Bees, Invertebrates, And Education
– A Few Ideas

Painted lady butterfly on dahlia.Painted lady butterfly on dahlia.

I’m convinced that education is really key to help develop a balanced perspective regarding invertebrates, and their roles in the eco-system.

I think this education needs to extend beyond the obvious – yes, many people recognise a butterfly and a bumble bee, but even here, our knowledge tends to be limited.

Bumble bee and hover fly on helianthus flowers.Bumble bee and hover fly on helianthus flowers.

In addition, the feeling I get is that the threat of ‘pest’ insects and invertebrates seems to be exaggerated versus the actual threat. 

Here are a few points I would like to see the public and farmers educated about:

1. Most invertebrate species are beneficial or harmless.

 Yet most  invertebrates have a very low profile, and with the exception of a few beneficial species and a few ‘pests’, many are prone to mis-identification, or their role is not understood.   

Despite the high profile of honey bees, only 12% of UK adults were able to correctly identify them in a recent Friends Of The Earth Survey - so what hope do the majority of beneficial insects have?  

Honey bee on geranium.Honey bee on geranium.

There are some solitary bees that are so tiny, they could be mistaken for little black flies! I think we need to become more familiar with species: from bees, beetles, flies, butterflies and many other creatures and the roles they play. 

Some solitary bees that are so tiny, they could be mistaken for little black flies, like Heriades truncorum.Some solitary bees that are so tiny, they could be mistaken for little black flies, like Heriades truncorum.

2. Only 1000 species of insect in the world are considered to be agricultural pests

 ...but each year they destroy between 10 and 15 percent of the World’s agricultural produce.” – source - The British Natural History Museum.

Yet humans waste one third of food produced, globally every year – mostly in the West!
Source: UN Report

So why are we worrying about 10 - 15% of food crops, when we are wasting a third?

Small tortoise butterfly on Oregano (Marjoram).Small tortoise butterfly on Oregano (Marjoram).

And which is of greater detriment to the environment, a few plant nibbling beetles, or the thousands of toxic product polluting the environment every year?

3. There are over 1 million insect species in the world 

Source: Australian Government:

(see here -opens new window).

So, based on our figures for 1000 agricultural pest species, we could therefore, an estimated 999 species out of every 1000 is beneficial or harmless, and only 1 is a pest.

4. The value of the bees' services alone has been estimated at £200m a year

The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn. (Source: The Economic Value Of Honey Bees:

Bumble bee on raspberry flowers.Bumble bee on raspberry flowers.

. There are many important direct and indirect contributions made by all manner of species

From hoverflies, butterflies, lacewings, and ladybirds to earthworms and various beetles and ‘low profile’ invertebrates – all not quantified, since none of those species ever sent a farmer or gardener a bill!

6. Imperfect fruit & veg?

If farmers and the public had a more balanced and better understanding of the contribution of invertebrates, they may be more motivated to find environmentally methods of gardening and farming, and more likely to accept ‘imperfect’ fruit and vegetables.

7. Farmers need better advice and information from non-vested interests about 'crop pests'

The research below shows that farmers were treating for pollen beetle unnecessarily.   This is not only bad for the environment, it's expense for farmers.

8. Rodale study

A 30 year study by the Rodale Institute showed that ultimately, organic farming methods match production of intensive, environmentally destructive methods of farming, and exceed it in some climate conditions. How many farmers would be aware of this research, I wonder?

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