In this guest post, Gina Maffey from Seedball shares why planting for biodiversity is so important and how we can all play our part in promoting insect health.
In the UK alone, we have approximately 40,000 species of invertebrates - animals lacking a backbone - and over 24,000 of these are classed as insects. This incredible level of biodiversity ensures the health of our ecosystems and generally keeps the planet ticking along on a daily basis. So let’s hear it for the creepy crawlies amongst us!
Researchers have warned for years that insect populations are suffering, but the alarm bells are now really beginning to ring. In 2017, a 27-year study from across Europe demonstrated that the biomass of flying insects has declined by more than 75%! The study reveals a number of factors that have contributed to this, including agricultural intensification which has resulted in habitat loss and changes to the way that crops are produced.
"Biodiversity ensures the health of our ecosystems and generally keeps the planet ticking along on a daily basis"
However, there is hope on the horizon. Attitudes towards insects are changing and people are beginning to understand how important it is to look out for our unsung insect heroes. At the beginning of 2018 the European Commission voted to ban the use of several neonicotinoids over concerns about the impact these pesticides have on insect populations, particularly pollinators.
Insect pollinators move pollen between plants, ensuring that they reproduce. These species contribute to the production of a lot of the food we eat – think cherries, carrots and chocolate – and not forgetting products like cotton for our clothing!
In the UK, our pollinators also rely on wildflowers, but unfortunately our wildflower populations have similarly suffered from changes in farming practices resulting in habitat loss. It is estimated that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower habitats across the country since the Second World War, an area one and half times the size of Wales!
Seedball is an organisation founded by conservation scientists who really want to change these statistics. We use a technique developed in Japan where we encase seeds in a mixture of clay and compost and add a little chilli powder to stop them being picked up by predators. Essentially, the seeds are encased in their own mini-ecosystem so when the conditions are right they will begin to germinate. Our mission is to make it as simple as possible for everyone to grow wildflowers to help wildlife everywhere!
"It is estimated that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower habitats across the country since the Second World War"
To start, did you know that UK gardens and school grounds, when combined, cover more space than our national parks? That’s a whole lot of potential nature reserves! There are so many ways that you can get involved with helping insects, so here are our top tips for building your own insect-friendly, backyard or schoolyard reserve!
Make a mess! Yes, you read that right! Insects need nice dark, warm spaces to hide away in, so a super tidy garden is not always a good idea. Leaving an overgrown corner somewhere, or making a woodpile is a great way to provide an inviting space for creepy crawlies!
Water, water, water! It’s not just the birds that need access to water, so do the insects. Place some pebbles or marbles in a shallow bowl of water to make a mini watering hole.
Make an insect hotel! What better way to invite guests to stay than by making a hotel. There are lots of instructions online, and this can be a great way to get crafty in the garden.
Stop mowing so much! Yep! This is another great way to make your garden more wildlife friendly. Try mowing just smalls paths, or leave part of your garden unmown, this will help to create a diverse habitat for lots of different species.
Plant wildflowers! Habitat loss is an important contributing factor to the decline of insect species. Planting wildflowers not only helps pollinators but species throughout the food chain. Bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and birds all benefit from this important food source!
"UK gardens and school grounds, when combined, cover more space than our national parks. That’s a whole lot of potential nature reserves!"
Of course, if you don’t have a garden there are still things you can do. We encourage people to plant seed balls in any outdoor space they can spare - window boxes or plant pots will work just fine.
Plus, you can get involved in all the fantastic campaigns happening across the country. Action for Conservation supports young people to create pollinator-friendly spaces through their WildED programme, and there are many other national campaigns to get involved with too.
Check out the work of:
Plantlife – http://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk
Friends of the Earth – https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bees
Butterfly Conservation Trust - https://butterfly-conservation.org/
Buglife - https://www.buglife.org.uk/
Next time you’re thinking of taking action for conservation, don’t forget the smallest of organisms among us - they need all the help they can get!
Gina Maffey is the Digital Communications Manager at Seedball, an organisation that was founded by conservation scientists to fill the world with wildflowers. Their seed mixes have been developed with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Plantlife and the Natural History Museum for pollinators and wildlife across the UK. Profits from Seedball contribute to the charity Project Maya, which aims to start urban nature reserves across the globe.
Seedball has been an active supporter of Action for Conservation's WildED programme since its inception in 2016 and provides students with free seeds and advice for their environmental action projects.