At any one time it’s estimated there are 10 quintillion insects alive. That’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or an awful lot of bugs. By biomass they outnumber humans many times over. Is your skin crawling yet?
Many of us hold no great affection for creepy crawlies, so it’s easy to overlook the crucial role they play in supporting ecosystems. Sitting at the bottom of the food web, they are also nature’s waste disposers, crucial to decomposition. Without them we would more than likely go hungry, with many crops needing pollinators to thrive.
But habitat loss and widespread use of insecticides and agrichemicals has led to insect numbers plummeting in recent years.
In London, as with many other cities, you’re more likely to hear the buzz of cars than insects. But the UK’s capital is looking to give bugs a boost by creating an insect highway through the north-west of the city.
A seven-mile wildflower corridor is being planted in parkland to provide a safe haven for insects. To support a range of bees and other pollinators, a mixture of seeds has been chosen.
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There has been a catastrophic loss of flower-rich grasslands in England since the 1930s, often as a result of intensive farming or redevelopment of green sites. This is a key reason insect populations have declined.
Recent studies have shown some species of pollinators in Britain have decreased by up to a third in the past two decades. There has also been a dip in the range of insects seen: in contrast to the sharp decline seen in some species, other insects, particularly those that favour crops, have become more prevalent.
Experts are concerned by the impact the falling bug count will have.
The UK government is five years into a strategy to curb pollinator loss, and is working with bodies such as Buglife to introduce more spaces to support pollinating insects. The charity is introducing a network of insect pathways throughout Britain, running through towns and countryside to connect existing wildlife areas together.
Alongside this, it is working to create “urban hotspots” for insects, transforming mown and unused areas of land by introducing shrubs, flowers and so-called bee hotels.
Honey bees, bumblebees, wild bees and other pollinators are estimated to bring at least $25 billion to the European agriculture industry, ensuring pollination for most crops and wild plants.