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Grantham RiverCare leaders talk of a ‘silent summer’

We haven’t noticed as many insects so far this summer, writes David Martin and Ian Simmons of Grantham Rivercare.

As we have been going about our recent litter picking activities, we have been struck by the quietness of the riverside, which we accept as a peaceful interlude from traffic noise and the general hubbub of modern life.

However, look more closely and what do we see? This summer the air seems to be strangely quiet and clear. What is missing? In our view, the insect population, notably those normally buzzing around us.

Grantham RiverCare co-leaders David Martin (left) and Ian Simmons
Grantham RiverCare co-leaders David Martin (left) and Ian Simmons

The lavender bushes and buddleia that grace parks and gardens appear uninhabited where we would normally expect a hive of activity (pun intended).

These observations suggested the theme of this month’s ‘Tales’, with a tip of our hats to a seminal work, written in the Sixties by Rachel Carson entitled ‘Silent Spring’.

This influential work first alerted the public to the risks of pesticides on the environment.

The food pyramid comes up regularly in this column as, in our view, it underpins our whole way of life. No pollinating insects equals no crops equals no food.

Ms. Carson’s focus at the time was the danger posed by DDT and her book led to a global ban.

A more modern scourge is the role of neonicotinoids, developed in the eighties. Applied to seeds to protect from a range of insects, they are water soluble and leak into the environment causing indiscriminate damage to invertebrates.

Of particular concern are the effects on bees, one our most economically important six legged friends.

The EU banned their use in 2018, but the UK voted against, claiming the products were safe for bees.

As part of our volunteering around the River Witham, we have a small army who regularly monitor water quality. While we don’t have the resources to measure pesticides, we do check nitrate and phosphate levels. High nitrate results suggest agricultural run-off from fertilisers and animal waste.

Dangerous levels are reported up the chain to the Environment Agency.

We hope, as summer develops, insects will return to our gardens and outdoor spaces that mean so much to us all.

If you do plan to venture out as the weather improves, please take care not to litter. If paddling in the shallow river, it would be wise to wear appropriate footwear as we cannot guarantee what might be lurking on the river bed.

It isn’t the potential toe nibbling wildlife, rather the inconsiderately discarded glass and metal that will cut painfully into unsuspecting flesh.

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