“Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse” Dave Goulson, Aug 2021
In this book Professor Goulson examines the dramatic decline in insects, the vital services they perform, the potential causes and possible solutions.
Insects pollinate three quarters of our crops, recycle dung, leaves and corpses, keep the soil healthy and control pests. Birds and fish rely on insects for food. We cannot function without them yet their decline is estimated as 75% in the past 50 years.
A study of nature reserves in Germany from 1989 to 2016 recorded a 75% fall in weight of insects caught in traps. A 10 year grasslands study showed an average two-thirds loss of weight in the insects, spiders, woodlice etc. Common UK butterfly abundance fell by 46% in 40 years.
There is little worldwide systematic monitoring of insects but the decline of insect eating birds shows the trend. North American insect eating birds have declined by 40% in 47 years with swallows and swifts numbers falling by 70% in 20 years. Similar declines are shown in the very limited studies from Africa, Asia and South America. At what point will there be a catastrophic failure in our environment?
The book reviews causes of the insect decline, habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides and herbicides, farming practices and climate change. Agricultural change is required to manage these problems plus a change in Western life style and eating choices. This book makes a major contribution to raising awareness.
The Guardian newspaper reports:- “The critical ability of wild bumblebees to keep their colonies at the right temperature is seriously damaged by the weedkiller glyphosate, research has revealed.
Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in history, intended to kill only plants. The harm to bumblebees – vital pollinators – was not identified in regulatory risk assessments, which only test whether a pesticide rapidly kills healthy, individual bees. However, the collective failure to regulate colony temperature could have a massive impact on its ability to produce the next generation, the scientists said….”
Guardian newspaper report:-
“Solar parks could provide habitats for wildlife – and particularly bumblebees – to flourish, if managed in the right way, benefiting farmers and nature, new research suggests…..
If solar park owners were encouraged to use the land to sow wildflowers alongside the solar panels, they could become valuable habitats for pollinators, research from Lancaster University has found. Managing them in this way would boost bumblebee numbers beyond the borders of the parks, to about 1km (0.6 miles) away, benefiting farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops…. “
Report in the Guardian newspaper:- ” Almost half of Britain’s natural biodiversity has disappeared over the centuries, with farming and urban spread triggered by the industrial and agricultural revolutions being blamed as major factors for this loss.
Britain has lost more of its natural biodiversity than almost anywhere else in western Europe, the most of all the G7 nations and more than many other nations such as China,
The world’s overall biodiversity intactness is estimated at 75%, which is significantly lower than the 90% average considered to be a safe limit for ensuring the planet does not tip into an ecological recession that could result in widespread starvation. On this scale, the UK’s index reading was 53%.”
- To pollinate 87% of plants. 75% crops need insect pollination.
- Recycle dung, leaves, corpses.
- Keep soils healthy.
- Control pests, though they can also be pests.
- Food for larger animals eg. fish. Crickets are 12 times more efficient than cows in converting vegetation into digestible body mass, produce little or no methane and use 55 times less water.
- Insects are in all food chains.
German nature reserve studies – over 27 years the insect biomass has dropped by 75%. Forest and grassland had a 40% drop over 10 years.
UK butterflies – over 41 years a 46% drop in common species numbers. 77% drop in rare species numbers.
US studies – 70% drop in insectivorous birds in 20 years.
Source:- Dave Goulson “Silent Earth” 2021
“Countries across Europe are exploiting a loophole to allow widespread continued use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, two years after the EU introduced a landmark ban on their use.
The EU agreed a ban on all outdoor uses of the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam on 27 April 2018, in order to protect bees.
However, an Unearthed investigation has found that in the two years since the ban was agreed, EU countries have issued at least 67 different “emergency authorisations” for outdoor use of these chemicals…”
Observer newspaper article:- “Insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years – and the consequences may soon be catastrophic. Biologist Dave Goulson reveals the vital services they perform … “
A Guardian newspaper article:-
“A pesticide which reduces bee populations and was to be used in England’s sugar beet fields this year will not be used after recent cold weather killed off virus-transmitting aphids…..”
As reported by Greenpeace the EU has pledged to bring to an end the deplorable practice of sending thousands of tonnes of pesticides and herbicides which are banned in Europe to poor third world countries with weaker regulations.
The UK is a major exporter of these banned pesticides but this new proposed legislation won’t apply to us as we are no longer members of the EU.
Many of these banned agrochemicals pose a threat to bees and other pollinators, not to mention people. For example the herbicide Paraquat is manufactured for Syngenta in its factory here in Huddersfield. We are not the only culprits, however, as 10 other EU countries, including Germany and France, are guilty of exporting similar prohibited chemicals.
The date set for action is 2023.
Will the UK follow suit?
Farmers Weekly 11th Sept 20 has an article about an RSPB owned commercial arable farm.
In 2019, the farm was benchmarked against other local farm businesses and though crops varied in profitability, this was typical compared to the other farms.
!n 2019, the farm went completely insecticide free and saw no reduction in yields compared with previous years, making small savings on the products.
“Though we had aphids in the beans last year, there were loads of ladybirds and larvae too, and within 10 days there were only ladybirds left and the beans didn’t suffer at all,”
The farm is planting wildflower corridors through fields to increase access to beneficial insects, compost spreading and sowing cover crops as part of the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and Rothamsted Research’s Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems programme.