The Trust have been concerned for some time about the declining numbers of certain types of visitors, so with the help of the volunteers they have created a water feature in a wild pleasure – garden setting. This is to attract a select group of visitors to the Centre with sustainable conservation in mind – it’s for the little creatures known as invertebrates which start off the food chain, and which are being lost at an alarming rate.
Where have all the insects gone?
We can probably remember not so long ago when the car windscreen would be covered in dead insects after a trip, but not any more. Then there were the clouds of white fly in the greenhouse, also covering the brassicas on the allotment along with those pesky black fly on the broad beans. What about the greenfly sucking the life out of the roses? These are past events unlikely to return unless Governments are prepared to recognise a problem. Gardeners might be pleased with such a turn of events but the wildlife who depend upon the invertebrates would not be!
In the latest edition of Science there is one such attempt to get the politicians and the public to raise their game. Entomologists have been assessing diversity and abundance across western Germany and have found that between 1989 and 2013 the biomass of invertebrates caught, had fallen by nearly 80%.
This information gives the lie to our obsession with biodiversity – because the international lists of species of conservation concern, known as red lists, do not pick up on alarming losses within relatively common species. So there is a degree of comfort in looking at those lists – but they can deflect attention from the real problem, which is a loss not so much of biodiversity but a loss of bioabundance.
Our preoccupation with killing any insect which comes into view is not helping the situation. Habitats are all very well but we need invertebrates to colonise them. The widespread use of weed-killers and insecticides is devastating the numbers of our most common species. Our arable fields are but sterile savannahs. The whole ecosystem is now so out of kilter that it is only a matter of time before it starts to seriously impact on humans. Some say it’s all down to evolution – now evolution has given rise to a specie with a profound impact on everything, us!
However we cannot blame the loss of bioabundance solely on the lowland farmers, for in upland Wales there are huge areas similarly devoid of insects, which have never been sprayed with chemicals.
There is something we don’t know, or we are not being told – the causes of the loss must be identified. The culprit is undoubtedly airborne, and is routinely present in sufficient concentrations to cause species to fail to breed. The prime suspect is low-level ozone – that is a known toxin affecting plants, animals and humans. It is produced by the interaction of pollutants such as volatile hydrocarbons – unburnt fossil fuel from internal combustion engines – with bright sunlight.
Anyway, the water feature has been in place now for nearly two years and this passion project is being maintained by the volunteers. It might seem to be just a drop in the ocean for restoration, but it’s a start – Ashridge have around thirty ponds requiring an upgrade, but that’s another story. Let’s hope that the new arrivals in Emily’s garden like the conditions and multiply big time!
thanks for the contribution from Hugh Warwick.