Dr Miranda Bane – Pollination Ecologist
This weekend I’ve felt so very lucky. I’ve been in the garden counting the bees. It couldn’t have been better weather – for me or the insects. The bumblebees, butterflies, moths and flies were making the most of the sun to collect the nectar and pollen they survive on. And they are everywhere – the lawns, the hedgerows, the banks. Anywhere there are flowers – the pollinators are finding them. Perhaps you have been counting them too.
It would be easy, sitting in the sun and watching the buzz of insects, to be lulled into a false sense of security. The bees and the butterflies are here – they seem happy. But across the globe, insects are declining. A 2019 review into global insect populations estimated that they are declining at a rate of 2.5% per year and that 41% of insect species are threatened by extinction. The authors of the paper concluded that we are witnessing the largest extinction event on earth since the Permian Epoch (250 million years ago). These statistics need to be taken seriously. We, and the natural world around us, are dependent on insect pollinators for much of the food we eat and for stable ecosystem functioning. Studies throughout Europe have found similar, alarming evidence of declines, across many insect groups. But what is happening here on our beautiful island?
Why are insects in decline?
First, let us consider what is causing insect declines. We know that there are many complex and interconnected factors at play. The key issues seem to be the loss of food and habitat, the widespread use of pesticides, and climate change. Agricultural intensification has certainly played a role. In Guernsey, we cannot escape global climate change, but we might argue that we haven’t seen the same large scale agricultural intensification as the mainland. Our lanes and gardens are full of flowers – but wild spaces are becoming increasingly rare. Pesticides are used, both commercially and domestically – though people are becoming more aware of the risks. All in all, it’s a complex picture, and without measuring insect populations it’s very difficult to predict their current state.
So, this is why I have been counting the bees. I want to know how healthy our insect populations are and what the long-term trends predict. My current role is as a Research Associate with the University of Bristol. I also volunteer as Head of Research with the Pollinator Project. I’m delighted that we secured research funding to bulid a Channel Island wide research project to help us understand and support our pollinating insects. We are collecting new evidence, as well as working with people and organisations who have been doing amazing work recording insects on the islands for many years. This will help us built a better understanding of the current trajectory. And we plan to keep monitoring in the future, as we also work to support and improve insect populations. We want to create a haven for insects on our little island, whilst safeguarding our future and showing the world how it’s done.
How can you get involved?
There are a few simple steps you can take to help support insects and improve our understanding.
Firstly, stop using pesticides. It is one of the most beneficial decisions you can make for the environment. These chemicals harm bees and other beneficial insects, including hoverflies. Search out natural solutions.
Secondly, create food sources and habitats by planting and allowing spaces to grow wild. A wide range of pollinator friendly flowers, shrubs and trees can provide food for the whole year, while undisturbed areas create valuable habitat for shelter and food. You can put up a bee hotel to provide homes for solitary bees and have a rest as you let your lawn grow. Daisies, dandelions and clovers provide vitally important food.
Finally, contribute to research by observing and recording. You can start with the basics and download our free bumblebee app Bumblr which enables you to submit records of bumblebees you spot. These records form a vital part of our research. I hope you will join me in counting the bees.