Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2021
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
The author’s umbrella term ‘bugs’ includes not just insects but arthropods, molluscs, worms…all the small, creeping creatures without backbones. And bugs are in decline. Anyone over a certain age will remember the days when any lengthy road trip in a car inevitably involved a stop to clear the windscreen of the corpses of flying insects. Sadly, that is rarely necessary now. According to this author: Many studies at a national, and even global, scale are showing crashes in both the number and diversity of insects and other bugs….over 40 per cent of insect species are in decline and so at risk of extinction over the next decades, more than twice that of vertebrate species.
This is not just sad – it is also very scary. For as Sir David Attenborough has warned us in the past, if we and all the other vertebrates were to vanish overnight, the rest of the world would still be OK but if all the invertebrates were to vanish, all the world’s ecosystems would collapse.
Probably most people do not realize just how totally dependent we are on bugs for a whole range of essential things, not the least of which is food. Hird spends the first section of the book detailing a whole lot of the ways in which these small creatures are essential to the survival of many other species, including our own. Some of these ways, we may not have thought of. For example it has finally dawned on us that we need bees in order to have our fruit and veg but we also rely a lot on wood. Trees, like us, rely on bugs for their continued existence. No more bugs = no more wood.
So why are the bugs disappearing and what can we do about it? The reasons for the decline are many. Industrial-scale farming is partly to blame by destroying not just habitat but the travel corridors that are so important to non-flying creatures. Our air, soil and water are being polluted by synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, new and foreign species have at times been introduced, thereby upsetting the natural balance. And microplastics now fill the stomachs of many tiny creatures.
However the remedies are also many and this book is rich with them. Hird lists a whole range of things that individuals and groups can do about the problem. As she explains: Rebugging is looking at all the ways, small and large, to nurture complex communities of these tiny, vital players in almost all the natural and not-so-natural places on earth. It means conserving them where they are managing to hold on, and restoring them where they are needed as part of a rewilding movement. And it means putting bugs back into our everyday lives, our homes and where we play and work.
There are many levels to work on. The first essential is to change our inner attitudes to bugs – including the species we have previously thought of as merely nuisances – and see them as citizens of the planet, just like us, and with the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of whatever happiness means to a beetle or a spider. We don’t have to love them – though many of us do, including this author – but we do have to respect and honour them.
At an everyday level there are dozens of ways in which to ‘rebug’ our lives, especially those of us with gardens, for example by switching to natural pest management methods instead of poisons, planting in a way to encourage pollinators, constructing ‘bug hotels’, leaving lots of wild patches as habitat and so on. We can even incorporate insect habitat in our buildings by using ‘bee bricks’. Even those without gardens can bring bugs to a porch, a balcony or even just a window box.
Local communities can achieve even more, and this book gives some inspirational examples. I was particularly taken with ‘tiny forest’ movement that aims to bring more trees in to urban areas and the Incredible Edible groups that began in the UK and have now spread worldwide. And there are many more ways to join in with this important work. A good first stop is to go to https://www.buglife.org.uk
I found this an inspiring and informative book and I recommend it.