Surrey Wildlife Trust calls for urgent action for insects

© Alan Price

New report reveals impacts of invertebrate apocalypse

A new report Insect Declines and Why They Matter, commissioned by a group of Wildlife Trusts, has revealed that drastic declines in insect numbers look set to have far reaching and devastating consequences for wildlife and people.  Some 41 per cent of insect species are now threatened with extinction.

In Surrey 34 per cent of invertebrates are already extinct or heading towards extinction as indicated by the 2017 State of Surrey’s Nature report.

The new report, authored by invertebrate expert Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, shows insect populations are dying out up to 8 times faster than larger animals. Insects are needed to pollinate three-quarters of our food crops and are the main food source for many birds, fish and smaller mammals higher up the food chain. 

In Surrey sharp declines towards extinction have been recorded in many invertebrate groups from bumblebees (42%), ground beetles (51%) and butterflies (44%) to caddisflies (42%), fresh water snails, slugs and mussels (34%) and hoverflies (25%) 

(source: The State of Surrey’s Nature; Surrey Nature Partnership 2017).

A further 18% of the other 200 bee species in Surrey are either threatened or extinct already. Individual species such as the shrill carder bee is now extinct in Surrey and other familiar insects such as dung beetles, May bugs, pond-skaters and the garden tiger moth are in decline locally.

The Insect Declines and Why They Matter report also highlights the real and lasting knock-on impacts on insect-eating birds, bats and fish, and also the cost to society in terms of the millions of pounds in lost revenue and broken ecosystems. But with habitat loss and fragmentation and nearly 17,000 tonnes of pesticides broadcast across the landscape every year in the UK it is no surprise that insects are in trouble.

Parallel to revealing the urgency of the problem, the report also highlights a clear path to reversing the rate of decline and suggests measures that could take the nation away from the worrying route to what is an imminent ecological disaster.

The Trusts believe that with coordinated and concerted action from government, local authorities, food growers and the public, insect populations can recover and thrive once more to fulfil their critical role in the ecosystems that support all life. (see Appendix A).

Dr. Kate Basley, Citizen Scientist Coordinator at Surrey Wildlife Trust, says:

“We must not be complacent about Surrey’s beautiful landscapes and green spaces which are rapidly becoming inhospitable green deserts for wildlife. Everyone must do their bit to halt the extinction. We must start creating more insect friendly habitat and reduce pesticide use on gardens, farms, parks and roadsides. There are simple actions that will help insect populations bounce back. It would be very sad to see the end of such wonderful insects like pond-skaters, May bugs and dung beetles here in Surrey.”

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.”

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.” 

The report also highlights a clear path to reversing the rate of decline and suggests measures that could take the nation away from the worrying route to what is an imminent ecological disaster.

Wildlife Trusts across the Country 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 is also supporting the introduction of an ambitious and legally binding pesticide reduction targets 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.  

Pledge your support