Fighting insectageddon: Why bugs matter

earthrise travels to the UK and New Zealand to meet the scientists trying to stop the decline of insect populations.

Insects make up 80 percent of all species on Earth. They play a vital role pollinating crops, decomposing waste and supporting food chains.

But a recent study shows that, in some areas, flying insect numbers have fallen by a staggering 75 percent in the last 27 years – and humans are to blame.

If development and pesticide use continue, we could soon face what some experts are calling “insectageddon” – the ecological collapse of the insect population. And this could change life on Earth as we know it.

earthrise travels to New Zealand and Britain where scientists are working to prevent this catastrophe and are coming up with breeding programmes and nature reserves for insects.

New Zealand: Saving the prehistoric weta

New Zealand is rich in wildlife and, because of its isolation, there are hundreds of plants and animals that evolved here that cannot be found anywhere else. But human-introduced pests have threatened and even wiped out many species.

One of those is the native wetapunga which has been around for 190 million years and used to be found all over New Zealand. But now they are close to extinction.

The Auckland Zoo has launched a set of programmes to save the wetapunga – or weta – including an interactive exhibition that aims to excite the next generation about insects.

“They are fascinating and people just dismiss them. But not only that, they’re really, really important for the environment. I mean it’s how everything works together, and without insects, we wouldn’t be here,” Kirsty Macfarlane, Learning Centre guide tells.

“They’re the future, right? So, they’re the ones who are going to have be helping to keep insects safe and to stop them from becoming endangered. If they can really connect with insects at that young age and fall in love with them, I guess, then that will be great for our future,” says Macfarlane.

earthrise went to New Zealand to find out how an enterprising group of scientists are bringing a dinosaur-era insect back from the brink of extinction.

Bug reserves in the UK

With a long history of habitat loss and industrialised farming, Europe has seen some of the worst cases of insect decline and extinction in the world.

”There is a whole host of challenges that they face, all to do with us. Modern farming methods have become very reliant on using lots and lots of pesticides. Which means the farmer can grow a perfect monoculture with not an insect inside,” says Professor Dave Goulson, who has been studying insects for over 20 years.

“The entire botanical diversity surrounding us is just a handful of species instead of the hundreds of species that used to live here … It basically makes the landscape uninhabitable for most insects.”

For some species it's too late, some have gone extinct. But for the majority, they're still here and we need to make sure we look after them.

by Dave Goulson, entomologist

According to Goulson it’s too late for some species, because they have already gone extinct, “but for the majority, they’re still here and we need to make sure we look after them.”

“We should be absolutely terrified about this, it should be something that everyone is talking about and everyone is keen to fix. Because if we don’t, we face a really bleak future without them,” says Goulson.

In the UK, some groups are taking the warnings of entomologists seriously. In an attempt to protect insect populations, old industrial sites are being turned into bug reserves.

earthrise went to Canvey Wick to meet the scientists trying to prevent an insectageddon by providing natural habitats and refuge for thousands of insect species.