Changing the way we look at things

By Jayne Manley

As the Agriculture and Environment Bills move through Parliament, and as we rebuild our economies after coronavirus, let’s look at the world through nature’s eyes.

It appears we are now taking more notice of science which tells us that the world’s insects are plummeting – 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. This is a wake-up call: insects are fundamental to nature’s ecosystems, and we as humans cannot survive without functioning ecosystems.

The unpalatable truth is that over the years, while we have been focusing on our own human needs and wants, other species that share our planet have suffered huge habitat loss. Pollination, or the fertilisation of plants, results in the formation of seeds and the fruit surrounding seeds. Humans and other animals rely on pollinators to produce the nuts and fruits that are essential components of a healthy diet. This act of fertilisation by bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths is crucial for the food industry – both agriculture and horticulture, and for sustaining our wilder, natural places.

National and local government policies follow sector and geographical boundaries, determined by our human niche. Will this approach safeguard the natural ecosystem service of pollination that is so vital for enabling our health and wellbeing and supporting biodiversity?

Pollinators respond to nature.

Like us they need food (pollen and nectar-rich flowers) and shelter such as shrubby vegetation or tall grasses. They too need places to nest and lay eggs – and some are very specific! Last week a new study was published looking at moths. It showed that nocturnal moth networks are larger and more complex than those of daytime pollinators. They interact with plants not commonly visited by daytime insects, adding to our knowledge of how nature-based pollination works.

In wilder green spaces that have both species and structural diversity, pollinators have what they need to survive and thrive close by. Our countryside and townscapes are not always convivial but the good news is that we know what is needed. In the countryside this includes strips of wildflower margins on the edges of fields, planting hedges and, as we have at Earth Trust, ‘beetle banks’ amongst the arable fields. Whilst good, it is unlikely that this alone will be enough to address the decline in pollinator numbers.

More green spaces and places are needed.

Moving across policy boundaries into the work of local authorities, as they determine ‘green infrastructure’ – looking after our parks, allotments and other local green spaces. Road verges and roundabouts can provide highways of habitat as well as being more pleasing for the commuter. You may spot ‘No Mow!’ signs on verges, where local communities are asking their councils not to cut them until the flowers have set and shed their seed. Companies can play a role too, as they care for water ways, railway tracks and business parks. And, as individuals at home we can do a great deal directly though what we grow in our gardens, allotments and window boxes.

So, there are ways we can provide these important insects with the food and shelter they need and in return they will perform a vital pollination service for us. But we need to think and act across policy, sector and geographical boundaries, and take a look through their eyes (or antennae!)