Alex Sobel MP hosted a House of Commons debate recently about insect declines, sparked by the recent global review of insect declines authored by Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys 2019.
The paper states that "rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades" and that there is currently an "annual 2.5% loss of biomass worldwide".
Alex commented. "There is not one problem facing insects, they are diverse animals and are affected by many of the ways we are changing the planet. Without a doubt climate change, the loss and fragmentation of special habitats, and the impoverishment caused by intensive agriculture - of which pesticide over-use is the primary culprit - interact to create a pernicious threat to populations of insects. Species are stuck on islands of habitat, they die or fail to reproduce when they disperse into intervening agricultural land, and eventually blink out when climate change makes their homes uninhabitable."
Other factors known to be impacting on insect populations include light pollution, air pollution, water pollution, habitat neglect, inappropriate development, wormers and flea treatments, wildflower loss, competition and disease spread from captive pollinators, water extraction and sedimentation, under investment in nature conservation agencies, cuts to biodiversity funding, invasive species, a lack of binding recovery targets, nutrient enrichment, and peat use. Whilst some credible risks to insect populations such as electromagnetic radiation remain under-researched and their risk unassessed.
What the government is doing
The following initiatives are good news for insects:
- Developing a national B-Lines pollinator network to reconnect wildlife - map completed in NI and Wales, in development in Scotland, with SG focused on delivering the John Muir Pollinator Way, Defra has announced £60K of funding to complete the England map
- Introducing a national Pollinator Monitoring Scheme last year - but funding commitments remain modest and short term
- Moving towards paying land managers for providing public goods such as biodiversity and pollination services
- Banning of three bee harming and water polluting neonicotinoid insecticides.
What more the government needs to do Buglife's top 10 actions to help restore insect populations:
- Ensure that Environmental Principles are comprehensively applicable after Brexit and establish a strong, independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold governments to account
- Establish statutory nature recovery network maps with local authority sign off that will set the B-Lines network into national delivery mechanisms
- Introduce legally binding targets for biodiversity recovery, including, as separate measures, pollinators and freshwater invertebrate life
- Design new Agri-Environment Schemes so that they deliver safe pollinator habitat and a national network of flower-rich habitats - B-Lines
- Support the introduction of EU wide tests to establish if new pesticides are going to harm wild bee populations (UK has been blocking new EU bee testing guidance)
- Reduce the pollution of water courses with insecticides, flea treatments and pharmaceuticals toxic to insect life
- Improve the protection of rare and endangered species in the planning system and introduce measures to reduce light pollution levels
- Undertake a full risk assessment of electromagnetic radiation environmental risks, including filling knowledge gaps, before the roll out of 5G networks
- Find new ways of directing significant new funds to saving biodiversity, such as reinstating the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund or payments for ecosystem services
- Increase investment in the science needed to develop sustainable agriculture, reduce pesticide dependence and halt and reverse the decline of species.
What are B-Lines?
B-Lines are an imaginative and beautiful solution to the problem of the loss of flowers and pollinators. The B-Lines are a series of 'insect pathways' running through our countryside and towns, along which we are restoring and creating a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones.
They link existing wildlife areas together, creating a network, like a railway, that will weave across the British landscape. This will provide large areas of brand new habitat benefiting bees and butterflies - but also a host of other wildlife.