The notion that little things count is fairly well accepted and when it comes to wildlife nothing could be truer. Some of the smallest creatures are vital to our survival and insects are the driving force for natural systems and provide food for larger creatures including human beings.
Insects are unsung heroes and whilst efforts to help bees have, quite rightly, become the focus of recent campaigns, other insects need our help too. Insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet and have adapted to conditions across the globe. Their role in pollinating plants is probably their most well-known ‘use’ but efforts to conserve creatures shouldn’t be predicated on their benefits to people.
All creatures have an intrinsic value and the value of insects is immeasurable — matched only by the scale of our under appreciation. Whilst we benefit directly from the fruits they pollinate, we shouldn’t ignore the indirect benefits derived from their pollination of other plants. 70 to 95% of plants are pollinated by animals, with insects doing the bulk of this work. Without insects we would lose access to key food crops, our planet would look very different as plant and trees struggled to reproduce and our environment would become much more inhospitable with less plants to filter our air and water, protect our soils and store damaging carbon.
To continue the theme of little things counting, let’s look at simple solutions. Anyone with a garden can take direct action to help insects. Traditionally advice has focussed on growing more nectar rich flowers to benefit bees and other pollinators, but recent advice from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), our partners in the Wild About Gardens project, suggests that foliage plants, including evergreens are key to supporting the greatest variety of insects. Insects need foliage for food and shelter. Many also play a key role in recycling dead and decaying plant materials so it’s worth remembering that in addition to growing more plants we need to leave some of the tidying to nature — giving you more time to enjoy a spot of armchair gardening!
The RHS’ advice is to grow a mix of native, near native and exotic plants, with the focus on the first two groups. Native shrubs such as holly, crab apple and box are all good choices. Whatever you choose to grow, allow plants to grow close together, the denser the vegetation the better for most species of insect. Allowing less room between plants will also save time on weeding.
You can also be more relaxed about signs of insect damage on your plants — instead of reaching for the pesticide gun at the first sign of a nibble on a leaf, consider this ‘damage’ as a symbol that you are doing your bit for wildlife.