How to help insects

As humans battle the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists warn the planet's insects are also facing a crisis

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 11 April 2020

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Some of the tiniest creatures on the planet are vital for the environment – yet an accelerating rate of extinctions has led to a worldwide fall in insect numbers.

Now, a global group of 30 scientists – including University of Huddersfield lecturer Dr Matt Hill – has highlighted the issue and suggested practical steps everyone can take to help halt the decline.

These include mowing lawns less often, avoiding pesticides and leaving old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone.

A specialist in aquatic environments, Dr Hill teaches on the University’s recently established geography degree course and supervises students as they take part in conservation projects.

He is a co-author of two articles – available online to all – in the journal Biological Conservation, entitled ‘Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions’ and ‘Solutions for humanity on how to conserve insects’.

Long-term decline

Pollution and human impact on habitats mean that insects such as beetles, dragonflies and mayflies, plus other macroinvertebrates such as snails, are in long-term decline around the world – in the UK as much as anywhere. Yet they make a vital contribution to the environment.

‘They provide food for other animals and they can also have a significant role in the functioning of freshwater ecosystems, forming a critical component in the diversity of life’, Dr Hill said.

Why we need insects

Dr Hill worked with scientists in countries including Germany, the UK, Columbia, Finland and South Africa. They pooled their research into insect decline and collaborated on the two new articles.

The articles tell how factors such as climate change, the loss of habitats and pollution – including harmful agricultural practices – have all contributed to declines in insect population and to species extinctions.

Insects have many functions in the ecosystem that cannot be replicated by technology or any other innovation. For example, the need for pollination means that crops depend on insects to survive, and their decomposition means they contribute to nutrient cycling.

How you can help insects

The team behind the research and the new articles have come up with nine ways individuals can contribute to insect survival.

1. Avoid mowing your lawn frequently; let nature grow and feed insects
2. Plant native plants; many insects need only these to survive
3. Avoid pesticides; go organic – at least in your own backyard

4. Leave old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone; they are home to countless species

5. Build an insect hotel with small horizontal holes that can become their nests
6. Reduce your carbon footprint; this affects insects as much as other organisms

7. Support and volunteer in conservation organisations

8. Do not import or release living animals or plants into the wild that could harm native species

9. Be more aware of tiny creatures; always look on the small side of life

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