Nature Notes

By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

A SONG remembered from my youth, sung by Nana Mouskouri, extolled the attractions of the English country garden. Some parts of it still apply both to country and urban gardens, especially the first verse which names,

“Daffodils, hearts-ease and flocks, meadow sweet and lilies, stocks,

Gentle lupins and tall hollyhocks,

Roses, fox-gloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots in an English country garden.”

However, the second verse is more problematic asking, “How many insects find their home in an English country garden?” before giving as examples, “Dragonflies, moths and bees, spiders falling from the trees, Butterflies sway in the mild gentle breeze.”

The problem is highlighted by a host of articles in the press over the past few years, based on long term studies from across the globe that have drawn attention to a catastrophic fall in insect numbers with warnings of a collapse of nature’s ecosystems if it continues.

The decline of Britain’s insects is among the worst with a long line of depressing reports of drops in populations of butterflies, moths, beetles, bees and hoverflies.

On a personal level we are all familiar with the relative lack of insects squashed on car windscreens after a drive through the countryside compared to a few decades ago.

From the perspective of our food security, the reports are alarming for pollinating insects are vital as 75 per cent of crops rely on them. Insects are also crucial to other wildlife both as an essential link in the food chain and as pollinators of wild plants.

All the studies highlight the main causes responsible for the decline of insects as habitat destruction and agricultural intensification with the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers on fields from which flowers, hedges and trees have been removed leaving wildlife deserts.

The only chink of light in this depressing picture was a recent study showing that allotments and gardens, especially those with a corner set aside for wild flowers and weeds, can be urban havens for bees, butterflies and other insects.

Unfortunately, the use of pesticides and herbicides has also greatly increased in gardens so perhaps the time has come for gardeners to cut down on their use and to measure their success by the number of butterflies, like the peacock shown in the photo, and bees attracted to their flowers, as well as the birds and hedgehogs roaming their lawns and flowerbeds.

As the final line of the song says, “We all smile in the spring when the birds all start to sing in an English country garden.”