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New report reveals true impact of insect apocalypse and calls for urgent action

A new report by a Professor at the University of Sussex warns that if insect declines are not halted, ecosystems will collapse with ‘profound consequences for human wellbeing.’

Commissioned by a group of Wildlife Trusts in the south west, Professor Dave Goulson’s report reveals the lasting effects of declines on insect eating birds, bats, and fish, and the cost to society in terms of the millions in lost revenue and broken ecosystems.

Professor of Biology, Dave Goulson said: “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.

“It’s not just our wild bees and pollinators that are declining – these trends are mirrored across a great many of other invertebrate species. Of serious concern is the little we know about the fate of many of the more obscure invertebrates that are also crucial to healthy ecosystems.

“What we do know however is that the main causes of decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, and the overuse of pesticides. Wild insects are routinely exposed to complex cocktails of toxins which can cause either death or disorientation and weakened immune and digestive systems.”

The report brings together scientific research studies from around the world, with findings indicating that we may have lost 50% or more of our insects since 1970, while 41% of the Earth’s remaining five million insect species are now ‘threatened with extinction’.

In the UK specifically:

  • 23 species of bee and flower-visiting wasp have gone extinct in the UK since 1850
  • The geographic ranges of many bumblebee species has more than halved between 1960 and 2012.
  • Numbers of butterflies fell by 46% between 1976 and 2017, with declines running at 77% in ‘habitat specialist species’ such as Marsh Fritillaries and Wood White butterflies.
  • The abundance of larger moths such as the Garden Tiger dwindled by 28% between 1968 and 2007, with Southern England experiencing a 40% drop in numbers.

Yet the report also highlights a clear path to reversing this worrying rate of decline, suggesting clear measures that can be taken to avoid ecological disaster.

With a coordinated and concerted action from government, local authorities, food growers and the public, the Wildlife Trusts believe that insect populations can recover and thrive once more.

Dr Gary Mantle MBE, Chief Executive of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and sponsor of the report said: “This unnoticed apocalypse should set alarm bells ringing. We have put at risk some of the fundamental building blocks of life.

“But as this report highlights, the main causes of insect declines are known and we can address them; insects and other invertebrates can recover quickly if we stop killing them and restore the habitats they require to thrive. 

“We all need to take action now in our gardens, parks, farms, and places of work.”

Wildlife Trusts across the country are now 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 are also supporting the introduction of an ambitious and legally binding pesticide reduction target 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.

Steve Garland, entomologist and Chair of the Wildlife Trusts policy setting body for England said: “As a child, I was excited and inspired by an abundance of wonderful insects and developed a lifelong love of wildlife as a result.  It saddens me that young people are now missing out on this and I want to do something about it.

“I really believe that the catastrophic decline of insects can be reversed by drastically reducing the use of chemicals in the environment and creating strong Nature Recovery Networks to give them space to live and thrive in safety.”

The Trusts are also 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. 

Click here to view the full report, and find out more about Professor Goulson's research on the podcast Impacted.

By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 November 2019

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