The first national survey of pollinating insects across Great Britain was published in 2019. The study revealed that a third of wild bee and hoverfly species are in decline, which scientists say “provides a stark warning about the health of our countryside” and “highlights a fundamental deterioration” of the natural world. Also published in 2019, a global review of long-term scientific surveys of insects warned of a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”
Even within nature reserves enormous changes to insect communities are being observed. Research published in 2017 revealed that three quarters of all flying insects had vanished from nature reserves in Germany since 1989. Further evidence that things are going downhill for insects across much of Europe is provided by the rapid population declines observed for birds that specialise in eating aerial insects.
Its not just insects that are in serious trouble. The 2019 State of Nature report paints a particularly grim picture of wider biodiversity decline across the UK since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970’s.
The ‘Biodiversity Intactness Index’, developed and by the PREDICTS project and published recently in the journal Nature, assessed the ‘biodiversity intactness’ of 218 nations. The UK is ranked in 189th place, indicating that our corner of the world is now one of the most nature-depleted parts of the planet. It is argued that such levels of biodiversity loss might exceed ‘planetary boundaries’, a threshold below which ecosystems may no longer reliably meet society’s needs.
Unfortunately, the Channel Islands doesn’t possess any long-term pollinator abundance data, so we simply don’t know what the long-term trends are for our precious pollinators. The limited pollinator abundance data that we do have for Jersey’s butterflies paints a mixed picture. Analysis of the first 10 years of data collected as part of the Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, which began collecting data in 2004, indicates that butterfly populations in semi-natural habitats in Jersey fared rather well between 2004 and 2013. Over the same period butterfly populations in agricultural habitats were stable, however steep declines were observed within Jersey’s managed parks and domestic gardens. Unfortunately, we have no idea what the abundance trends are for the other groups of important insect pollinators in the Channel Islands because we have never had a monitoring scheme in place for them.
Nobody working in conservation science doubts that we are living through a period of dramatic environmental change, and that human dominion over the planet is the primary driving force behind it. Of course, we have not made a conscious decision to dismantle the ecological web of life upon which we are ultimately reliant, rather it has come about as an unintended consequence of our enormous success. It is this success that has driven the declines in pollinators and other wildlife, which stem from a complex combination of interacting stressors. These include habitat loss, degredation and fragmentation, agricultural intensification, urbanisation, the overzealous use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, the introduction of invasive species and novel diseases, pollution, and climate change.
The destruction and fragmentation of flower-rich habitat has been especially damaging to pollinator populations, with the fate of British wildflower meadows providing a particularly striking example of the scale of what has been lost. Species-rich meadows, filled with colourful wildflowers and the associated biodiversity that they support, were once a widespread and ubiquitous part of our landscape. Sadly, today’s landscape is largely devoid of these biodiversity treasure-troves, with 97% of Britain’s wildflower meadows having been lost since the 1930’s.
If we continue to degrade and destroy wild habitats, insects will increasingly struggle to find the food, shelter and nesting sites they need. The eminent biologist E.O. Wilson eloquently illustrated the gravity of this problem when he said “if all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse in to chaos”.
In order to shift our focus from the problems to the solutions, what we really need are practical and easily achievable projects that we can all get behind. By joining forces and working towards common goals, even seemingly insurmountable environmental problems can be addressed.
It is in this spirit of collaboration and optimism that Governments, land managers, conservation organisations, community groups, schools, and members of the public have come together to form the Channel Islands Pollinator Project. Through the Pollinator Project we are issuing a rallying cry to people across the Channel Islands to take action for pollinators by providing flower-rich habitat in our gardens and communities.
Parks and gardens account for a significant proportion of land cover outside of nature reserves in the Channel Islands. Everyone fortunate enough to care for some outside space can therefore make a significant contribution to biodiversity conservation by providing insects with the resources that they need. Improving habitat by providing a diverse range of flowering plants rich in pollen and nectar, suitable nesting sites, and other essential resources, will help to support pollinating insects as they move through the landscape. Ultimately, conservation success will depend on the accumulation of small-scale positive actions such as these.