Protecting insect species in Essex

Heath Fritillary by Tom Marshall 

It was worrying to hear further news of insect decline earlier this month; it is reported that more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered.

Insects are crucial to many ecosystems and vital for the food chain - extreme losses will have disastrous consequences. At Essex Wildlife Trust, we are working hard to protect key insect habitats and monitor insect populations across the county. 

How are we helping insects in Essex?

Essex Wildlife Trust Belfairs Woodland Nature Reserve in South Essex was a key location in 2018 for insect habitat management; the successful re-introduction of the Heath Fritillary, one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, led to a second brood emerging for the first time in September.

Heath Fritillary second brood at Belfairs Woodland September 2018

Insects require a mosaic of interconnected habitats and vegetation structures to meet their nesting, foraging, hunting and overwintering requirements. Over at Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, Essex Wildlife Trust has been working closely with invertebrate conservation organisation Buglife to create habitats where invertebrates can thrive, including managing age structure for bramble for overwintering invertebrates and improving the flower rich meadows vital for foraging insects such as one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees, the Shrill Carder Bee.

Shrill Carder Bee

Shrill Carder Bee

In the North of the county, Cockaynes Wood Nature Reserve is situated in an area which was once extensively used for sand and gravel extraction and now supports a whole array of wildlife and invertebrates. Heather and Common Cow Wheat spread down the slopes; in the summer months, large numbers of dragonflies frequent the ponds and heathland and in the rough woodland on the southern fringe, Glow Worms light up the foliage with their soft green glow.

Dragonfly by Peter Hewitt

Dragonfly by Peter Hewitt

Andrew Impey, Chief Executive Officer for Essex Wildlife Trust explains the importance of making insect conservation a priority –

“Insects really are the unsung heroes of the animal world and it’s no exaggeration to say that the planet wouldn’t exist as we know it, were it not for their existence. For many people they are just creepy crawlies that look a bit weird, but they perform vital roles in the ecological functioning of the countryside. From pollinating much of our food, to the decomposition of dead organic matter, insects are at the heart of any habitat.

Remove humans from the planet and the world would be absolutely fine; but remove insects and very quickly, vital ecological processes start to break down and entire habitats and wildlife communities become threatened. Conservation is therefore not just for the benefit of wildlife enthusiasts, but it serves to preserve communities and a way of life. It’s everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge these issues and demand that habitats and species are preserved in perpetuity.”

What can you do to help?

Everyone can help insects to thrive; with a few simple steps you can create your own garden insect habitats.

Plant bee-friendly plants

Flowers and shrubs that are rich in pollen will have your garden buzzing with bees. Pick winter flowers such as Crocus and winter-flowering Heather to help late flying/early emerging bees, and spring flowers such as Spotted Deadnettle and Lungwort for warmer weather.

Leave your lawn

By cutting your lawn a little less often, you can create a haven for insects. Allow plants such as Daisies, Clovers and Buttercups to flower and they will provide valuable nectar and pollen resources.

Create a mini-meadow

Butterflies, bees and many other species love to visit wildflowers including Knapweed, Cowslip and Meadow Buttercup. Plant your mini-meadow in a sunny spot in your garden if possible without fertilising the soil; wildflowers thrive in poor soil.

Build a Bug Hotel

Create a home for bugs with your very own Bug Hotel! This is an opportunity to utilise important materials such as dead wood – this is an increasingly important insect habitat especially for species such as Wood-boring Beetles. You can also include hollow stems, stones and tiles and dry leaves. Download your very own guide here

Support Essex Wildlife Trust

We are dedicated to the protection of wildlife across Essex, and with your support we can continue to make a difference. Find out how you can help to protect wildlife in your area right here.