Bugs’ strife:

The vi­tal creepy-crawlies in our gar­dens

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Julie Lu­cas

In the words of An­toine de Saint-Ex­upéry: “I must en­dure the pres­ence of two or three cater­pil­lars if I wish to be­come ac­quainted with the but­ter­flies.”

Sci­en­tists be­lieve that should we lose our insects we too could face ex­tinc­tion. It may sound dra­matic, but crops would not be pol­li­nated, lead­ing to food short­ages that would dev­as­tate the food chain. There are more than 24,000 in­sect species in the UK, and over a mil­lion in the world, and ex­perts be­lieve there are many more yet to be dis­cov­ered. They rep­re­sent more than half of all liv­ing or­gan­isms on the planet.

Closer to home you can see them at work. Although some insects can be pests – who loves a wasp in the sum­mer? – many are ben­e­fi­cial and ac­cord­ing to Dr Stephanie Bird, an en­to­mol­o­gist based at RHS Wis­ley, they are cru­cial to the bio­di­ver­sity of our gar­dens.

“Insects pro­vide the ba­sis for many func­tion­ing ecosys­tems,” ex­plains Dr Bird. “They are an im­por­tant source of food for birds, am­phib­ians and mammals and play a vi­tal role pol­li­nat­ing plants es­sen­tial for grow­ing veg­eta­bles and flow­ers. They also help to re­cy­cle plant waste – without insects be­ing a part of the process, things wouldn’t de­com­pose as ef­fi­ciently.”

There are plenty of ways you can help them thrive. “Insects have dif­fer­ent life stages; some have aquatic lar­vae so ponds are good,” Dr Bird says. “Put up bee houses for soli­tary bees, com­post

heaps also pro­vide a habi­tat for in­ver­te­brates and above all else pro­vide a wide range of plants as food sources for cater­pil­lars and flow­ers to pro­vide nec­tar for pol­li­nat­ing insects in­clud­ing bees.’

Dr Bird stresses the need for ur­ban green­ing – mak­ing sure ur­ban ar­eas don’t be­come con­crete jun­gles with no plants. “Pro­vide a va­ri­ety of plants for the gar­den to flower across the year; dif­fer­ent plants pro­vide re­sources to dif­fer­ent groups of insects. Pots can be great for small gar­dens, ver­bena, cen­tran­thus and bud­dleia at­tract but­ter­flies, whilst bum­ble­bees love laven­der.” She ad­vises try­ing a nat­u­ral route such as net­ting to pro­tect plants. “When you spray in­sec­ti­cides you can also be harm­ing the insects that could be controllin­g the prob­lem.”

Last year the RHS re­ceived the most calls about the box tree moth cater­pil­lars. “A lot of peo­ple com­plain about ants in the pot plants, but some­times they can pro­vide con­trol and eat the moth pu­pae,” she says.

And if you didn’t think we had enough insects al­ready, the sci­en­tists at the RHS have just dis­cov­ered an­other one, the web­spin­ner – it’s the first in­sect or­der to be dis­cov­ered in the UK for 100 years. May many more thrive in our gar­dens and be­yond.


Lady­birds: These bright and eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able bee­tles eat aphids.

Hov­er­flies: Lar­vae of some hov­er­fly species also eat aphids and the adult insects pol­li­nate plants.

Bum­ble­bees: Good pol­li­na­tors.

Ta­chinid flies: Many species are par­a­sitoids of cater­pil­lars.

Lacewings: Again the lar­vae eat aphids and the adult insects look pretty in­ter­est­ing.

Glow worms: Ac­tu­ally a bee­tle, the lar­vae eat snails. The adult flight­less fe­males light up for a few weeks in the sum­mer to at­tract a mate. Light pol­lu­tion can in­ter­fere with this sig­nalling be­hav­iour, so if you know you live in an area where they are found then con­sider re­duc­ing ar­ti­fi­cial gar­den light­ing be­tween the end of June and mid-Au­gust.

Ground bee­tles: Both lar­vae and adults are preda­tory insects.

Par­a­sitoid wasps:. These insects help con­trol un­wanted cater­pil­lars.

But­ter­flies: Dr Bird says: “Some cater­pil­lars like those of the com­mon but­ter­fly do eat gar­den plants; how­ever, the adults are so at­trac­tive that in my opin­ion they are well worth the feed­ing dam­age.”

Hor­net: The Euro­pean hor­net is a na­tive, use­ful preda­tory in­sect that can help re­duce pest pop­u­la­tions in gar­dens – although its sting should be avoided!

With many pol­li­nat­ing insects in de­cline the RHS has pro­duced a list of what plants to add to your gar­den. You can find out more at rhs.org.uk

‘Insects pro­vide the ba­sis for many func­tion­ing ecosys­tems’

Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis with hov­er­fly on Plants for Bugs re­search beds at RHS Wis­ley Gar­dens

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