Reader's Corner - Rebugging the Planet
According to environmental campaigner Vicki Hird, the bugs are in trouble. Hannah Crump spoke to Vicki about the beautiful side of bugs, what we can do to help them and her new book, ‘Rebugging the Planet’.
Can you sum up your latest book in one sentence?
Bugs, from worms to bees and spiders to zooplankton, are critical for our food, water and many things we take for granted, but they are in trouble, so I wanted to get people so excited about all the bugs, that they will be inspired to help.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
The idea of ‘Rebugging the Planet’ came to me when I saw new research revealing some alarmingly huge crashes in local and even regional bug populations, in both numbers and diversity. Some data suggests 40 percent of insect species alone are at risk of extinction. But I have also seen a growing public curiosity in nature and in invertebrates so felt I could write something that helps people to take action.
WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU'VE LEARNT WHILST WRITING THIS BOOK?
I learnt that you can’t pick one bug or one issue when it comes to how invertebrates are totally enmeshed in our lives and how we need to share this planet. It is an incredibly huge issue. They’re critical for our food soil, water and waste systems but bugs are also essential to the wildlife we love and have provided wonderful cultural inspiration – from Shakespeare’s ‘food for worms’ to Muhammad Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.
I also found so many ways we can learn too from invertebrates on how to live our lives better. The social insects, that can live in large ‘super colonies’, are particularly astounding - the bees, ants and termites – their organizational and construction skills are so well designed. They create incredibly efficient air and temperature-controlled homes and hugely complex systems to communicate using chemicals, sounds and visuals. They can produce huge ‘cities’ of millions of related insects - in Brazil there is a still living 4000 year old termite community that stretches to 200 million mounds covering an area the size of Great Britain.
I was also surprised at how important it is to be ‘rebugging our attitudes’- about understanding their role more, about what they do for us, and sharing that awareness rather than fear, especially with children.
YOU TALK ABOUT HOW REDUCING INEQUALITY AND POVERTY CAN HELP NATURE - CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THIS IS ALL CONNECTED?
Yes. This may seem a bit distanced from the bees and spiders but the research is very clear that inequality harms biodiversity; the more unequal the wealth distribution, the more forests and other key habitats are harmed. As and when communities are thrown off land, there is more pollution and loss of soils from monocultures, which drives further income and health inequalities. The UN agrees, making it a clear focus for their biodiversity work.
In the book I also explain how corporate lobbying weakens laws that control harmful chemicals. Corporations too, encourage us to buy and eat too much through sophisticated marketing which hurts nature, and so invertebrates. They all need to be challenged by citizens – to shift to new economic models and political decisions based on nurturing nature, whilst tackling the climate emergency as well as poverty and inequality. We need better controls over the way major agri-tech, chemical and huge food corporations operate so their activities do not result in homogenous, harmful food production practices. They wield far too much power over decisions affecting land, food and our health. We need to look after ourselves and share resources far better to help the bugs.
IF WE COULD ALL DO ONE THING DIFFERENTLY TO LOOK AFTER INVERTEBRATES, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Can I say have a rebugging plan? With 3 easy actions - 1 at home, 1 out and about and 1 political. This could include rebugging your garden or window boxes to provide food and shelter for bugs; buying organic, pesticide free and fresh foods and organic and preloved clothes if you can; and writing to your local council asking them to cut out pesticide use in parks. Throughout my book I share tips and tools and useful organisations to help you get rebugging – from things that take little or no time to those that need more and which start you campaigning.
A LOT OF OUR READERS ARE GARDENERS, SO WHAT ARE YOUR TOP GARDENING TIPS FOR HELPING WILDLIFE AND INSECTS THRIVE AT HOME?
Be a bit messy and even save time and money: leaving logs and leave piles and some of your lawn uncut. Letting it go wild is so much more interesting than a boring grass monoculture and you may be surprised what plants arrive as well as the bugs – from moths to beetles to hoverflies – that will appreciate the food and shelter you provide.
Avoid using pesticides and herbicides and let the bugs themselves, like ladybirds and lacewings, control pests. Avoiding imported seeds and plants and use local, peat free suppliers you trust. Or even better save your seeds or propagate your plants from cuttings – its extraordinarily exciting to see seedlings grow from your own seed or root from a cutting - and you can swap seeds with mates to broaden the potential.
Chelsea Green Publishing is offering two lucky winners the chance to win a copy of Rebugging the Planet! Head to the Eel’s Twitter or Instagram today to find out more (competition open 29 November – 6 December 2021).