Accommodating aquatic insects

No Insectinction – how to solve the insect declines crisis

Room for insects to thrive

Accommodating aquatic insects

Over 4,100 invertebrate species in the UK spend at least part of their lifecycle in freshwater 6 – and they deserve more of our attention. These include well-known freshwater invertebrates like dragonflies, mayflies, pond skaters and water beetles. They play a vital role in maintaining clean water, recycling organic matter, and in providing a food source for fish, birds and mammals. The presence of aquatic insects is the standard indicator of the health of freshwaters.

However, aquatic insects have been just as squeezed for room to live as terrestrial species, and freshwaters are haemorrhaging biological diversity faster than any other ecosystem on Earth. Small water-bodies are particularly important for small animals, but their wellbeing has been largely ignored by regulators and policy makers. There have been big losses of ponds and small waterbodies in the countryside. A combination of climate change and over-abstraction has led to chalk streams and other headwaters suffering from drying out in many places, while naturally temporary streams, such as winterbournes are flowing for shorter periods. There is an urgent need to restore freshwater habitats and improve the quality of rivers, streams, ditches, springs, seepages, ponds and lakes up to the point where the freshwater insects can thrive again.

Peat bogs straddle the aquatic and terrestrial environment; not only do they form an important habitat for many aquatic and semi-aquatic insect species, they are also play a crucial role in storing carbon, which is essential for tackling climate change. Despite this, the past damage from drainage of bogs and peat extraction has not been rectified, and indeed is still being allowed to continue, and Government commitments have failed to stop the use of peat in gardening. It is essential that we stop removing peat from bogs and phase out the sale of peat for gardening and horticulture.

We can stop, and reverse the global declines in our insects, but only if everyone pulls together to do their bit.

Small steps can have a huge impact if they all fall at the same time Five things you can do to reverse insect declines

Ecdyonurus © Matt Eastham Ecdyonurus © Matt Eastham

What has to happen?

  • Small water-bodies such as headwaters and ponds must be higher up the agenda, with much more sensitive management of water resources to prevent them drying up and more action to restore temporary and permanent ponds to the countryside.
  • Freshwater insects are particularly at risk from climate change. Mitigation such as bankside planting to shade watercourses should be rolled out.
  • Less than a third of rivers worldwide are free-flowing. River restoration must enable rivers to reclaim their natural forms, allow rivers to use their flood-plain and ensure that the water environment, in, around, and under the river is healthy.
  • Remaining licences for extracting peat from bogs must be cancelled, peat sales in bags and pot plants phased out, and all degraded bogs rewetted and restored.

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