Looking after our brilliant bugs
Photo: Sean Stratton / Unsplash
An alarming new study, discussed in The Guardian today, has found that more than 40% of the world's insect populations are now in decline. Coverage of environmental issues tends to focus on more camera-friendly species, but insects are just as vital to our planet's support systems — perhaps even more so. With the total mass of insects on the planet now declining at a rate of 2.5% every year, experts fear that we could lose all of the insects on our planet within 100 years, unless we take action.
It's time for everyone to rediscover their passion for bugs, and help conserve this vital link in our ecosystem. Today, we take a look at two of the most common species you can find in Scotland. Find out what we as an organisation are doing to protect them, and how you can help.
Butterflies and Highland cows
Short-lived and exquisitely beautiful, Scotland has over thirty species of butterfly to spot. Butterflies aren’t just pretty — they also have scientific, economic and educational value, as well as playing their own vital part in the ecosystem. Lots of butterflies and moths indicate a healthy, thriving environment, and indicate the presence of other species, as the are a vital source of food for both birds and mammals . Sadly, due to environmental change, populations are decreasing across the UK. Of the 56 species native to our islands, many are endangered, and four species have gone extinct in the past 150 years.
With lots of open land, Scotland is a brilliant place to start making efforts to conserve the UK's butterflies. To help butterfly conservation in Scotland's forests, we’ve enlisted the help of some hairy beasts. Highland cows play a huge part in conservation grazing, which takes place when cattle thin the vegetation and trample the bracken to make way for the food plants that some of the rarer species, such as the chequered skipper, prefer.
We have reserved wildflower meadows for butterflies and other insect species, and you will spot the occasional piece of deadwood — stumps and fallen logs — at our felling sites. These are essential habitats for butterflies and other bugs, so we always make sure to leave some behind on a regenerating site.
If you want to see some for yourself, the Butterfly Conservation Scotland reserve at Allt Mhuic on Loch Arkaig near Spean Bridge is a great place to spot colourful species such as the pearl-bordered Fritillary and the green hairstreak. Other superb butterfly sites in summer are Kinloch Forest on Skye, Mabie Forest Nature Reserve near Dumfries, and Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve and Glen Creran near Oban. If you want to add your efforts to ours and help preserve our beautiful butterflies, you can always take part in the Big Butterfly Count, running from mid-July and throughout August across the country.
Who run the world? Bees
Photo: Eric Ward / Unsplash
We often take bees for granted. But these little creatures have a huge role to play in important processes such as food production and wildflower growth.
Bees are absolutely vital to our food chain. It’s estimated a third of the food we eat is dependent on pollination from bees. While the transfer of pollen can be done by other things, including birds, bats and the wind, bees are important due to the huge commercial scale of their pollination. Unfortunately, parasites, pesticides and habitat loss have resulted in a decline in both bumblebee and honey bee populations, with several species already extinct in the UK.
It’s not all bad news, though – there are plenty of ways you can help protect bees. You could get involved with an organisation such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, make some simple changes to help bees in your back garden or take part in the Great British Bee Count this spring.
If you want to get up close with bees without getting stung then we have a handy solution for you. Back in 2016 we teamed up with the Scottish Beekeepers Association to create a demonstration bee hive at Glentress, so you can watch the bees from behind the safety of glass. The bees are currently tucked away for the winter, but they will be back in the spring. You might even be able to spot the queen – they’re often marked with a dab of harmless paint on their thorax to help pick them out from the bee crowd!
Play bug bingo
There are 24,000 species of insect in the UK – from the bee’s misunderstood and slightly more aggressive cousin the wasp, to the lighter-than-air dragonfly, to the iconic ladybird. While global insect populations are declining, the UK still contains a lot of rich, natural habitat unspoiled by pesticides and industrial fertlisers, so our forests are still a great place to spot lots of different beasties. Download our bug bingo sheet and see how many you can count!