Editor’s Note: Craig Macadam is director of conservation at Buglife. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
No one factor is to blame entirely, but four main drivers are linked to the declines: habitat loss, pollution, pathogens (diseases and microorganisms) 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.
1. Use alternatives, for peat’s sake
Peatland is an ancient habitat for insects, formed over thousands of years. It supports a unique array of species including the Hieroglyphic ladybirds, but peatland is also one of the most important global stores of carbon.
Exploitation of this peat to burn for energy and as a growing medium in horticulture damages these peatlands and releases harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By using alternatives to peat, such as bark, wood fiber, coir, bracken and green compost, in your garden you can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and slow the impact of climate change on our environment. Just check the label when you make a purchase and look for peat free.
2. Put away the pesticide
Over the 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 commonly used 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. To do this, consider companion planting (growing complementary plants close together), encouraging natural predators (like beetles, ladybirds, lacewings) or picking off pests by hand if plants are overwhelmed with aphids or caterpillars.
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
Climate change is a growing threat to a wide range of wildlife, including insects. Whilst this is a big issue that needs big action to tackle it, there are still some things you can do to make a difference.
Buy your food from local suppliers, use your local shop, or grow your own vegetables. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but it will also help small food producers to compete with big food and farming businesses.
5. Watch out for stowaways
Billions of dollars-worth of plants and trees are transported around the world every year. They may bring color 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. Some of these aliens can also carry diseases that can impact greatly on native species whilst the newcomers exhibit immunity, crayfish plague being an extreme example.
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.
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.