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.
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Tennis fan suing Australian Open organisers for 'failing to shade spectators' during Murray match
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
AirAsia QZ8501: Black box reveals warning alarms 'screamed' before crash, as more bodies recovered from near fuselage of jet
Rob Lowe hits out at White House decision not to meet Israeli leader
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...
Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...
£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...