National Insect Week: The power of bugs
Scientists warn that the UK's dramatic loss of expertise in the field poses a threat to our environment and health
Sunday 20 June 2010
They are among the planet's smallest creatures, yet they have the power to change the world. Insects can be man's greatest friends, pollinating our crops, and also our greatest enemy, spreading disease and killing millions worldwide. Now scientists are warning that Britain's once world-beating pool of expertise on the subject is draining away, leaving us vulnerable to new and ever more dangerous insect pests.
The Royal Entomological Society, the oldest in the world in its field, warned this weekend that a decline in the UK's scientific study of insects poses a substantial threat to our ecosystems, food security and even our health. The warning comes as National Insect Week begins tomorrow.
Once a world leader in the field, in the 1970s the UK produced 70 to 80 graduate entomologists annually. Now it produces a handful each year. Imperial College London is the last place teaching the subject, and that at postgraduate level only.
Experts bemoan the passing of a time when entomology boasted champions such as Charles Darwin and the novelist/lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov, who, in turn, inspired younger generations. They blame the school system for not capitalising on children's early interest in bugs and what they say is fashionable disapproval of collecting insects, once a rite of passage for millions of schoolchildren.
Simon Leather, of Imperial College, said: "Insects are the major animal life form – 75 per cent of described animal species are insects. Nobody knows very much about insects and invertebrates, yet they are incredibly important: they help run all the ecosystems, they provide food for lots of animals, they live in the soil, turning lots of things over. Yet much of the research money goes into mammals, where a new species is rarely discovered."
British scientists are increasingly worried that, as global temperatures rise, a wave of new, possibly disease-carrying insects will invade Britain and experts will not know enough to control them. "What could happen is that climate change could allow the establishment of the diseases that they transmit and the insects may survive through mild winters," Dr Leather said.
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink driving, study suggests
- 5 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
Ben Affleck asked TV chiefs to hide slave-owning ancestry, new hacked Sony emails published by Wikileaks claim
Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...