Sunday 16 December 2018

Country Matters: 'The little things that run the world'

ECO DISASTER: The disappearance of ladybirds is worrying for the environment
ECO DISASTER: The disappearance of ladybirds is worrying for the environment

Joe Kennedy

A tune called The World Turned Upside Down was reportedly played by a British band after the surrender to George Washington at Yorktown in the American War of Independence in 1781.

I have never heard this piece of music but it could be appropriated today by environmentalists, considering the diminishing of natural resources and living creatures, habitat destruction, misuse of pesticides and herbicides and general destruction of nature in mankind's pursuit of gain.

Many years ago, I read of a warning by the distinguished Harvard biologist Dr Edward O Wilson about the "little things that run the world" that if insects were wiped out, the environment would collapse in chaos.

He also famously said that destroying rainforest for economic gain was like burning a Renaissance painting, or most of those in the Louvre, in order to cook a meal.

It appears that not a week passes where scientists and naturalists do not express grave concern about the disappearance of insects - flies, bugs, bees, beetles, moths and butterflies - from their usual habitats with dire forecasts of Armageddon.

Insect life is the basis of a food chain that makes up the natural life of the countryside. First of all, they provide life-supporting food for birds because without them, especially in the initial stages of chick-rearing, insect protein is vital. Bird tables of various seeds and fats are later supports.

Birds are also predators of aerial mites and flies and will suffer without them. Even mature birds, such as visiting cuckoos, need the hairy caterpillar of the tiger moth to keep going until eggs of host birds are grabbed from nests.

The lack of insect food is causing a serious decline in farm and garden bird numbers - some species have fallen by half. This is a watching time. Consider the scarcity of butterflies and evening moths, the low numbers of bumble and honeybees, the disappearance of wasps and ladybirds.

Be concerned and question, where possible, the uses of herbicides in public parks, around trees and pathways and adjoining roadsides.

Do so courteously, realising the operatives are following an order from the local authority depot. Phone the depot, and question elected councillors about pesticide use, if you can find them.

When insects are shattered by chemicals, the birds that pick them up do badly, too, when the poisons get to work. Many insects, as well as bees, are also pollinators in orchards and fruit nurseries. They are also useful eliminators of mammal remains and evacuations of grazing animals. All have a purpose under heaven.

Intensively farmed land, with hedgerows cut down almost to stubble height and headlands of grassless tracts cleared by chemicals, look as ordered as military parade grounds, but have been achieved by the elimination of a vital living element of the biosphere.

One British scientist, Dr David Goulson, of Sussex University, said last week: "We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse."

Sunday Independent

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