BIO0024

Environmental Audit Committee: Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Evidence from Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust

 

Introduction

  1. Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust is the charity that represents the needs of all invertebrate species.  Buglife has 35 member organisations, including all the leading invertebrate specialist societies, and over 2,000 individual supporters.  Buglife’s aim is to halt the extinction of invertebrates and to achieve sustainable populations of invertebrates.

 

  1. Invertebrates are a key part of the UK’s biodiversity.  64% of all UK species are invertebrates. Invertebrates provide us with nutritional, ecological, agricultural, medical and technological benefits – for instance about half our marine fisheries income comes from invertebrate species.  Invertebrates are key to healthy ecosystem function - many of our wildflowers would disappear without insect pollination and most birds and mammals would starve.  As well as providing us with many ecosystem services, their future value is not yet understood; they are increasingly being used in medicine and biological pest control.

 

  1. Recent studies reveal a picture of declines in invertebrates across the planet (see Annex). A well-publicised review[1] recently concluded that current rates of decline could lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades. Butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, and dung beetles are amongst the most at risk, along with freshwater insects such as stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies. A small number of mobile, pollutant-tolerant species can cope with the damage that humans are doing to our planet. These generalist species are replacing the rich diversity of species that make up the fabric of life on Earth. It is becoming increasingly clear that our planet’s ecological balance is breaking and there is an urgent need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends. Invertebrates make up over half the species on Earth, our planet’s health depends on them, so their enduring disappearance is intensely concerning. The rate of loss of invertebrate life is much faster than that of higher profile wildlife like birds and mammals There are many causes, and they all need to be addressed, but the evidence is clear, we will not halt the crisis without urgently reversing habitat loss and degradation, preventing and mitigating climate change, cleaning-up polluted waters, and replacing pesticide dependency with sustainable farming methods.

 

Protecting the most important areas

  1. Many of our most threatened invertebrates are only found in a small number of places. These places are often remnants of once widespread wildlife-rich habitats such as flower-rich grassland, ancient woodlands, dunes, heathlands, and wetlands. Yet agricultural intensification, and the pressure for new development, means that we are continuing to lose these irreplaceable wildlife refuges at an alarming rate. The current suite of protected areas in the UK includes many sites that are important for invertebrates; however, equally important areas receive no protection and continue to be damaged and destroyed by urbanisation, changing agricultural and land management practices, environmental pollution, invasive non-native species, and many other factors. The most important places must be identified and recognised – given formal protection to prevent their loss, or damage. It is vitally important that these places, and the special species that call them home, are protected from harm and managed in the right way to protect and enhance their wildlife riches. The most important places for invertebrates either support nationally or globally important populations of species of conservation concern; exhibit exceptional species richness; are home to a particularly rare or restricted (e.g. highly specialised) invertebrate assemblage; or feature an exceptional example of a habitat of national or global importance to invertebrate conservation. Working with the leading experts and other conservation charities, good progress has been made to identify the UK’s Important Invertebrate Areas that must be given protection from development and other land-use changes. However, we must ensure that they don’t become ‘paper parks’ – Important Invertebrate Areas must be appropriately protected, and time and effort invested into ensuring they are safe and well-managed.

 

UK Overseas Territories

  1. 85% of the Critically Endangered species for which the UK is responsible are found in the Overseas Territories and it is thought that around 50 of the endemic species once found on St Helena are now extinct.  It has been estimated that a further 2,100 unique British species are still awaiting discovery in our Territories and it is likely that many of these unknown species will be invertebrates.

 

  1. The most recent ‘stocktake’ of nature in the Overseas Territories by the RSPB reveals over 1,500 endemic species are known from the UK Overseas Territories, representing 94% of unique British species[2].  As an example of the high level of endemism found on these remote islands, there are over 450 endemic terrestrial invertebrate species known from St Helena, well over a quarter of all the known endemics from all the territories.

 

  1. As custodians of this rare and endangered biodiversity we have an international responsibility for ensuring that these unique species continue to thrive, however they are increasingly under threat from invasive non-native species, habitat loss and fragmentation, development, climate change, and even a lack of basic knowledge.

 

  1. On many of the Territories there has been very little or no research on the invertebrate species present.  We need to know what species are there as well as their ecology and conservation status, before we can work out what conservation action is required. 

 

Connecting landscapes and wildlife

  1. Wildlife-rich landscapes and the vibrant populations of invertebrates and other wildlife that they support are incredibly important for people – our lives, and our descendants’ lives, will be richer and healthier by making more space for wildlife in the countryside. Recent invertebrate declines are part of a long-term loss of diversity and abundance caused by habitat loss and fragmentation. The very latest research shows that many of the best wildlife sites are now very isolated, and that a lack of connected habitat across landscapes means that species are marooned on islands of suitable habitat, unable to move in response to environmental pressures such as climate change, and vulnerable to local extinction[3] . Habitats must be made bigger, better and, crucially, more joined up. Restoring networks for invertebrates is now a top priority. Fragmentation of woodland (particularly ancient woodland), wetlands, and wildflower meadows is particularly harmful for invertebrate life. 97% of wildflower-rich grasslands in England have gone since the 1930s, similar losses have occurred in the rest of the UK. There is a vicious cycle that magnifies the impact of fragmentation on small animals. Not only does it get harder for them to leave one fragment and find another to populate, eventually the likelihood of surviving dispersal attempts becomes very low, and over generations their wings and flight muscles shrink and they stop dispersing[4] . Climate change may also drive reductions in dispersal ability[5]. It is not surprising that around the world bumblebee distributions are shrinking; many can no longer survive in southern parts of their ranges but are not able to move north[6]. It also seems that the smaller the animal, the more severely habitat fragmentation reduces its dispersal ability[7]. Agri-environmental measures have been slow to reverse these declines in habitat extent and much of the action has been diffused across the countryside and not targeted in a structured or cost-effective manner. Habitat restoration must be at a big scale – leaving field edges and corners to nature plays its part, and indeed helps to produce more robust and productive agriculture, but to adequately tackle the biodiversity crisis and to restore wildlife to our countryside we must be far more ambitious – large areas of high-quality habitat must be created, restored and connected. Wildlife-friendly habitat mosaics must be reinstated at a landscape scale, in some places ‘rewilding’ would help to create more varied and complex habitats that favour many insect species. It is essential that habitat restoration creates networks for nature, otherwise we will not achieve sufficient connectivity to save species from extinction.

 

  1. B-Lines is a national nature network scheme with support from all four country administrations, it aims to create a network of wildflower rich stepping-stones across the UK to enable insects and other plants and animals to respond to the changing climate. Mapping of the B-Lines is almost complete, and there are already millions of pounds being invested by dozens of partner organisations to fill the lines with fields of flowers. If B-Lines are targeted by Environmental Land Management schemes then it should be possible to create functional flower rich dispersal corridors, a fundamental part of a nature recovery network.

 

  1. Our wildlife is not limited to the countryside. Many invertebrate species share our urban areas with us, and some are increasingly found nowhere else. Local authorities, businesses and individuals can all take action that will help the recovery of insect populations and make space for wildlife in towns and cities. Our spatial planning system must be much more invertebrate friendly. Increased use of green infrastructure such as green roofs, wildflower grasslands, ponds, hedgerows and rain gardens in development proposals will provide habitat and stepping stones for invertebrates, allowing them to move and disperse to urban greenspace and the wider landscape. Brownfield sites can support a huge diversity of wildlife, often providing refuges for invertebrates that have been lost elsewhere. Brownfields can include quarries, disused railway lines, spoil heaps, military training areas, and former industrial sites that have been allowed to return to nature. Often these sites are private and we do not know how important they are for wildlife until there is a planning application to develop them.  Such sites need careful consideration in the planning process and should not be allocated as development areas unless there is confidence that they are of low biodiversity value.

 

  1. Brownfields can be the only wildlife-rich areas left in our towns and cities. However, development pressure is threatening the future of many key sites. Urban green-space can include a wide variety of land uses including parks, cemeteries, communal ground in residential areas, school grounds, road verges, gardens, golf courses, business parks, hospitals, company premises, brownfield sites, river banks, and railway lines – all of which offer opportunities to be managed for people and wildlife. There are good examples of public greenspace being managed for insects, but we must ensure that this becomes the norm.

 

  1. Over 4,100 invertebrate species in the UK spend at least part of their lifecycle in freshwater[8]. These include well-known freshwater invertebrates like dragonflies, mayflies, pond skaters and water beetles. They play a vital role in maintaining clean water, recycling organic matter, and in providing a food source for fish, birds, and mammals. The presence of aquatic insects is the standard indicator of the health of freshwaters. However, aquatic insects have been just as squeezed for room to live as terrestrial species, and freshwaters are haemorrhaging biological diversity faster than any other ecosystem on Earth. Small waterbodies are particularly important for small animals, but their wellbeing has been largely ignored by regulators and policy makers. There have been big losses of ponds and small waterbodies in the countryside. A combination of climate change and over-abstraction has led to chalk streams and other headwaters suffering from drying out in many places, while naturally temporary streams, such as winterbournes are flowing for shorter periods. There is an urgent need to restore freshwater habitats and improve the quality of rivers, streams, ditches, springs, seepages, ponds, and lakes up to the point where the freshwater insects can thrive again. Peat bogs straddle the aquatic and terrestrial environment; not only do they form an important habitat for many aquatic and semi-aquatic insect species, they are also play a crucial role in storing carbon, which is essential for tackling climate change. Despite this, the past damage from drainage of bogs and peat extraction has not been rectified, and indeed is still being allowed to continue, and Government commitments have failed to stop the use of peat in gardening. It is essential that we stop removing peat from bogs and phase out the sale of peat for gardening and horticulture.

 

Safe spaces for wildlife

  1. Connecting up landscapes alone is not enough to reverse the decline in insects if those landscapes are poisoned by chemicals, or other pollution, emitted by humans, or are being invaded by environmentally harmful species that we have irresponsibly or carelessly introduced into their habitats. Freeing our land and waters from pollutants and invasive species that are driving widespread declines in biodiversity is key to ensuring the resilience of invertebrate populations.

 

  1. Recent history is peppered with cases of pesticides causing huge damage to wildlife, most recently pollinator declines caused by neonicotinoid insecticides, but also cypermethrin sheep dip, which ravaged freshwater systems and may have caused the extinction of a rare caddisfly species. By improving pre-approval testing and being much more careful and prudent about their use we could reduce the damage these chemicals cause to ecosystems and wildlife. Currently there are over four hundred pesticides approved for use in the EU. Since the approval process started in 1991, over a hundred products have been banned due to their detrimental effect on the environment or human health, despite being, until very recently, deemed safe and used extensively. This shows that the current testing procedure for approval is inadequate, again demonstrated by the EU introducing a ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in 2018. There are numerous issues surrounding the pesticide testing procedure, including the limited taxonomic scope of testing, and no account being taken of the ‘cocktail’ effect, where pesticides can have more dramatic effects when working in combination. Detrimental effects that become apparent after a pesticide is approved are not taken into account quickly enough and when environmental impacts of pesticides, and other chemicals, are called into question, the precautionary principle must be applied, and their use suspended. There is too much emphasis on proving harm, rather than the onus being on the chemical companies to prove that they are safe or provide a measurable benefit in terms of yield. Pre-approval studies on the toxicity of new pesticides must be made publicly available and should be scientifically robust so that the statistical significance of the results can be relied upon. While it is illegal for financial advisors to profit from selling products to individuals, agronomy advisors and the companies they work for are still allowed to benefit from commission or sales that arise from their advice to farmers. It is well-established that this form of marketing is highly effective at selling products that are either not needed or should be substituted with better approaches[9]. The effect is to strongly bias the advice given to farmers towards chemical solutions and away from agroecology solutions. France has committed to break this link. Gardens and urban greenspace have become refuges for many bees and other insects; the use of insecticides in gardens cannot be justified on food production or other public good grounds and should be banned. An ambitious pesticide reduction target should be set, with the aim or reducing weight, uses and harm by more than 50%.

 

  1. Plant-protection pesticides are not the only chemicals that can harm invertebrate populations; there are also significant risks from veterinary and human medicines. There is relatively little vigilance or targeted regulation to protect wildlife from medicines. Pollution is a particular problem for water quality, despite the introduction of legislation such as the Water Framework Directive in Europe. Almost half of sites monitored across Europe continue to suffer from chronic chemical pollution leading to long-term negative impacts on freshwater organisms. One in ten sites suffered acute pollution with potential lethal impacts for freshwater organisms[10]. Harmful chemicals, nutrients and plastic fragments are emitted in sewage effluent and run-off from urban and industrial areas, with pesticides from farmland posing the most immediate risk to freshwater ecosystems.

 

Climate change

  1. Climate change is one of the major long-term threats to biodiversity. Most recent predictions are that our climate will become warmer, patterns of rainfall will change, and the number and frequency of extreme weather events will increase as a result of climate change, and this will inevitably have an impact on invertebrate populations. Indeed, invertebrate species that have comparatively good powers of mobility are among the first groups to show the impact of a changing climate. Cold-loving species are disappearing from southern and lowland parts of their range while warm-loving species are increasing their range and species previously found further south in Europe have become established in the UK. Temperature plays a vital role in the breeding success of coldblooded organisms and therefore the population size and viability of many invertebrate species. It is probable that small changes in temperature will be enough to jeopardise the survival of some invertebrate populations. This effect will most likely be seen in cold-adapted montane species whose very survival is at stake; however, it is also evident in other habitats. Extreme events such as sustained warm spells and heavy rain will become more common. Drier, warmer conditions coupled with increased pressure on water supplies will lead to low flows in chalkstreams and headwaters, or their flow stopping altogether. Wetter conditions and an increase in the frequency of floods is also likely to have a significant effect on invertebrate populations. Ground-dwelling invertebrates may be drowned or washed away, and for those that survive, the catastrophic loss of their food resource may prove fatal.

 

Light pollution and other radiation

  1. Night-time light pollution disrupts the lives of nocturnal insects such as moths, ground beetles and glow-worms. It has been established as a cause of insect decline that can impact on the pollination of plants and the health of ecosystems[11] [12] [13] [14] [15]. While the problem of light pollution is widely recognised and there are a number of Dark Sky Reserves/Parks, and although we know what needs to be done to reduce the pollution, there is no coordinated effort to reduce light pollution. National light pollution reduction targets should be set under the new Environment Act.

 

  1. Technology increasingly emits electromagnetic radiation; it forms a growing and valued part of modern life. Yet we have been failing to consider how this radiation may affect other animals. Radar, radio, telecommunications, and electrical fields pervade the atmosphere. We know that insects can detect, and are affected by, types of electromagnetic radiation and scientists are concerned that this radiation can damage the environment[16] [17] [18]. However, there has been insufficient work on understanding how this might affect insect populations and ecosystem health, a particular concern as 5G is rolled out without a package of research to understand if there are any environmental impacts.

 

Invasive Non-Native Species

  1. Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity across the planet. The introduction of INNS to ecosystems typically leads to a reduction in species richness and abundance, and to the general degradation of the environment. The annual cost of INNS such as Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus), Carpet sea squirt (Didemnum vexillum) and the Killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) to the British economy is estimated to be at least £1.7 billion. The international trade in pot plants poses a particular threat. Billions of pounds worth of plants and trees are transported around the world every year. They may bring colour to homes and gardens but with them they bring unwanted organisms in the soil. Non-native species such as the New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus) can wreak havoc on native wildlife, while invasive slugs such as the Spanish slug (Arion vulgaris) can harm garden plants and crops. Local horticulturalists are quite capable of growing plants for domestic markets, so almost all international trade in live plants is unnecessary. Until there is a proven way to sterilise both pot plants and the potting medium, and this is implemented, cross-border trade in pot plants should be prohibited.

 

  1. Ballast water is another major pathway for non-native species to move around the world. Cruise ships, tankers and freight ships take on water before they set sail and then discharge on their arrival at their destination. Stowaway animals and plants are released into the sea or estuary where they can establish and cause damage to native species and habitats. The Ballast Water Management Convention entered into force in 2017. All ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to new standards. The UK has yet to comply with these new requirements. In Europe, North American crayfish species including the Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) and Red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) pose a particular threat to native wildlife. An estimated annual cost of €454 million is incurred due to the damage caused by and/or the control of these two crayfish species[19]. The situation is so dire that to save the native crayfish from extinction we will have to rescue at risk populations from their rivers and streams and translocate them to distant water bodies – Ark Sites – where they will be safer, however this work is currently halted due to funding cuts.

 

  1. Aquatic organisms are accidentally transported between waterbodies by recreational water users. The introduction of invasive non-native species to freshwater ecosystems leads to a reduction in species richness and abundance, with mayflies, caddisflies, snails, freshwater shrimps and other crustaceans being particularly vulnerable – it is also likely that invasive clams have caused the extinction of Witham orb mussel (Sphaerium solidum). Many non-native species originate from the region around the Black and Caspian Seas, with over a hundred freshwater species known to have spread from there to date[20]. Waterbodies in South East England are most at risk from invasive invertebrates. The presence of invasive species such as the Quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis) could, by providing a favourable substrate, enable other invasive species to establish more easily[21]. Freshwater species make up almost half of the species identified by Buglife as being of most concern to the UK[22]. Eradicating invasive species after they have become established can be expensive or impossible, and so preventing the spread of invasive non-native species is key to limiting harm. Improved biosecurity practices are essential. For aquatic ecosystems, the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat promotes the ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ message. Whilst there is evidence that some water users are heeding this advice, more needs to be done to spread this message, and the effectiveness of this approach needs to be reviewed regularly and new measures introduced if it is failing to prevent freshwater invasions.

 

Answers to specific questions posed in the call for evidence

The State of Biodiversity

How effectively is the Government monitoring the impact of UK activities on biodiversity, at home and abroad?

  1. The establishment of the national Pollinator Monitoring Scheme has been a major step forward, but the scheme needs increased and long-term funding commitment so that it can deliver speedy and regionally relevant trends on insect abundance, identified to species level.

 

Where should the four nations prioritise resources to tackle biodiversity loss?

  1. Survey, monitoring, site protection, site management, species action and protection, tackling pollution and invasive species (a Border biosecurity force for instance).

Evaluating measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity

How should the Environmental Land Management scheme maintain and improve biodiversity? What role might alternative land use play in delivering improvements to biodiversity under the ELM scheme?

  1. Ensuring that the scheme results in the restoration of a significant area of wildflower rich habitats and that to achieve five times cost effectiveness these areas are targeted into the national B-Lines network.

 

How effective are the new measures to enhance biodiversity within the Environment Bill, particularly biodiversity net gain and Nature Recovery Networks? Do these measures complement existing regulatory frameworks and address issues surrounding how to value nature?

  1. As the legislation stands we are deeply concerned that the environmental principles will be weaker than currently the case, and that the biodiversity duty will not be strong enough to drive the statutory commitment that would result in the achievement of Nature Recovery Network outcomes as embodied in Local Nature Recovery Strategies. We could end up in a worst case outcome of lots of effort being committed by county ecologists to developing nature recovery plans and reporting on the new biodiversity duty, without either actually resulting in nature or biodiversity benefits. It remains unclear how Biodiversity Gain will ensure that endangered species are not compromised.

 

How should Nature Recovery Networks be planned, funded and delivered?

  1. Nature Recovery Networks should look to build on pre-existing networks and site designations and should be complied by Local Authorities through a process of public consultation. The Environment Act should contain duties for the Local Authority and other public bodies to deliver habitat conservation and restoration as set out in the NRN. Funding should be targeted through ELMs, planning gain and Landfill Tax Credit.

 

Co-ordination of UK environmental policy

How can policy be better integrated to address biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development?

  1. A biodiversity duty that requires public bodies to take action to conserve the species and habitats listed under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Clear integration of local nature recovery strategies and local plans. Greater legal protection for more threatened species.

 

How can biodiversity and ecosystems help achieve the air, soil and water quality objectives in the 25 Year Environment Plan?

  1. Halting the use of peat and protecting and restoring peat habitats would be a significant contribution to these objectives.

 

Pairing nature-based solutions to climate change with biodiversity

Which nature-based solutions are most effective in achieving both climate and biodiversity goals?

  1. In addition to mitigating climate change, nature-based solutions are also required to enable species to adapt to climate change, primarily by being able to disperse to new habitats when their current homes become unsuitable, fragmentation is already resulting is invertebrate species failing to adapt and a solution in terms of significantly more habitat connectivity must be delivered soon to avoid accelerating extinction rates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepared by:

Craig Macadam

Conservation Director

craig.macadam@buglife.org.uk

 

 

Annex: The evidence of declines

 

Many scientific studies from countries around the world reveal big declines in invertebrate populations. Knowledge will never be complete and there are several groups of invertebrate that have not been assessed, and many countries with no-data.  The bulk of authoritative invertebrate decline reports come from Britain and other European countries.

 

As early as 2004 a study by Professor Jeremy Thomas and other leading British ecologists suggested that global extinction rates of vertebrate and plant species had a parallel among insects and that these small animals may be in even greater trouble[23].

 

Recent global “meta-studies” and reviews have confirmed the depth of the insect crisis:

 

Specific studies that raise the greatest alarm for the future of insect populations include:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to note that while many species are increasing, there are no other published studies across many sites and broad groups of invertebrate species that paint a picture that is not compatible with widespread, long-term, declines in the ranges, abundance and biomass of invertebrates, particularly insects.

 

 


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September 2020