Smell the roses (and wildflowers!)
Hopefully, one positive of Covid-19 and all its upheavals is that you’ve spent more time in nature, be it on your daily walk or in your garden. If you’ve got more time on your hands, you may be keeping yourself busy with projects and tasks, such as in the garden. But it is also important to take time to smell the roses, or the wildflowers.
While you’re at it, why not take a closer look at the fascinating insects that populate or visit your garden? Even if you don’t consider yourself a bug person, hopefully this post will make you appreciate them anew.
Thank you so much to Chloé Valerie Harmsworth for today’s fascinating #lockdown Guest Blog. Chloé who is a nature writer and artist – focuses on the story of the amazing insects in the world you can see around you. Find more by Chloé on chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com and on her Instagram @chloevalerienatureart
I wasn’t always fond of insects…
Falling in love with insects
Although a passionate nature-lover, I wasn’t always fond of insects. I didn’t pay particular attention to them and those I noticed I didn’t hold in high regard. It was reading Dave Goulson’s A Buzz in the Meadow a few years ago that changed me. In this informative and entertaining book, he describes the complex and captivating lives of incredible invertebrates. For example, did you know that the caterpillar of the large blue butterfly tricks red ants into taking it into their nest, where it is fed by the ants and often eats their larvae?
These intriguing stories meant that I couldn’t help but feel respect for insects by the time I’d finished. In the years that followed, I wrote several wildlife articles and edited many Biology books. I also read other articles and books that taught me more. Now, I can say that I love these creatures, as I realise how vital they are to us and our planet.
Just as all living things need sunlight, oxygen and water (or at least one of the three), all animals – including us – need insects. There are millions species of insect on earth and they account for around 90% of all life. They are eaten by secondary consumers (birds, reptiles, small mammals etc.), who are themselves eaten by tertiary consumers and so on, right to the top of the food chain. If something happens to just one part of the food chain, the whole thing is affected. This can lead to the extinction of species.
Our creepy crawlies are currently facing an ‘insect apocalypse’
We also rely on insects to pollinate at least one third of our food crops, as well as the treasured flowers in our gardens. Worrying news then, that our creepy crawlies are currently facing an ‘insect apocalypse’, according to leading scientists and conservationists. Goulson himself explains that ‘we may have lost 50% of our insects since 1970’ but warns that the number could be much higher. The reasons are many, but two of the main ones are habitat loss and pesticide use.
Creating a buzz in your garden
Every “weed” is food or a habitat for something, and if you let it grow, you may find it rather beautiful
So as you tend to your garden, give the insects some – or a lot – of thought.
They are not your enemies. Those pesky aphids are a part of the chain, and will be found by ladybirds, or picked off by blue tits. The birds and hedgehogs will forage among your plants and carry off the slugs and snails for themselves or their young ones. Nature balances itself out; you just need to be patient. If you let things be, you will be rewarded. The dandelions that you let grow will provide much-needed nectar for the bees, and you might even see goldfinches nibbling the seeds (I did).
There is a whole ecosystem in your garden and it is precious. Every “weed” is food or a habitat for something, and if you let it grow, you may find it rather beautiful. With this laid-back approach, we’ve ended up with stunning foxgloves, a raspberry plant and fruit tree saplings in our garden – all without any effort.
These chemicals poison the soil and your plants, as well as the insects that feed upon them
Whatever you do (or do not do), DON’T be tempted to use any form of pesticide or herbicide (weed killer). These chemicals poison the soil and your plants, as well as the insects that feed upon them. These toxins go up the food chain, increasing in concentration as they go, until they are at such levels that they kill. Victims could include the birds that you delight in and the hedgehogs that you’ve put a hogitat out for. The chemicals also make their way into the water system.
Let it go…
Free yourself from being in control, and from the concept of tidiness. You don’t need to have a smart, short lawn. Your borders don’t have to be pristine. The tree that drops leaves is actually an asset to your health and well-being, and it supports both the insects and the birds. Those leaves will break down, enrich the soil and feed your plants with their nutrients.
That uninteresting bush is home to all manner of wildlife – so don’t get rid of it!
Spend less time fighting an endless battle with nature and more time watching things grow. Even if you start with just one untouched patch in your garden, you can then work your way up. Enjoy the wonderful creatures (birds, bees, beetles and butterflies) that come to your garden as a result.
Leave it, and they will come.
Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
- ‘Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn, The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/13/insect-apocalypse-poses-risk-to-all-life-on-earth-conservationists-warn
- How pesticides increase in concentration as they move up the food chain: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z8rmk2p/revision/4
- Pesticide Network Action UK: https://www.pan-uk.org/our-environment/
- Create a wildlife-friendly garden: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/creating-a-wildlife-friendly-garden/
- Take action for insects, with helpful advice from the Wildlife Trust: https://www.somersetwildlife.org/what-we-do/restore-somersets-nature/campaign-nature/action-insects
- RHS Statement on Pesticides in Gardens