As my older son emerged dripping from the lake with a leech on his foot my excitement was infectious enough to send his brother wading back into the icy waters to get one of his own.
I’m not suggesting blood-sucking leeches should be loved by everyone. That’s probably taking it too far. But if we want to stop the ongoing and dramatic decline in invertebrates – from worms to wood ants and bees to butterflies – we need to understand the crucial part they play in our lives.
Because if we fail to save them, we will be in serious danger of living in an era so dystopian it is hard to even imagine. From pollinating fruit-flower to maintaining marine and freshwater nutrient flows, to processing soil and waste, invertebrates form an essential part of the food chain. And food chains can collapse fast. The tiny, almost invisible angels of the world are in deep trouble. We’ve lost forests, hedges and messy wild places all over the globe: habitats where bugs live, travel through, recolonise, breed in, feed in and find shelter. Pesticides and industrial farming pollution, plastic, light and noise pollution and, increasingly climate change impacts are all taking their toll. In the past few years, seriously scary data has shown the extent to which we are losing them. Some suggest 40 percent of insect species alone are at risk of extinction.
Politicians and industry, as well as individuals need to do all they can to prevent what amounts to an existential loss. In order to push decision-makers into taking action, the re-bugging movement needs to be expand rapidly, and gain momentum.
The good news is that we can all do something to help. Rewilding is a buzz word these days, with even the likes of Ed Sheeran planning to buy up as much land as he can to rewild. Rewildling is all about restoring large areas to their natural state and letting nature to heal itself after years of abuse and wildlife loss, while allowing large animals like wolves, or beavers to play a big role in the restoration. It’s a fantastically important activity in critical places. Most of us don’t have vast estates or farmland. But we can all rewild by making space for the bugs – as I’ve done in my tiny urban garden – and changing attitudes one patch of land at a time.
We don’t all have to love bugs. But we should believe in their importance, and recognise their astonishing diversity, beauty, structures and skills. I love the mutualism between bugs and other species. Take the bees that cut plant leaves to encourage earlier flowering. Or the vast weaver ant colonies that hang from trees, nurtured by forest farmers in Asia because they eat the tree-crop pests: this free biocontrol system eliminates any need for pesticides.
Maybe it’s because they seem so tiny and alien that many people perceive bugs as belonging to an alternative, irrelevant and even harmful universe. But they are very much of this world. And if we understand all that they offer, and all that we would die without, we can take steps to help them.
So, believe in these angels. And please share that belief – and any photos you take – with friends, family, colleagues, frankly everyone.
Here are a few tips about how to do that.
- Buy products that have been produced without pesticides and with nature in mind, to help those farmers and growers who are doing things differently. Buy direct from farmers, grow your own and look out for organic and ecology labels.
- Repair, reuse and recycle as much as possible to reduce pressure on the land and the bugs. Growing cotton and extracting other materials like timber can really hurt the places invertebrates need to live via deforestation and pollution. So cut down on what you buy.
- Leave some of your lawn uncut and let it go wild. You will find it’s so much more interesting than a dull grass monoculture. And you may be surprised what plants and bugs move in – from moths to beetles to hoverflies – that will appreciate the food and shelter you provide. Digging less is also good as it disturbs the bugs going about their vital activities.
- Make sure your children become fascinated and stay fascinated by bugs, and don’t encourage fear. Helping the next generation of ‘rebuggers’ is vital. The joy and curiosity young children show to these magnificent little creatures can be easily stamped out by a harsh word. Take the kids on a minibeast treasure hunt, looking for signs like leaf mines or empty ladybird pupae cases, and learn how to build bug palaces to give them a nest.
- Join or create a local green space or park group to help put in flower rich areas and trees and shrubs for the pollinators. You can join in to help make green corridors for and there will be local wildlife groups to join and lobbying your local council will let them know you want to keep wildlflower verges and green spaces uncut and unfertilised and not sprayed.
- Join the many organisations which make it quick and easy to lobby politicians, or simply go and see your MP and ask them what they’re doing to help local biodiversity. The lobbying power and budget of big chemical companies and junk food manufacturers is huge. They are part of the problem. But you can be part of the movement that pushes back.
Viki Hird MSC FRES is an entomologist, and author of ‘Rebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More’ (Paperback, foreword by Gillian Burke, published by Chelsea Green). See www.rebuggingtheplanet.org and follow Vicki @vickihird on Instagram and Twitter.
CALL TO ACTION
Make a Rebugging Plan. List three things you are going to do next regarding what you buy, how you can regenerate the green spaces around you, and on how to start bugging the politicians.