Over the past few weeks I must have dealt with a dozen wasp nests. This is proving particularly interesting as I have developed an allergy to the damned things.
Some of the nests are awkward to access, particularly those in elevated roof spaces. This entails clambering up ladders, or as in one case balancing precariously on an oil drum whilst hoping it would not topple over before I had administered the magic potions, which never fails.
The public have been led to believe that due to all the ‘wicked farmers dousing the countryside in lethal chemicals’, the insect population is in decline. And, the bees and other pollinators are in danger of becoming extinct, resulting in the future of food production in the UK hanging in the balance.
Interestingly the longest running study of insect populations in the world shows that the total mass of moths in Great Britain is double what it was in the 1960s, but has been slowly declining since the 1980s. Probably reflecting what has happening to other kinds of insects.
We do have a long-term decline said Callum Macgregor at the University of York, “but there are big variations in moth biomass from year to year and species to species”. He believes the overall biomass of all insects in Great Britain is probably twice as high today as it was in the 1960s. Surely good news.
In the past two years, there has been much talk about a global “insect apocalypse” or “insectageddon”. This idea stems from a study that found a steep decline in insect biomass in Germany in 1989.
However, many ecologists have cautioned that there are too few studies around the world going back far enough to justify such a sweeping conclusion. It is likely that insect populations in many parts of the world, especially in the tropics, are declining because of habitat loss and climate change.
“The severe population collapses being claimed by the insect apocalypse narrative are not supported by the most comprehensive long-term insect monitoring programme in the world, concluded the Rothamsted Insect Survey,” Manu Saunders at the University of New England in Australia wrote in a commentary on the study.
Interestingly, the biggest declines have been in woodland and grassland locations, rather than sites on farms or in urban areas.
The farming communities on the Horn of Africa and those who live by subsistence planters will certainly not consider bugs are in decline as they watch in horror as their meagre crops and grasslands are flattened, and devoured by storm clouds of locusts.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says the desert locusts can pose a threat to the livelihoods of 10 per cent of the world’s population. They are currently forecasting a second generation of spring-bred locusts in Eastern Africa, giving rise to new, powerful swarms of locust babies capable of wreaking further havoc.
In Kenya, India and Pakistan, there is the worst outbreak in over 70 years. The swarms are gargantuan masses of tens of billions of flying bugs, ranging from a square third of a mile to 100 square miles or more, with 40 – 80 million locusts packed in half a square mile.
These grasshopper type insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances have the ability to become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming gregarious.
Experts say the upsurge is likely to be tied to extreme weather events: Powerful cyclones in 2018 dumped water in Oman, Ymen and the Horn of Africa. These conditions have persisted, creating ideal bug breeding conditions.