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'It's a massive concern' - Suffolk Wildlife Trust's head of conservation reacts to decline in insect numbers

PUBLISHED: 11:00 16 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:30 16 February 2019

A meadow grasshopper: a global review says there have been huge declines in insect life  Picture: Steve Plume

A meadow grasshopper: a global review says there have been huge declines in insect life Picture: Steve Plume

All rights reserved Copyright Steve Plume

New report warns 40% of insect species could become extinct in a few decades.

Some insects may seem annoying or irrelevant, but they are incredibly important, says Ben McFarland at Suffolk Wildlife Trust.Some insects may seem annoying or irrelevant, but they are incredibly important, says Ben McFarland at Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

The global review, published in the journal Biological Conservation last week, stated that the world was witnessing the “largest extinction event on Earth” for millions of years, in the face of habitat loss, pesticides, disease and invasive species and climate change.

The study looked at 73 historical reports on insects from around the world, including studies in the UK, and found insects ranging from butterflies and bees to dung beetles were among the most affected. It said declines were not just hitting specialist species, for example those which rely on a particular host plant or only live in specific habitats, but also much more “generalist” species.

Head of conservation at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Ben McFarland said such a drastic loss of insects would have a knock-on effect on other species up the food chain, as insects underpin ecosystems and are important for many other species.

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Ben McFarland, head of conservation at Suffolk Wildlife TrustBen McFarland, head of conservation at Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Worse than we thought

“So many of our song birds will suffer and birds like blue tits, which rely on caterpillars, will see a decline,” he said.

“It’s a massive concern, if you start knocking bricks out of the wall, the whole wall will fall eventually.”

“We’ve known that certain species, such as butterflies, dragonflies and moths, were declining but not just how wide it goes across so many species of insects. The decline is worse than we thought.

Insects ranging from butterflies and bees to dung beetles are all in declineInsects ranging from butterflies and bees to dung beetles are all in decline

“There’s mayflies, caddis flies, and what we call true flies, such as mosquitoes – a lot of people dismiss them as annoying or irrelevant but they are incredibly important. Birds such as house martins and swifts rely on flying insects for food.”

Habitat fragmentation

Mr McFarland echoed the report and said there were a few key reasons why insect numbers are falling

He said: “Pesticide use has increased over many decades as we have intensified our land use, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out this will kill off many insects.

Late Autumn Comma butterfly  Picture: ROBERT MCKENNALate Autumn Comma butterfly Picture: ROBERT MCKENNA

“This has been compounded by road building and development, which has caused a fragmentation of habitat. And climate change is having an impact on numbers of butterflies and dragonflies as well as other species.

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He added: “There isn’t one solution, just as there isn’t one cause

“First of all, we need to be honest, look at the evidence, and admit there is a problem, and then work out how do we solve this as a society – it’s important we don’t point fingers.

“If we are to do one thing, we have to look at pesticide use. How do we work towards reducing pesticides on our land?

“It’s important not to just blame the farming sector – a lot of the problem is driven by a demand for cheaper food. We should be looking to produce good quality, sustainable food and to a certain extent we have to pay for that.”

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