Misplaced fears may affect insect restoration, suggests Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Belief


Common swifts, swallows and saints, an amazing group of birds that have traveled from Africa to breed, are an atmospheric and welcome part of a quintessentially British summer for many, writes Erin McDaid of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

It is a joy to watch them slide across the surface of a river or lake to catch their insect prey, but the future of these symbols of summer is threatened due to the massive decline in insect numbers.

Across Europe there is growing evidence that insect populations are in the middle of a worrying crash.

Honey bees. Photo: Margaret Holland (49428121)

While the decline in honeybee populations has been very worrying because of its importance in pollinating many of the food crops we all need, the debate has been raised about the importance of abundant insect populations in the maintenance of natural systems, as well as their central role as food for other wildlife, especially birds, is less obvious.

Hopefully, public concern about the plight of bees can give rise to further discussion about the importance of other insects and serve as an incentive for us to address efforts to overcome the crisis in our broader insect populations.

However, we must face the fact that the mix of insect fear and disgust felt by a significant segment of the population could serve as a real barrier to behavior change and reversal of decline.

Ant.  Photo: Jon Hawkins (49428117)Ant. Photo: Jon Hawkins (49428117)

The fact that many people view insects as a nuisance at best and a direct threat at worst and something to be feared is perhaps best illustrated by its reaction to another creature that pops up every summer – the flying ant.

The panic that breaks out in certain neighborhoods each summer, when the day of the flying ants comes, when people reach for the ant powder, kettles of boiling water and a series of potions to destroy the ant nests, shows that we still have a long way to go Have until people embrace the value of all insects.

However, insects are vital building blocks of our ecosystems that help recycle waste to increase soil fertility, keep pest species at bay, and provide vital nourishment to many of our favorite birds, mammals and other wildlife – and play a vital role in all of this Pollination.

Ants nest.  Photo: Mark Robinson (49428119)Ants nest. Photo: Mark Robinson (49428119)

The hysteria surrounding Flying Ant Day, which is actually a series of days when queen ants leave their nests to mate before starting new colonies, may be in part driven by sensational headlines; but the number of people rushing to clear the shelves of potent poisons to crack down on insects that will literally disappear within days when the male ants die after mating and the queens dwell in new nests shows that the headlines largely reflect a deep-seated disconnection from nature that requires some effort to be overcome.

Reading answers to a question posted on a local Facebook forum, what should I do with ant nests? replace their lawn with plastic grass.

Talk about an overreaction.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.  (2682719)Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. (2682719)

Other suggestions ranged from the use of gasoline to strong disinfectants, all of which in this context pose a much greater danger to humans than the ants.

I was sad to realize that so many people don’t know that ants are an important part of our wildlife, and my heart sank at the prospect of swifts, swallows, Martins, and other birds desperate for essential food to feed hungry chicks or to build up their reserves for the return journey to Africa while these precious ants were poisoned, poached and beaten into the ground below.

For details on how you can help change the plight of our insect populations, visit nottinghamshirewildlife.org/action-for-insekts