Tuesday, 26 August 2003

Endangered insects?

The Bank Holiday weekend in England was generally warm and sunny, and so most people are now convinced that global warming is occurring. In fact, despite my earlier pessimistic comments about the lack of insects, I seem to have noticed quite a few more in recent weeks. The Buddleia bush which has just finished flowering attracted clouds of butterflies -- peacocks, small tortoiseshells, red admirals and commas. And the nettles I left for butterflies were shrouded in the nests of the black woolly bear caterpillars. And there are certainly a lot of dragonflies buzzing around the country lanes.

However, there are still not the number of flies and other insects that there should be. Sitting in the garden eating dinner on Friday evening (which was particularly warm) there was the odd fly -- but fifty years ago, there would have been dozens. The reasons are obvious enough -- just drive through the countryside, and this time of the year, when harvest has more or less finished, it is a brown sterile desert. Acre after acre (or hectare after hectare) of bare earth, with hardly any forms of life, freshly ploughed, ready for the next bout of spraying. Visit a local rubbish tip -- once home to myriad insects, and it it is near sterile. It's a miracle that any wildlife survives. The house crickets which once infested most rubbish dumps are now, to all intents and purposes an endangered species.

This year was the first time I have not seen a cuckoo. It suddenly dawned on me yesterday. I had heard the odd one in spring, and not really thought about it, but suddenly it is nearly September, and i've not actually seen one, for the first time since I started birdwatching nearly 50 years ago. In those days I heard and saw them in the Suburbs of London every year. Even 20 years ago they were the sort of bird one might expect to see practically every time one went for a walk in rural Suffolk -- but no longer.

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