Where are they?

I drove for an hour after dark on a warm evening and hardly saw an insect. None squashed on the car.  Where have they gone?


And in my blog for the RSPB today I discuss the declines of common wildlife, including farmland birds on both sides of the Atlantic.

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13 Replies to “Where are they?”

  1. I think you need to ask the people who've been systematically and for decades spraying the countryside with insecticides and herbicides that question, Mark. It's a rhetorical question though, as they know fine well where the insects have gone.

    The real question is whether those people could care less or not about the end result you saw on your hour's drive...

  2. Thank goodness people like yourself highlight the problem.

  3. It would be very interesting to obtain statistics on the use of insecticide sprays (which drift) in UK arable and horticulture over the last 50 years - in terms of products used (broad spectrum vs 'bee-safe') and geography.

    1. It’s not just sprays that drift. When seeds coated with neonicotinoids are planted there is a dust cloud that drifts and kills bees and no doubt other non-target insects - http://www.farmlandbirds.net/sites/default/files/Girolami_ea_2012.pdf

      Neonicotinoids use has been booming and they are now used on 1 million ha in the UK. The pesticide industry claims they are ‘bee friendly’ despite extensive laboratory evidence that the toxic nectar and pollen that treated plants produce poisons bees, reducing breeding success and foraging activity.

      France has just banned another neonicotinoid pesticide http://tinyurl.com/7zkqmb6

      The UK has yet to take practical action to protect our pollinators, despite all the fine words about the importance of ecosystem services we have heard in recent years.

      Find out more about neonicotinoid impacts on our wildlife from Buglife - http://tinyurl.com/77tmrxz

  4. Out of sight - out of mind - we don't see the insects, only the birds feeding on them. Last week, however, sitting looking into the sunset in southern France the air above the fields was suddenly full of backlit insects - aerial plankton. I've seen the same at RSPB's Ham Wall with the St Marks' flies which are responsible for Ham Wall/Shapwick having the highest migrant Hobby count in the UK.

    On a bigger scale, I got thinking about this when researching forest birds in Wales a couple of years ago - how are the forests holding unlikely species like Nightjar and Honey Buzzard when species like Golden Plover are almost lost from the apparently more natural uplands ? That the forests are by far the largest placesd where no insecticides are sprayed at all could well be at least part of the explanation - and in the lwolands, as the recent Plant Life woodland report hints, probably far more chemicals - insecticides, herbicides and fertilisers - have blown in from surrounding land than foresters ever applied to the woods.

  5. Mark, I have just returned from a short birding holiday in the Czech Republic where song birds and raptors co-exist in large numbers, that is so far. After driving down into southern Bohemia from Prague airport a distance of just a hundred miles I was required to wash my windscreen twice due to the multitudes of insect hitting the front end of my vehicle. However all is not well in the rural areas of the republic these days as the use of intensive sprays is now a common sight everywhere I went. Thirty years ago agriculture was undertaken in an old fashion way, a tractor was a rarity. How long I ask myself before the environment and wildlife pays the price for using these chemicals I wonder?

    1. Terry - interesting, thank you. There must be a better way to do this. Yes, 'pest' and 'weed' control is needed but can't we find a way to be more selective and preserve more wildlife richness?

  6. The amount of flysquash on my cars has been minimal for years. When I last had a MkIII Cortina, the bonnet was always encrusted with thousands of aphid corpses in the summer. Now, I drive as little as possible anywhere near the low counties, even my Honda Brick is relatively aerodynamic, and there are much more effective insecticides to control cereal aphids and orange blossom midge. First two factors account for much of the cleanliness of my jamjar, and the third is well known.

    Farmers use pesticides to limit physical damage to grain, yield and quality loss, transmission of viral diseases, yield-robbing by competitive weeds, defoliation and disruption of water relations by fungal diseases - this list goes on and on, so I won't.

    Obviously there is an knock-on effect on species which rely on these invertebrates and plants for food. Farmers get flak for protecting their commercial interests, but there is a wider question to be answered: how much CO2e should be allowed in the production of a kilo of food, for the preventable waste of inputs by pest species? This question is no longer the sole concern of farmers, and will be further addressed in the great drive for "Sustainable Intensification" ordered by Defra.

  7. We should also recognise that the loss of wildflowers from meadows and verges has surely also had a huge effect on the numbers of insects flying in night and day - we have taken away their petrol stations.

    Light pollution probably hasn't helped either, having its biggest impacts in flowery areas that are less affected by pesticides.

  8. This Dutch researcher is convinced of the wider effects of neonicotinoids on not just bees but many other insect groups and insectivorous birds (and bats?) etc. as well. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/theorganicview/2012/06/04/neonicotinoids-the-catastrophic-effects-on-insects-birds

    I still think broad-spectrum insecticide spray drift since the 1970s must have had a significant negative impact on insect biomass in the wider countryside. Has anyone tried to correlate insecticide useage (Defra stats) with declines in insectivorous farmland birds and bats etc.?


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