panda with its cute markings instantly pull upon our heartstrings eliciting giving. A cuddly panda on cause related marketing is a guarantor of increased sales, the market for most bugs is more likely to work the other way – who would buy a product sporting an earwig? The term bug has many other bad connotations relating to types of sickness (stomach bug) and computer software problems – in Google the top search results for bug all relate to bed bugs.Locust swarm © Niv Singer

Occasionally there is a breakthrough where a bug becomes popular for a while. Today the bee is the flagship species for all our invaluable invertebrates, the result of this popularity is the springing up of a mass of bee campaigns and charities all soaking the market often for niche causes at the expense of true invertebrate needs.

Grant support for nature conservation is sparse in comparison to that available for other causes, mirroring public giving, and mostly dependent on the engagement of so called disadvantaged groups and requiring unfettered public access. Engaging people with bugs is hard though in the negative fog of mythology peddled by the media, whilst many of the best sites for bugs, industrial brownfields, are by their very nature hazardous for public access.

If ever there was a case of ‘the head says yes but the heart says no’ that is the dilemma of raising money for bugs, they come with an unbridled endowment, are essential for our future prospects but they also have an undeserved poor reputation and a misconceived image problem of being at best unattractive.