A new book – Rebugging the Planet – has just come out. Its author Vicki Hird tells us all about insects and other invertebrates, their role, what ails them, and how looking after the small creatures means looking after ourselves too.
Vicki, you’ve a book out! Tell us about it.
Vicki Hird My new book, Rebugging the Planet looks at how we can and should reverse the declines in invertebrate numbers and diversity globally, because they matter in so many critical ways.
It explores what invertebrates do for us, not only in terms of food, water, soils and waste what we can learn from them and from ‘rebugging’. And it is true that many are at risk. There are huge threats they face from pollution, climate change, habitat loss and new threats of light and noise pollution and even phone signals.
What are the biggest threats invertebrates face?
VH. Invertebrates can be a nuisance and worse, and we need to control them sometimes. But we’ve often created the environment – such as vast monocultures or poor sanitation – that makes them a problem. And we’ve spent so many decades investing in research on how to kill the few that cause issues, that we’ve forgotten to ensure the useful ones ie most of them, can survive and thrive.
Studies looking at local and regional abundance and diversity are suggesting some dramatic declines – a major loss of numbers and diversity globally as well as local losses. More research is essential as too much is local and regional and there are huge gaps in the data, but we also need more people to care. This will drive the demand for research and ensure more action is taken by governments and businesses.
What role do these creatures play?
VH. We need more people to understand how amazing these creatures are and what they do – from pollination and seed dispersal services to soil health and being a critical part of the natural food web to creating clean water and dealing with vast qualities of plant and animal waste. We are also learning so much from their design, activities and skills. I had too many examples to put in the book of how we can learn from bugs – not just in terms of materials design (like super strength spider silk, drone technology and so on… ) but from the way they communicate, organise and manage themselves, their fellow creatures and their environment.
Conservation, restoration of nature and landscapes involve the complex interaction of many species. Invertebrates are a critical part of the puzzle but in the rush to rewild, they can be overlooked in favour of the bigger beasts. Often they provide a major surprise factor, causing a boom or bust in wild populations or proving to be a keystone species. I also suggest that ‘rewilding’ can take place at a personal and community level helping provide refuges and corridors for the invertebrates – something we know is needed. We all meet wild animals every day and studies are showing increasingly that urban environments can be a vital space for insects no longer able to thrive in rural areas.
Can you tell us about this idea of rebugging? What do you mean – and how does this relate to wider political issues?
VH. Pesticides and intensive farming, loss of wildflowers, hedgerows shrubs, trees and forests, accelerating climate change, pollution of water and soils, plastic micro-particles, light pollution and so much more are causing problems. Throughout my book I share tips and tools on rebugging – from things that take little or no time to those that need more and which start you campaigning. What we buy (and don’t buy), how we manage our homes and gardens and community spaces, and, as critically, how we interact with the politicians making decisions critical to the survival of bugs here and globally.
The political issues may be new to many lay readers – the need to curb lobbying by agrochemical companies, policies that help farmers transition towards agroecological systems – building in the role of above and below ground invertebrates to successful, more diverse food production. We need to control far better the way in which the major agri-tech and mega food corporations activities result in homogenous, harmful food production practices. I also talk of issues that seem far removed from the bugs – inequality, poverty, and over consumption- as they all make an impact on nature and we should and can be part of the change.
For more, go to Rebugging The PlanetRebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More is available in most good bookshops and online (Chelsea Green Publishing).
Vicki Hird MSc FRES is an award winning author, expert, strategist and senior manager who has been working on environment, food and farming issues for over 25 years. As part- time Sustainable Farm Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, Vicki manages the farm policy and related campaigning and provides comment and guidance on these issues. Prior to this role, she was director of Campaigns and Policy At War on Want. Previously she was the Senior Campaigner heading up the Land use, Food and Water Programme for Friends of the Earth and Policy Director of Sustain. She was Policy Director of Sustain, 1999 – 2004 and has been an expert consultant for NGOs and institutions (including for RSPB, WSPA, The Sustainable Development Commission, Greenpeace, The Plunkett Foundation and HEAL). She has launched many major food and environment campaigns, from local to global in scope, has blogged frequently and published numerous reports and articles on the sustainability of food systems and published Perfectly Safe to Eat? (Women’s Press 2000). She has an academic background in pest management and is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Vicki is on the board of Pesticides Action Network, co-founded Hackney Food Partnership, was chair of the Eating Better Alliance and has sat on numerous government advisory groups over the years. She also runs an independent consultancy undertaking campaigning and research.
Vicki Hird is an award winning author, expert, strategist and senior manager who has been working on environment, food and farming issues for over 25 years. As part- time Sustainable Farm Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, Vicki manages the farm policy and related campaigning and provides comment and guidance on these issues.
She has an academic background in pest management and is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and the RSA. Vicki is on the board of Pesticides Action Network, and the Keo Foundation, was chair of the Eating Better Alliance and has sat on numerous government advisory groups over the years. She also runs an independent consultancy undertaking campaigning and research.
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