Mass Insect Extinction: The Elephant in the Room

Guest post by Brigit Strawbridge who campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of increasing biodiversity and reconnecting with nature, with a particular focus on ‘bees’: their behavior, the problems they face and what we can do to help. Brigit appeared on the TV show It’s Not Easy Being Green, and regularly speaks on a range of environmental and ethical issues.

Life on planet earth has evolved over billions of years and has, to date, endured five major mass extinctions

Billions of species of flora and fauna have been and gone, but one class of species has proved extremely resilient (so far) to whatever changes have occurred on the planet and – apart from losing a few of their orders and suffering a reduction in diversity during the end-Permian period – has been the only class species to have survived all these extinctions.

I am speaking of course about the class ‘Insecta’ - Insects to you and me.

Insects are amazing – in every sense of the word. There are currently over 900,000 known species in the world, each performing different roles within our eco-systems. Not only do they form essential ecological links as predators and parasites, but they are also responsible for the vital roles of decomposition, soil processing and, of course, pollination. Insects have also contributed to the evolution of many other species; the most notable being the relationship they have formed with the flowering plants with which they have co-evolved over the last 100 million years.

Many insects are known as ‘keystone species’which means a number of other species depend upon them for their existence. If you were to remove a keystone species from any given eco-system it would upset the balance and that eco-system would collapse. Nature is all about balance. 

Given the fact that many of the planet’s keystone species are insects, it’s most fortunate that they have proved so resilient to change.

Unfortunately, over a period of just 100 short years, things have changed so dramatically that this amazing class of species is now under threat. For the first time ever, insects are facing mass extinction. 

How can this be? Simple. It’s down, unequivocally, to Man’s chemical poisoning of the land, the oceans and the atmosphere. That, and our obsessive desire to tame, manage, destroy and ‘mow to within an inch of it’s life” their once rich and diverse habitats.

I say this because it needs to be said. Again.

We were warned of this scenario in the 1960′s by Rachel Carson  in her book ‘Silent Spring’. We are being warned again by Henk Tennekes  author of ‘A Disaster in the Making’ and by organisations such as the Pesticides Action Network  who campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and other toxic substances.

But why is this issue not being addressed as a matter of urgency in the media? Why can I not see any evidence that it is being taken seriously by the powers that be? And why are so few NGOs prepared to speak out about it? From what I can see, the only wildlife organisation that campaigns specifically against the use pesticides is BUGLIFE  - the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

Excuses, excuses, excuses…..

Having raised this issue myself on numerous occasions with people from all walks of life, I’m tired of hearing the same old arguments from those who advocate that we ‘need’ these toxic substances to survive.

The arguments range from “We can’t feed the world without the use of pesticides” to “What about all the jobs dependent on the pesticides industry….people can’t afford to lose their jobs” - and many more arguments besides.

These arguments are unbelievably short sighted. Without insects (not to mention unpolluted soil, water and atmosphere) man will not survive anyway. Very little will survive. We are destroying our tomorrow for the sake of our today. And the craziest thing of all is that it doesn’t need to be like this because small scale, organic and sustainable farming CAN & WILL feed the world. 

Of course it’s not just the agri-chemical and pharmaceutical industries doing the damage…insects need habitat to survive too. They need environments where they can forage, nest, breed and hibernate – and this is something we can all help to provide.

It is time for us to face the facts, however uncomfortable they may be. We can only effect change if we know and understand that change needs to happen. Burying our heads in the sand isn’t going to solve anything . . . . it never has.

Humans are amazing, resourceful beings. All we need to do is wake up to the reality of the damage we are causing, shift our mind sets a little and  DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!

National Insect Week  is coming up soon. Get involved….you’ll be amazed how much fun you’ll have!

Other ways you can help . . . . .

Become a Bee Guardian

Join Buglife

Get involved with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Take part in the UK Ladybird Survey

Become a Bees, Wasps & Ants recorder

OR…. simply spend some time lying in the undergrowth getting to know your local insects. They are utterly mesmerising and once you’re hooked you’ll wonder how you ever managed not to notice them before.

Photo by xlibber, via Flickr 

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