Five things to do to reverse insect decline

Insect populations are in crisis.

A recent review of 73 studies from around the world has shown that 41% of insect species are in decline and a third of species are at risk of extinction. No one factor is to blame entirely, but four main drivers are linked to the declines: habitat loss, pollution, pathogens and non-native species, and climate change. These issues may seem difficult to tackle on a personal basis but there are five really simple things that we can all do to help halt the declines in our insect populations.

Small steps can have a huge impact if they all fall at the same time. We can stop, and reverse the global declines in our insects, but only if everyone pulls together to do their part. By taking these five actions you can take the first steps to making a difference.

1. Use alternatives, for peat’s sake

Peatland is an ancient habitat, formed over thousands of years. It forms one of the most important global stores of carbon, but exploitation of this peat to burn for energy and as a growing medium in horticulture damages these peatlands and releases harmful carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere. By using alternatives to peat in your garden you can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and slow the impact of climate change on our environment.

(c) Scott Shanks

2. Put away the spray

Over past decades our reliance on pesticides has increased. These substances, designed to kill insects and other bugs, are often indiscriminate in their action, harming both their target species and others that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet they are common place in our gardens, houses and even on our pets. By eliminating, or reducing our use of these chemicals we can stop the slaughter of thousands of insects in an instant.

3. Be less tidy

One of the major factors affecting insect populations is habitat loss and fragmentation. Good quality habitat for insects is being eroded away. Insects don’t like manicured lawns and whilst cultivated double-flowered plants look lovely in the garden, they are bad news for pollinators as they typically don’t produce pollen and their nectar is hidden deep inside their flowers. You can help the insects in your garden by letting the grass grow longer and sowing some wildflowers. If every garden had a little patch for insects collectively it would probably be the biggest area of wildlife habitat in the world.

4. Watch your footprint

Watch your footprint – climate change is a growing threat to a wide range of wildlife, including insects. Reduce your use of fossil fuels by driving and flying less, turn down your thermostat, and switch off unnecessary lights. Go organic to protect invertebrates from pesticides. Buy your food from local suppliers, use your local shop, or grow your own vegetables. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, it will also help small food producers to compete with big food and farming businesses.

(c) Laurie Jackson

5. Watch out for stowaways

Billions of pounds worth of plants and trees are transported around the world every year. They may bring colour to your home and garden but with them they can bring unwanted stowaways. Non-native species such as flatworms can wreak havoc on native wildlife. In many cases there is no need to import plants – local horticulturalists are quite capable of growing plants and selling them to the domestic market. By buying home-grown plants you can help to prevent invasive species reaching your garden and our countryside.

Obama Flatworm (Obama nungara) © Richard Lewington

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