Helping to reverse the insect decline: our letter to The Guardian


It is with great interest that we read about the long-term decline in the biomass of flying insects on German protected areas ('Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers', October 18).

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) carries out two long-term surveys of insects on farmland in England - the Sussex Study (1970 to present) and at our demonstration farm in Loddington (1992 to present).

In the Sussex study, over 100 cereal fields are sampled every year which has revealed declines of 35% overall in the total number of invertebrates compared to the 87% decline in the biomass of flying insects found in Germany, with most of the decline in Sussex happening in the 1970s.

However, for insects that are chick-food for declining farmland birds, we found declines of up to 72% from 1970 to 2015, with 45% of invertebrate groups significantly reduced.

Analysis on a field-by-field basis indicates that it is insecticide use that is responsible for lower insect numbers, especially those that provide food resources for declining farmland birds.

In Sussex, which reflects the case in the UK, GWCT scientists have found that insecticide use has stabilised over the past two decades with an associated stabilisation of some insect groups.

The GWCT, working with farmers, has developed agri-environmental measures, now available through the current Countryside Stewardship, such as conservation headlands (low-input cereal headlands) and wildbird seed mix in a bid to reverse these declines.

Dr Julie Ewald (head of geographical information systems)
Professor John Holland (head of farmland ecology)
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust


Insect decline

at 15:53 on 24/10/2017 by Georgina Herrmann

Very obvious near monmouth. No green or black fly. No ladybirds. Very few bees, especially honeybees. No tortoiseshells


at 12:30 on 24/10/2017 by Maximilian Hardegg

I agree wirh the observations that insect abundance in 2017 was low . In Austria this was also due to an extremely dry spring. So extreme climate conditions do have an influence , not only insecticides. I am convinced that the use of pesticides has gone down over the decades. Pollinator strips and headland measures are certainly beneficial but also a diverse crop rotation with rape seed, leguminoses such as peas and soybeans and sunflowers. The increase of maize acreage is certainly not so good for biodiversity. It is the farmers community who can provide the solution for an increase in biodiversity, insects, songbirds and habitat.

insects losses

at 12:18 on 24/10/2017 by simon kibble

Having been very aware of significant bugs and beele losses ,and measured by headlight ,windscreen hits ,the matter cropped up in conversation ,at which point,a,book was,produced called a buzz in the meadow . Having ready the book which describes an English scientist observations ,albeit at his French hoilday retreat. He is clearly alarmed by all that he sees ,with neonicitinoids mentioned as the disrupter. Staggeringly the books phase of observations is 10years ago if I remember right . So why is only now being bought into the public domain on the t.v such as countryfile . I find it too alarming with quotes from the soil association also saying there is,only 50to100years worth of use from our farmed soils.

Insect decline

at 12:05 on 24/10/2017 by Ant Griffith

Aside from the insecticide debate, the decline must to some degree be caused by the amount of improved pasture and the loss of rough scrubby grassland that is home to all manner of biodiversity. There appears to be less and less room for any of this in modern Britain as everywhere (moorlands excepted) appears to be grazed out. Today's intensive agriculture (incluing myself as an organic dairy farmer) needs to maximise returns to be profitable and "you need to be in the black to be Green". However giving farmers the correct, easy to use, profit forgone incentives to correct this has to be a priority of all policy lobbyists such as CGWT as we move into a brave new world. In Wales, the environmental prescritions have neither worked nor been taken up ony any scale. This has to be addressed.

farm insect populations decline

at 11:16 on 24/10/2017 by Piers Austin

Dear GWCT and others, could this decline be due to the blanket use of neonicotinoids on oilseed rape fields having a wider effect? The decline in bees is suspected to be due to this, still under investigation (different interested parties want the findings to go their way). One cannot use widespread neurotoxic (to insects) chemicals in the environment and not expect something to happen! Silent Spring comes to mind. Compare with countries where they haven't been used perhaps? Thanks

Our dwindling numbers of invertebrates.

at 10:44 on 24/10/2017 by Alec

How do we justify the ban on pesticides? An interesting question; whilst we encourage our farmers to be ever more efficient and cost effective, we are doing so at a cost — a cost to the very start of our food chain and such an approach simply isn't sustainable. I farm, though only livestock so pesticides don't really feature in my daily thoughts, but were there a total ban on the destruction of invertebrates would it spell disaster - real disaster? I doubt it. Is there a tipping point where the cost of the pesticides and the application approaches the cost of the damage that insects do I wonder? Would it be an idea to limit the use of sprays to say 50% +- of any holding and leave it to the man who farms to decide where the greatest challenge comes from? In our garden we plant for insects and specifically bees and butterflies. Last year I saw one honey bee and NONE this year — not one. We need to tackle this problem and in a purposeful manner, a manner which is without derogation.

Insect biomass

at 10:24 on 24/10/2017 by Nick Fox

In early July 2015 I drove from Carmarthen to Southampton, to Heathrow, to Milton Keynes, to Liverpool, to Bangor and back through mid-Wales to Carmarthen in the space of three days. The windscreen returned totally clean. On our farm in Carmarthen we do not use insecticides and yet insect numbers are down. I remember in the 1950s, the radiators of the cars being clogged up with insects and having to clean them out. Not now. And given that a lot of species spend part of their life cycle in the soil, what effect is this having? I'm sure that insecticides on arable are a major issue, but the problem is wider than that, and more insidious.

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