Where are all the insects?

A ritual of summer motoring in Ireland used to be fairly regular stops to clean windscreens of huge numbers of dead insects.

Where are all the insects?

By Donal Hickey

A ritual of summer motoring in Ireland used to be fairly regular stops to clean windscreens of huge numbers of dead insects. You, the reader, may be one of the hundreds of thousands of people on the roads this bank holiday. If you’re on a fairly long journey just keep an eye on the windscreen and you’ll probably find a marked drop in insect remains.

Similarly, moths, spiders and various creepy crawlies, so often found in homes and outhouses and that terrified some people, are no longer as numerous as they once were.

Scientists here have already warned of major losses in the bee and insect populations. More recent research in Germany, published in the journal PLOS One, reveals a serious collapse in flying insects there, with three-quarters vanishing over 125 years.

Even more alarming is the fact that these losses were found not in major cities or on motorways, but in German nature reserves. And such places are supposed to be wildlife sanctuaries. It’s nearly all due to human activity which is causing so much harm to the planet. Destruction of the natural landscape, lack of food and the widespread use of pesticides and chemicals have combined to make many places no-go areas for insects.

People get exercised easier when bigger animals, like a cuddly panda or the plodding polar bear, is under threat. But, many of us don’t like insects, midges for instance.

However, they are important as pollinators of our food, as food for countless birds, bats and other creatures and as predators which control insect pests. The situation is being highlighted by Juanita Browne, project officer of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, who says nature must be allowed to have some space in our landscapes.

We have squeezed nature out through our constant tidying up of the landscape, spraying, mowing lawns and not leaving any wild plants or weeds, on which insects thrive, to grow. “For all our sakes, and for our food production and for the general health of our environment, it is now time to question the way we manage land and to see if we can perhaps leave some space for nature once again,” says Juanita.

“Most people don’t know that by allowing wildflowers to grow (such as dandelions or clover), this will go a long way towards reversing declines in our pollinating insects. When people understand that our bees are actually starving, they do empathise and you can see them wondering what changes they can make on their own farm or in their garden to allow for more wildflowers.”

In Ireland, we have 99 bee species. Since the 1980s, over half have undergone huge declines and a third are now threatened by extinction.

- All-Ireland Pollinator Plan: pollinators.ie

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