Basin Notes - May 2006

Insects are the answer

Over the past few years, the decline of the humble house sparrow has been reported both in the press and anecdotally. This once ubiquitous garden bird has declined by 60% over the last 25 years. Several people in Angus have told me that they don't get house sparrows in their gardens at all now, whereas there were plenty only a few years ago.

Happily, my Montrose garden is still visited by good numbers of this cheeky chirper and adults can be seen feeding fledgling birds in the hedges at the moment.

The reasons for this dramatic decline have been puzzling experts for quite a few years, but recent research suggests that a lack of insects may be one of the problems. The beetles, craneflies, aphids, and spiders that are vital to the survival of young sparrows in June and July have been in short supply.

Sadly, this may be due to the change in fashion in gardens from planting a wide range of deciduous shrubs and vegetables, towards more stylistic statements in concrete, gravel and decking. Use of insecticides is another obvious culprit in managing the well manicured garden plot.

This is just another example of how delicate the balance of nature is, and how humans can, often unthinkingly, tip the scales to the detriment of species we enjoy. Clearly, it is time to redress the balance and help to feed the birds by some careful un-management of our gardens.

Leaving a small area of longer grass, some rotting wood and some nettles in a corner of the garden can increase the insect population dramatically. But before you throw up your hands in horror at the thought of you prize flowers or vegetables being decimated, remember that not only are the birds going to help to keep these insects in check, but you will also attract those helpful insects, like ladybirds, that eat aphids and other pests.

In addition, you can get the benefit of having bumblebees, butterflies, ladybirds and hover flies dashing about the garden to delight the eye. These showy ambassadors of the insect world are a good indication that the rest of the less noticeable insect population is in residence and waiting to be eaten!

Insects are a rewarding part of the natural wildlife of this country to study, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust is one organisation that cares for them in the wild. You can also get more information from Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS); three organisations who specialise in insects.

National Insect Week runs from 19th to 25th June and events are being held all over the UK to bring people closer to insects. See the website for more information.

So there is no excuse - get more insects in your garden if you want more birds.