Saturday, May 21, 2022
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Notes from the Sticks: The end of insects is the end of us

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LAST year the Environment Secretary George Eustice outlined ambitious government plans to restore and protect nature and wildlife, including a world-leading programme to halt species decline

Obviously I didn’t trust this grand promise any more than the other lies and rubbish issuing from this corrupt government, but even I was horrified and shocked by the shameless double standards revealed by the announcement that it is to permit the ‘emergency’ use of a banned insecticide that kills bees and other pollinating insects including butterflies. The decision to lift the ban on the neonicotinoid, called thiamethoxam, was ‘based on robust scientific assessment’. 

Neonicotinoids were introduced in the 1990s and are now the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. They act on the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis and death. They are highly water soluble, persistent in the environment, and drain into the water system, where they kill invertebrates which are the food supply for other aquatic creatures. (They are also present in flea treatments for pets.)

The chemicals were banned for outdoor use in the EU in 2018, but a UK exemption has been granted to prevent a disease of sugar beet called virus yellows, which is spread by aphids. This is predicted to reach high levels this year and would reduce the crop. (Sugar beet does not flower; the problem comes from the pesticide entering the environment where flowering plants take it up and bees ingest it in the nectar.)

So an ‘emergency authorisation’ has been granted on the basis of a forecast, presumably by computer modelling, and ‘robust science’. Do you see a pattern there?

I find it hard adequately to express my anger about this. The government has shown it is willing to throw away billions of pounds over an illness no more dangerous than flu. Why not pay the sugar beet industry, mainly in the east of England, to stay idle for a year or two or grow a different crop until the aphids have declined? We are told we eat too much sugar anyway. What is more important, being able to eat cake or looking after ‘the small things that run the world’ as the charity Buglife puts it? We already know that insects are in decline globally as a result of multiple threats including the destruction of wild habitats for farming, urbanisation, pesticides and light pollution. When it comes down to it, the end of insects is the end of us.

Surely this is the sort of vital issue that environmentalists should be up in arms about, not natural and inevitable climate change as forecast by computer models?

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The first lambs have arrived round here. It is still very cold at night so I hope their woolly coats keep them warm enough. I thought I would start a ‘Sheep of the Week’ feature as there are so many different breeds in Britain (more than 60), most quite distinctive.

The first is the Suffolk, one of my favourites. Here is a ewe.

And here is a ram.

The breed was first recorded in 1797 in the Bury St Edmunds area of Suffolk and is now one of the most numerous in the world. It is a large sheep with a black face, ears and legs which are free of wool. The ears are large and tend to be droopy. It does not have horns. It is primarily raised for meat.

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Not many wild flowers here yet, but reader ‘Quartus’ in Kent sent me this lovely picture of violets and primroses.

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The bulbs I planted in pots in the autumn are coming on well. I had never tried Dutch iris before but I have been really pleased with these. They have been in flower for a good three weeks, probably more like four, and are way ahead of the daffodils.

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Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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