Friday, 23 January 2015

Who listens to what the smaller charities have to say?

Over the last few years I have, sadly, witnessed many small, expertly informed and passionately dedicated charities - and other not-for-profit organisations - being squeezed into oblivion on the funding front because (it seems) the funds are mostly given to larger, more influential NGO's.

There are still funders and philanthropists out there who prefer to give their monies to grass root organisations, but they seem to be fewer and farther between these days. This concerns me because it means we are losing diversity….in more ways than one!

I'm not suggesting for one moment that we don't need the larger charities. I understand how important it is that they continue to receive the funds and donations needed to deliver their vitally important messages and work…..especially because they reach such a large audience and, in many cases, are able to influence policy decisions at government level. HOWEVER, having run a small charity myself, and having been seriously tempted to shift the focus of that charity's aims when applying for funds - in order to tap in to any available funding just to survive - I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the way the system (especially in the case of corporate donations and sponsorship) favours the larger and better known charities.

One of my biggest concerns is when national & international charities take up causes that their trustees, management and staff appear to know little about. For instance, I have seen members and volunteers of large charities being interviewed on BBC news about bee decline and have been dismayed to hear them leave out enormously important information, or even worse, deliver mis-information. When this happens, I fear, with the greatest of respect for their aims, that they are in danger of doing more harm than good.

In the mean time, the media are mostly oblivious of smaller charities who have been working for years, sometimes decades on raising awareness of this, and other issues….charities who really know their bees from their bees and who have (in some cases) now folded because the large funders and corporate sponsors prefer to nail their flags to larger masts.

Of course we need as many voices as possible to speak out for the myriad environmental, ecological and humanitarian issues facing us today….and if the national press are only interested in promoting the charitable aims of the larger charities then so be it, but I really hope we don't end up in a situation where the voices being heard come solely from charities/organisations so large that they are begin to resemble corporations….. whilst smaller, but equally knowledgeable voices get squeezed out completely.

This is a big subject to tackle in a little blog post, and I haven't fully worked out where I'm going with my own thoughts yet, but I'd be extremely interested to know what others think?

Thank you,

N.B. I still donate to, support and promote the work of many large charities myself, so please don't read what I have just written as an attack on said organisations. It isn’t. I just don't like seeing the amazingly dedicated smaller charities being squeezed out of the arena and wanted to air this concern to see what others think. Hopefully I will discover that I've got it all wrong and that more small grass root organisations are actually healthy and thriving than are hitting brick walls and folding.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

What's wrong with Intensive Farming - and how can us 'reconnecting' with nature change things?

I can't help wondering how many more species of flora and fauna will be taken to the brink before we realise our current farming practices are completely and utterly unsustainable?

We live in a dangerously blinkered, confusing and sometimes fearsome world. Many of us are blissfully unaware that there are any problems, whilst others are frightened into believing the crazy propaganda put out by the multinational corporations; the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, who tell us that intensive farming - with its (often genetically modified) mono crops, its emphasis on 'crop yield' and its dangerous reliance on insecticides, fungicides and herbicides - is the only way to 'Feed the World'.

Intensive agriculture may well be producing unprecedented crop yields at this point in time, but the soil these crops are grown in is becoming increasingly devoid of essential nutrients and micro-organisms; the diversity and variety of food crops is being reduced on a daily basis; the people who grow the crops are, in many cases themselves, starving; unprecedented amounts of water are being used for irrigation; and entire ecosystems are being wiped out in their wake. Anyone who dares to open their eyes and look at the facts can see that this way of farming cannot possibly be sustained and that the cost of producing food this way is too high.

The problem, I believe, stems from our way of thinking…..from our 'separateness' and from our tendency to reduce everything to its individual components and/or its monetary value. But in truth mankind cannot survive separately, on his own, in a bubble or as an island. No man is an island.

We need to recognise that we are 'a part' of the whole. Our 'apartness' and all that comes with the disconnection, is surely but steadily driving us to a point beyond which we will, ourselves, eventually be added to the list of endangered species.

As the Native American saying goes "When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, only then will we realise that we cannot eat money' 

But it doesn't have to be this way! I'm not going to suggest that the journey we have ahead of us is without its challenges. Of course it's not and these challenges are enormous. However the first steps could not be more simple and it's up to US (you and me) to take these steps. All we need to do is find a way to reconnect with our inner selves, with our communities and with the plants and animals we share this amazing planet with. This reconnection is fundamental if we want to bring about the changes that are needed in the world. Without being 'reconnected' we cannot deal with or fix the farming situation... or any other situation/issue for that matter. Once we recognise this fact and begin to reconnect and fall back in love with all that was once sacred to mankind, the rest will surely follow because you cannot possibly hurt that which you love or that which is a part of you.....i.e. the whole.

But where to start? 

Easy! Go outside and spend some quality time getting to know the plants living on your drive, in your garden, on the road verges, in the meadows, riversides, woodlands, moorlands, coastlines…anywhere and everywhere in fact. Don't just walk past them. Sit down and look closely at them, draw them, photograph them, look at them under a magnifying glass, write about them, talk to them, ask them if they have any medicine for you, look at the insect life on and around them, touch them, smell them, sense them, make friends with them.

Too scary? Then do it when no one is looking! Start with a pot of herbs on your kitchen table……or make a cup of delicious nettle or dandelion tea from freshly picked young leaves of these common and easy-to-recognise plants. Then, whilst you are drinking it, take a moment to say thank you to the plant who provided the leaves and just see how that makes you feel...


The Medicine Garden

I would like to finish by saying that a few years ago I attended a weekend course run by Rachel Corby. Rachel uses plants to heal all manner of ailments; physical and otherwise. She is a plant shaman, a writer and a gardener, and anyone who has ever had the pleasure of attending one of her courses, or accompanying her on one of her plant walks, will know what I mean when I say that through her you come to see plants in a whole different light and to form wonderful, fulfilling new relationships with them and with the world around you. From this new view point wonderful things begin to happen.

If what I have written about connecting with the world of plants has not quite made sense to you, I suggest you beg, borrow or buy a copy of Rachel's beautiful book The Medicine Garden . She explains it far more eloquently than I can.

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough now. I’d love to write more but the sun is shining and I am being beckoned outside to practice what I preach!

 Seriously though, do please have a think about what I’ve written and next time you walk past a plant…..maybe stop to say 'hello' and see what happens. At the very least I’m sure it will make you smile :-)

Friday, 9 January 2015

When is a Bee NOT a Bee?

Narcissus fly. Photographed by Ed Phillips
A few years back, I spotted something that looked like a bumblebee and flew like a bumblebee foraging on the flowers just outside my kitchen window. There was something unusual about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on, so I took a quick snap shot and uploaded it to my laptop for a closer look.

Lo and behold, it wasn't a bumblebee at all! Although it had been difficult to tell from a distance, I could see straight away from the image on my laptop that this insect had large prominent 'fly' eyes that almost joined together in the middle of her head and that her antennae were short and stumpy; entirely unlike a bumblebee who would have ovoid eyes on the side of her head and whose antennae would be long and beautifully elegant. On further examination I noticed she was missing the 'waspish' waist that characterises all bee species and I could also see that she only had one set of wings rather than two.

I was most surprised. For all the world this creature had looked and acted like a bumblebee, but clearly she wasn't. She turned out to be Merodon equestris (Narcissus fly) one of our 250 or so UK hoverflies. A fly pretending to be a bee…..

Batesian Mimicry

I already knew about 'Batesian mimicry' which is where a harmless species has evolved to mimic the warning signals given out by a harmful species. One of the most obvious examples of this form of mimicry is where hoverflies imitate wasp coloration in an attempt to avoid predation by birds and other predators. My understanding previously however, had been that whilst bees 'flew'- hoverflies 'hovered'.  Not so this hoverfly! Merodon equestris has taken Batesian mimicry to its extremes. Not only does it look like a bumblebee with its long hair and chunky striped markings, but it has actually evolved in such a way that is able to fly like a bumblebee too…..although a little more rapidly and it can still hover. Incredible.

For a while I revelled in the fact that I had discovered this clever little bumblebee look-alike in my garden. Until I began to read more….

Narcissus Fly

Once I'd got over the excitement of there being a hoverfly that looked so much like a bumblebee that she had completely pulled the wool over my eyes, I began to wonder why this particular species of overfly has been endowed with the common and rather ominous sounding name 'Narcissus fly', or 'Bulb fly'.

After further research it soon became evident that the larvae of the Narcissus fly (Merodon equestris) wreak havoc on your narcissus and snowdrop bulbs, not to mention your daffs, your tulips, your hyacinths, your lilies...

It seems the adult female lays a single egg between the layers of skin enclosing the neck of each bulb, but as she is capable of laying up to 100 eggs in her lifetime she has the potential to devastate your flowering bulbs. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae bore inside the base of the bulbs and then tunnel up to feed of the fleshy leaves near the growing points of the plants. A large cavity is produced inside the bulb from which the larvae then move into the soil where they pupate. Five to seven weeks later the new adults emerge and the life cycle starts all over again.

Oh dear, this was not good news. I love my snowdrops!

Controlling Narcissis flies

What can we do then, without resorting to pesticides, to prevent these furry little hoverflies, which are on the wing from around early May till late June, from wreaking havoc upon our bulbs?

There is a lot of information out there when you start to search, but as I choose to garden organically I am only interested in the chemical-free options. Unfortunately this little insect has few natural predators and doesn't seem to be deterred by non toxic household concoctions, so preventing the fly from laying her eggs in the first place and/or disposing of her larvae are the best ways to protect your plants. All methods of control are, I'm afraid, fairly labour intensive but it's worth trying the following….

1. Mow the leaves as soon as they dry in late spring and then press the soil down firmly to prevent newly mated female flies from finding the holes.

2. Cover the bulbs with fine mesh to prevent the adult fly from laying her eggs.

3. Catch the adult flies in a net and remove them from your garden.

4. Infested bulbs can be submerged in water, kept at around 44 degrees, for 40 minutes…..but take great care not to overheat as this could destroy the bulb too.

Good luck!

Having read a lot about the Narcissis fly and ways to prevent her from destroying your bulbs, I thought I'd share my favourite article  with you. It's written by Val Bourne who has been a committed organic gardener all her life. So, no nasty chemicals in her garden, even when she goes into battle with Merodon equestris.

To discover more about our wonderful and diverse UK hoverfly species, please check out this site. It contains loads of interesting information and lots of great photos and illustrations to help you identify the hoverflies visiting your garden…..

All About Hoverflies

If you are interested in learning more about insects in general….or in helping prevent their decline  … please consider joining BUGLIFE  . For as little as £2 per month you can help this charity make a real difference.

Many thanks to Ed Phillips for allowing me to use his beautiful photograph of Meredon equestris. You can find more of his wonderful photographs here - Ed Phillips Wildlife

Thank you for reading this post x

Episyrphus balteatus (marmalade hoverfly

Monday, 22 September 2014

Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Why Have They Still Not Been Banned?

Alongside many other concerned individuals, I have been writing and speaking for years about the damaging and indiscriminate effects neonicotinoid pesticides are having upon bees and other wildlife.

Unfortunately, these systemic neurotoxins are still the world's most widely used pesticide; they are still killing bees; and I am still struggling to understand how the 'Powers That Be' can be so short sighted that they appear to prioritise the short term health of the economy over the long term health of the entire planet's ecosystems.  

But weren't neonicotinoids 'banned' by the EU recently?

If I had a penny for every person who's told me they "thought neonicotinoids were banned last year" I'd be a rich woman. In fact they have not been 'banned'. Far from it. In December 2013 the EU Commission 'partially and temporarily restricted' three of them (Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam), on crops attractive to honeybees. This restriction - which the UK government voted against by the way - is due to be lifted in December 2015.

In the mean time things are getting worse. Much worse.

At first, it seemed this was all about honeybees, but for a few years now it has been clear that bumblebees and other invertebrates are also being affected. This, in turn, is having a knock-on affect on the small birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that rely upon these creatures for their food. We know, too, that neonicotinoids are directly poisoning birds; for instance just a few neoicotinoid coated wheat seeds left lying on the surface of the ground after sowing can prove lethal if ingested by a partridge. Who knows what else is being affected? We were assured by the companies who manufacture these pesticides, when they first appeared on the market back in the 1990's, that they were (are) safe for bees, much in the same way as we were told back in the 1960's that DDT was safe for humans…..

I fully appreciate that raising awareness of the dangers of using neonicotinoids is provoking a backlash from those who believe there is no alternative, but as Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes points out in his book of the same title, their ongoing use truly is 'A Disaster in the Making' . We cannot afford to become complacent about this issue; especially when, contrary to what the manufacturers tell us, there is growing evidence that much of their use is unnecessary and ineffective.  If people were to stop campaigning and/or speaking out for fear of being shot down when they dare to put their heads above the parapet, then the unprecedented ecological damage resulting from (in this case) the use of neonicotinoids, would quickly become yesterday's news and we would reach a tipping point where there would be no going back.

Life on planet Earth is underpinned by invertebrates and other small creatures that are now being destroyed in their billions by neonicotinoids and other pesticides, so, to my mind, this issue is as important and pressing as any other current environmental issue. We humans play with too many fires and, painful though it might seem to those who believe our crops will all fail if seeds and plants are not treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, this is surely one fire that needs to be put out before it engulfs us all.

I am neither a scientist nor am I a farmer. I am just a person, like many others, who cares enormously about the plants and animals we share this planet with. Having followed this issue since the media first started reporting on honeybee CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and having read numerous scientific reports whose findings are, quite frankly, terrifying, my instincts and common sense scream out to me that the continued and indiscriminate poisoning of our invertebrates, not to mention the air, water and soil we rely upon to sustain life itself, is extremely dangerous and horribly, horribly wrong. So again, I suggest we simply cannot afford to be complacent about neoicotinoid pesticides - nor can we keep relying on a few individuals and organisations to sort this out for us. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm sure that burying our heads in the sand is not it. We need to consider ways of growing our crops without the prophylactic use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and search for more sustainable ways to feed the world. Perhaps an increase in small scale organic farming for one? Whatever the solution, the problem needs to be owned and addressed by us all; scientists, growers, governments and consumers alike. Urgently.

My final thoughts are that it's all very well people making a big noise, as they have recently, about the possibility of OSR crops failing if neonicotinoids are banned, but surely the alternative, i.e. there being no pollinators left to pollinate them anyway, doesn't bear thinking about?

N.B. Neonicotinoids and other pesticides are not the sole cause of declining biodiversity. Habitat loss is every bit as important an issue.  Both need to be tackled simultaneously to reverse the decline.

The following links provide more in-depth information from scientists whose research and understanding of this issue is far more informed and in-depth than mine.  Do please read what these scientists have to say. I have chosen these links carefully for their readability.

Professor Dave Goulson research & updates 

If you buy just one book this year, please make it  Dave Goulson's 'A Buzz in the Meadow' 

If you sign up to just one charity, please make it BUGLIFE 

With thanks to artist Anna Suveges for giving me permission to use her 'Pesticides Killed my Family' poster

Friday, 19 September 2014

Why Solitary Bees are Such Amazing Pollinators:

Leafcutter bee on Ragwort
Bees are by far the most important pollinators on Planet Earth. Their relationship with flowering plants goes back to the early Cetaceous period and different species of bee have, over 100 million years, developed a number of different physiological adaptations and behavioural traits to enable them to collect pollen.

Pollen carried by honeybees and bumblebees is visibly quite obvious. Both species have become extremely adept at  packing their pollen loads carefully, and neatly, into the smooth, widened pollen baskets (corbicula) situated on the sides of their hind legs. 

Solitary bees however are far less fastidious. These bees collect their pollen on 'scopa'; stiff, branched hairs, located on their legs or under their abdomen. 

As the female solitary bee collects pollen, she packs it onto her scopa less carefully and without the addition of saliva to moisten it. This means it is far more likely to fall off when the bee visits the next flower. 

Added to this, is the fact that solitary bees carry less pollen in each load, so need to make many more trips back and forth from the flowers to their nests than do honeybees and bumblebees. These extra foraging trips mean that many more flowers get pollinated in the process.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the difference between bees various pollen collecting apparatus is with photographs….  

Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed bee) on Buddleia
Bumblebees and honeybees can carry up to 90% of their weight in pollen! 

You can see from this photograph of a Buff-Tailed worker bumblebee, how neatly she has packed the pollen, which she has moistened with saliva, into her pollen baskets. Honeybees do the same.

Most of this pollen will make its way back to the nest, where it will provide developing larvae with the protein they need to grow.

Halictus rubicundus female
Most ground nesting solitary bees collect pollen on scopa situated on their back legs. 

This image shows the pollen collecting hairs of the ground nesting bee 'Halictus rubicundus' BEFORE pollen collection. Note how hairy her legs are. 

This is another photograph of the same bee, H. rubicundus. This time her leg scopa are laden with pollen which she is about to take into her nest beneath the ground. 

A large amount of this bee's pollen load will never make it back to her nest as it will have been lost as she visited other flowers.

Most cavity nesting solitary bees, like the Leafcutter bee pictured here, collect pollen on their abdominal scopa. This method of collecting pollen is extremely messy and is one of the reasons why some Mason bees (close relatives of the leafcutter) are around 100 times more efficient as pollinators than honeybees.

So, there you have it. Solitary bees are in fact the unsung heroes of the pollinating world!

N.B. There are a few solitary bees that, unusually, carry pollen back to their nests in their crops.

Bumblebees and honeybees are, of course, also wonderful pollinators, but in different ways and for different reasons. More about this another day….

Monday, 8 September 2014

Gardening for Bees

Feb 2014
Our tiny wildlife garden, on the outskirts of Shaftesbury, Dorset, featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World earlier this year - and I've had lots of emails asking me about the flowers we planted, in particular for bees. So, I though I'd jot down a list of what we planted to attract pollinators - and also write a little bit about our aims and the underlying structure of the garden in case anyone's interested. If not, just scroll down to the planting list…..

When we moved in earlier this year, there were only three plants growing in the garden; Crocosmia, Hedge Woundwort and Enchanter's Nightshade. There were also a couple of Leylandii, a Hawthorn, a Walnut, an Elder, brambles and loads of Ivy.

The garden is small and mostly paved. It is enclosed by an old red brick South East facing wall and a victorian privy with riled roof, all in poor repair; a North West facing stone wall with crumbling mortar; and larch lap fencing on either side.

When we told the landlord we wanted to turn it into a wildlife garden, he said he was happy for us to do whatever we wanted. So, the first thing we did was cut down the Leylandii!

The other trees proved quite a dilemma. They shade a large part of the garden from early afternoon onwards, which is not so good for bees, but they provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife. So, apart from removing a couple of overhanging branches we decided to leave them as they are. It made the planting more of a challenge, but was the right decision for us.

My partner, Rob, made half a dozen bird boxes from hollowed out tree trunks and reclaimed wood and we attached these to trees and fencing. A pair of blue tits moved in almost straight away, and we also had wrens nesting behind the Ivy, but nothing nested in the sparrow boxes this year. Hopefully they'll find them in 2015! We hung bird feeders on every available branch and on the washing line.

The fact that both the red brick wall and the old stone wall are in disrepair is wonderful. Nothing is more attractive to cavity nesting solitary bees and wasps than the nooks and crannies created within old walls. So all we needed to do with these was leave them well alone! We also build a rockery and piled up old terracotta pots and over miscellaneous items to provide habitat for other insects, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Rob dug a little pond in a semi-shady part of the garden and we now have at least four frogs and one very handsome toad helping us keep the slugs at bay. A number of dragonfly and damselfly species have investigated the pond and we're keeping our fingers crossed that it might eventually be discovered by the local newts.

Other than keeping a few stems for insects to nest in, we removed most of the bramble as it's far too invasive for such a tiny space, but, apart from pruning the lower canopy on the Hawthorn, we have left the Ivy well alone. Ivy truly is amazing! Its flowers provide much needed pollen and nectar, late in the season, for all manner of insects, and its leaves provide excellent cover for birds and other small animals throughout the year.

The only other man-made habitats we have added are Bee Hotels, to attract solitary Mason and Leafcutter bees.

All that is left to add for the purpose of this post is a list of all the flowers we've planted. Most of these have been grown from seeds or cuttings….and some popped up of their own accord….but we also bought a few (thanks to my mother's generosity) from the thursday morning farmer's market in Shaftesbury and also from Brian's fabulous Hill Top Garden at Stour Provost, near Gillingham.

So, here's the list, in no particular order.

Purple Loosestrife **
Yellow loosestrife
Gooseneck loosestrife
Nepeta x 3 **
Pulmonaria *
Dwarf comfrey **
Honeysuckle x 2 (details later today)
Clematis 'Paul Farges'
Verbena bonerensis *
Verbena hasata rosea
Field scabious *
Devil's bit scabious
Small scabious
Garden Valerian
Wild valerian
Hyssop **
Bird's foot trefoil
Bugle white
Bugle blue
Self heal
Sedums  **
Foxglove **
Hemp agrimony **
Welsh poppy *
Orange poppy
Centurea **
Borage **
Viper's bugloss **
Cerinthe **
Sunflower *
Geranium x lots of different kinds **
Stachys (Lamb's Ears) *
Hedge woundwort **
Chives **
Wild Marjoram **
Thyme *
Dahlia Honka red *
Wild larkspur *
Enchanter's nightshade
Ivy **
Jacob's ladder (pulemonium) *
Bergamot *
Cosmos **
Marsh marigold
Salvia **
Runner beans
Knapweed *
Corn cockle
Harebell *
Veronica **
Lathyrus (ever lasting sweet pea)
Linaria **
Perennial foxglove
Solid aster
Evening primrose
Dead nettle *
Californian poppy
Water lily
Forget-me-not *
Perennial borage
Plant from james
Echinops *
Herb robert
Mallow x 2 *

N.B. I've added a * to those flowers that were frequently visited by more than a couple of species of bee and ** to those that have been covered in numerous species throughout their flowering time. It is important to note that the more of each plant you group together, the more likely it is that the bees will find them.

I'm not really a gardener, so some are common names and others latin.

Our planting scheme was planned for continuous flowering throughout the seasons.

Next year we'll be adding the following plants because they are all amazing plants for bees and other pollinators!

Lavender x intermedia

Finally I'd like to recommend my favourite book and favourite website for anyone who is interested in making their garden bee friendly.

The book,  Plants for Bees is in my opinion unsurpassed as it is a collaboration between bee experts and gardeners. You can't get a better combination than that.

The website,  The Pollinator Garden , has been compiled over many years by Marc Carlton. It is based on his own experience and I have learned more from this wonderful resource than from any other.

Thank you so much for your interest.

Brigit x

A few photos of some of the visitors we've had this year…..

Monday, 11 August 2014

Mass Insect Extinction; the Elephant in the Room?

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 decompositionsoil processing and, of course, pollinationInsects 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 'keystone species'. This 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. So far.

Insects Facing Mass Extinction

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. 

Let me ask you a question......

When did you last have to stop your car during a long journey to clean away dead insects from the windscreen? 

When I was a child (back in the 60s) we used to travel up the A1 to Yorkshire to see my grandmother and I remember my father having to make regular stops to wash the windscreen - which was splattered with so many dead insects that the wipers alone couldn't keep it clean.

I also remember seeing huge flocks of birds following the farmer's ploughs in the fields alongside the road; all of them feeding on an abundance of worms and other invertebrates or micro organisms living beneath the surface of the soil that had just been exposed by the farmer's plough.

These days there are so few insects that our windscreens remain clear from Land's End to John O'Groats. And there are no longer flocks of birds following the tractors, because there's no life left in the soil.

How can this have happened in such a short period of time? Simple. It is down, unequivocally, to Man's chemical poisoning of the land, the oceans and the biosphere. That, and our obsessive desire to tame, manage, degrade, fragment, destroy and 'mow to within an inch of it's life' the once rich and diverse habitats that used to support insects and other biodiversity.

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 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 do I not see any evidence that mass insect extinction is being taken seriously by the powers that be? And why are so few NGOs prepared to speak out about it? Most of our wildlife organisations tackle the issue of habitat loss as a matter of course. However, from what I can see, the only wildlife organisation campaigning specifically against pesticides and the impact their use is having upon invertebrates, 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.

Do something about it....

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 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!!!

Ways you can help:

Make your garden a haven for pollinators

Join Buglife

Get involved with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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. Once you're hooked you'll wonder how you ever managed not to notice them before and you will be motivated to do everything you can to help them survive.

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