Insect Conservation

The Naked Scientists spoke to Matt Shardlow, Conservation Director of Buglife
18 June 2006

Interview with 

Matt Shardlow, Conservation Director of Buglife


Chris - Tell us a little bit about your work.

Matt - We're a little charity called Buglife and we were set up four years ago to fill in the gap in the conservation agenda where there hadn't been an organisation promoting the conservation of all British invertebrates, of which there are 44000. They're incredibly important little animals that do all sorts of jobs like pollinating flowers, keeping wildlife alive, and are the little cogs that keep the world going round. Without them all the other wildlife would be in trouble. We were set up as a new charity to try and deal with some of the conservation issues specific to invertebrates.

Chris - You've very kindly offered to give a year's membership to the winner of our competition this evening. What will that entitle them to?

Matt - As a member they are part of Buglife and supporting the work that we're doing and making sure that there are some more invertebrates out there. You'll also get some of our updates and posters and access to our website, and so on.

Chris - Now one of the things you're looking at are brown field sites; in other words sites that people have built on and become derelict. They're important for these kinds of animals allegedly.

Matt - Absolutely. Brownfield sites are actually as important for endangered invertebrates as ancient woodlands. So we think of some of these natural sites as being very natural and very untouched by human hands and being very important for wildlife. Actually, some of the sites that we've been mucking around with are also very important to wildlife. For instance, old sand quarries such as near the Thames Gateway where these sites are close to the sea, you find invertebrates living in these old quarries that would have been found in the salt marshes. Of course the salt marshes are now all covered in sea defences so there's nowhere left for these animals to live. However, these brown field sites have a lot of other features that are important to wildlife and important to invertebrates.

Chris - It's quite ironic that we've created an area of human habitation and therefore a niche for these animals, and we might end up having to conserve areas of the countryside that we've initially damaged in order to save these species.

Matt - Yes. We tend to think of green fields as being analogous with wildlife rich and wonderful Eden-like things. But if you actually look into what falls into the formal classification of a green field, it also includes brown arable fields that are sprayed repeatedly with pesticides. Most of the pastures out there have very few wild flowers left in them. They're covered in fertilisers, which is bad for the invertebrates, and they're sprayed in pesticides which is bad for the plants and the invertebrates. So in terms of a rich ecosystem, these ecosystems are relatively rare. A lot of these places where there are lots of wild flowers and lots of nectar and pollen sources, there's also lots of bare ground and things to nest in and bask in which lots of these invertebrates love to do.

Chris - What sort of animals are we talking about here Matt?

Matt - Wasps, beetles, bees, butterflies and things like the Dingy Skipper for instance. Also bumblebees. Bumblebees need these large areas to go and forage and get all their nectar from so they can get the next generation of queens out for the next year. Without these areas of brown field, there would be much smaller nectar resources for a lot of these bees and they'd be going extinct. They're already declining rapidly. Many bees are only hanging on in the Thames Gateway on these large brown field sites that still have wild flowers on them.

Helen - They all sound fantastic all these bugs that we can find. What do people who live nearby think of these insects? Are they aware of them or are they hidden away so we don't really see them?

Matt - They're becoming more aware of them and that's on eof the reasons that Buglife was set up. Bugs get a lot of bad PR and mosquitoes being out to get you and new invasives being out to destroy the countryside. But no-one's out there saying, look, these bees pollinate our crops. Two out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat is there because of pollination and 80% of the crops that are grown in Europe are pollinated by invertebrates. If we're looking at an environment that's sustainable, we need to protect pollinators. Who knows what we're going to be growing in a hundred or two hundred years time? We need to be able to feed our children and grandchildren.


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