International Workshop Series-Rebugging the Planet, UK
We all know that where there are plants there are bugs too. These bugs have always been treated as a threat and hence we use insecticides and pesticides to get rid of them. We also use some DIY hacks to ward them away from our plants and homes. But have you ever thought that bugs are useful to us as well?
Well, without insects/bugs, our lives would be vastly different. Insects pollinate many of our fruits, flowers, and vegetables. We would not have much of the produce that we enjoy and rely on without the pollinating services of insects, not to mention honey, beeswax, silk, and other useful products that bugs provide. Bugs are important because of their diversity, ecological role, and influence on agriculture, human health, and natural resources. They create the biological foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems.
To learn more and understand it better watch our workshop on “REBUGGING THE PLANET” with our speaker Vicki Hird from the UK. She is an experienced and award-winning environmental campaigner, researcher, writer and strategist working mainly in the food, farming and environmental policy arenas and the author of the book “Rebugging the Planet”. She will be telling us why bugs are important to us and how we can help them grow. For more info, you can read her book here “Rebugging the Planet”
Rebugging the Planet with Vicky
Hello, everyone. Welcome to another international workshop with TheAffordableOrganicStore. Today, we have Vicky Hird with us. This is from the United Kingdom (UK). “Hello, Vicky. How are you?”, asked Zehra.
“I’m good. It’s a bit cold over here. But, I’m good.”
“Welcome to our workshop. It’s a pleasure to have you over here today with us.”, greeted Zehra.
Get to know about bug-lover Vicky Hird
Vicky is an environmentalist, researcher, and author of the book ‘Rebugging the Planet ’.
This is the topic for our workshop today that is “Rebugging the Planet”. Most of us are either scared of bugs or we just dislike them. We try to get rid of them as much as possible. But little do we know, these creepy little creatures play a very significant role in our lives. They are an essential part of our planet. It’s important to have them around us. Today, Vicky is going to tell us the importance of these bugs and insects in our lives. It’s going to be a very exciting session. Over to you, Vicky.
“Thank you very much. I thought that I’ll tell everyone a little about myself. I have written this book and while writing it, I’ve found what people can do to help preserve bugs. I just want people to like bugs or at least change their attitude towards bugs. I’m Vicky Hird and I started, almost by accident as an Environmental Campaigner in 1989. I have done a degree in Biology and Masters’ in Developing Pest management systems. This led me to an interest in pest management. But I wasn’t looking for killing pests for the rest of my life. I was looking for some work. And so I volunteered for an organization called ‘Friends of the Earth ’.I never went on to kill pests for the rest of my life. I have been working on campaigns to change international government policies and European Institutional policies for nearly thirty years. We need to get important policies for food and farming because that is what I work on. It is important for our health, our personal lives, and our well-being. The diseases that cross barriers and end up infecting us. We have got critical nature and the climate crisis. So, all these things are affected by how we practice food and farm. I’ve retained a love for bugs from the start of my career. My love for invertebrates. My love for insects was probably cemented when I was 17 years old. I’m lucky to get a job in a big research station. I spent three months in summer spending some time with Beehives, Honeybees. We were doing fantastic research on Pheromones which are chemical cues, and other insects that used to communicate with each other. We studied the behavior of bees when they are foraging or doing flight behavior. I was sitting there for weeks, counting all the bees. From those bees, there was one bee that was making a different buzz from the rest of the bees. This honeybee came closer and closer to my face, buzzing louder. So, I had to flick it off from my face. I got stung by that bee. I recall it as a really good means of communication between me and the bee. The bee thought that I was a threat to the beehive. Honeybees have got fantastic ways to protect themselves from invaders. Across various parts of the globe, they have got different tools to protect themselves. So, that bee was just protecting the worker bees, the foraging bees, and the baby bees. This got me in love with the bees. A few years ago, I was listening to a very disturbing report about the loss of invertebrates across the globe. Long-term studies were showing that they were seeing crashes in numbers of invertebrates, from flies to bees to worms, and their diversity. We need more research to see what’s been going on. There was a large study that depicted that there were 40% of insects were in danger of going extinct. I have mentioned all these things in my book. Apart from this, the things that worried me were the things that could be done to safeguard insects. I’ve been looking at rewilding projects. Rewilding projects across Europe, where you allow nature to recover on its own. Most of us don’t have large areas of land to rewild. But, we are surrounded by wild things everywhere. The majority of bugs don’t harm our environment and a huge amount of these bugs are critically important. So, I started to explore more about these bugs. They do things like cleaning our water supply, filtering the waters, they converting the contaminants into smaller parts which the plants can use for their purpose. Invertebrates like spring worms and springtails are fantastically beautiful little bugs in the soil. They enhance the properties of soil which are beneficial for plants. We need the soil to be healthy for our ecosystem to sustain. We are being eroded by intensive farming and climate change. So, all these things are having a big impact on the environment and the invertebrates. The invertebrates break down the soil matter that falls on the ground and breaks it down into much smaller matter. This is a circular system in which the insects are a greater part and most crucial element. ”
- “It’s great to see that these little things can do such amazing things to the plants!”, exclaimed Zehra.
Importance of Bugs in our ecosystem:
“It is indeed amazing to see this. A lot of people know that bees are critical for pollination. About 40% of crops that we rely on for our food like vegetables need pollination. In some parts of the world, it is getting so critical, that in China, they are now hand-pollinating the fruit trees on a large scale. This is because they haven’t got a large number of pollinator insects. People are now creating ideas of Robo bees or robotic bees that have to be in billions for getting the process of pollination into action. Rather than doing this, we can be less polluting and cost-effective should be the sole aim of protecting the pollinators rather than creating artificial bugs. These bugs are critical for our eco-systems on which we depend for our food, healthy air, healthy soil. The critical thing is that we can all do something because the problem of bugs is multiple. Things like climate change, overuse of pesticides, chemicals in the farming system, textile industries, need to be taken care of. I talk a bit about the textile industry. Cotton is particularly a harmful crop. Because there is a huge amount of use of pesticides for cotton ball worm which is a big pest for the crop. These insects are becoming resistant to the insecticides due to their adaptation and evolution to these insecticides. Removal of habitats is also a problem. The wooden barks, the burrows in the soil, the orchards, all are essential places for the bugs to be able to connect and re-populate the area and find new bugs for reproduction. So, the loss of habitat is one of the most critical things for the bugs. Places like the Amazon, or the great forest areas of Turkmenistan have lost trees for growing cotton. But, everywhere, forests are being lost. Woodlands, single trees can make huge differences between an insect population or crashing in that area because we’re fragmenting the habitats. But, there are also new problems. There is plastic pollution or plastic breakdown in the environment. These tiny pieces of plastic are ingested by insects or invertebrates. In marine environments, the crabs, zooplanktons also suffer due to plastic pollution. So, little plastic bits are being realized to be a major problem. There is also noise pollution which is a problem. Invertebrates use noise to communicate with one another, have vibrations for communication. So, noise pollution can disturb the habitat of these bugs. A large amount of noise can disrupt their mating, home-seeking habitat of bugs. There is a book in which a crab seeks a shell far more quickly and without being so careful as they normally would be as a result of noise pollution. That is because they are frightened. They try to seek shelter in the shells. But these cannot be used in the long term. We have all got a huge role to play. We can all do something to protect the environment. There are a lot of examples in the book. For example, Termites can be a big problem for buildings. Termites have fantastic building capacity. The walls that they build are brilliant at keeping out cold and maintaining moisture at the right level. They have brilliant levels of communicating like the other insects such as ants, wasps, and bees. These are all insects that have evolved billions of years before us. They are so clever at communicating and working together. They have got brilliant team spirit. We have to learn from these insects. We can even learn from them through the internet. There are brilliant examples of insects that have exoskeletons made of chitin that is a protein collagen mix. We can also make materials that are light and strong. We can use insects in medicines and leeches are being used for the production of certain medicines. Maggot therapy is used to clean wounds. This is much more effective for cleaning wounds. People are also looking to make stronger threads using spider webs. Insects don’t waste food. They don’t attack anyone unless they feel a need to attack. Even the cockroaches. There is a breed of cockroach that produces milk for its babies. I have also mentioned the importance of bugs for our ecosystem in my book. The fast-food that we eat has come from a very intensive monoculture system that is obtained from a large piece of farming. So, this is possible only by heavy use of chemicals and fertilizers that kills the bugs. Bugs are very sensitive to fertilizers or insecticides. So, what we can do is buy or cook fresh food and use minimally processed food. The second thought is eating less meat. Because meat has a large area for land into use. It can be for grazing or shelter. When the animals are intensively grazed or are fed with grains, that involves huge usage of land. We should support farmers rather than using big food industries for our livelihood. We must eat diverse food. Because, if there is diversity in food, the production of crops will also be diverse and thus, it will be beneficial for crops as well. Pulses and legumes are good to be grown because they bring a lot of nitrates into the ground. Peas and legumes are very good for crop rotations.”
- “When we talk about pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers, these are essential for having healthy crops. So, do you suggest not using these? ”, asked Zehra
It is a difficult one. For example, we are using an insecticide named Neonicotinoids. They affect the insects on a large scale. It is currently banned in Europe. A lot of wasps are brilliant at being predators that eat the invertebrates that you don’t want in the crop.
Let’s have a look at Vicky’s wonderful Bug pictures
Ladybugs are fantastic. They are very good at eating Aphids. They can be a real pain in your crop. Parasitoids lay eggs on the pest maggots and eat the maggots. Some people are really bad. Particularly, people in my area. They throw away 30% of the food that is produced. It requires a lot of patience and risk to cultivate crops and at the same time, keep the insects away. We are in a crisis if we lose invertebrates further. It is a crisis for the whole environment. We can eat differently and not waste food. We things that we use, the towels, the furniture, the clothes, all come from a natural environment. Cotton, wool, or leather may have a good or bad effect on the environment. In my book, I have suggested using organic cotton or leather. We use plastics made from fossil fuels. They are artificial fabrics. When you use artificial cotton, that is produced by harming the natural ecosystem and the bugs. Children are getting influenced by the things that we say to them. So, if we say that insects are dirty, or they must be killed, or they are ugly, then children will lose their curiosity and will start fearing the bugs. We can teach these younger ones to love insects in consideration to the future generations. Let me show you some of the slides of bugs that I have taken pictures of from my garden. All I want to show is that the life around us is so beautiful and diverse that we must experience it to the fullest. Even if you don’t have a garden, all you need is a windowsill. A windowsill having pots with flowers can help you a lot. It can provide a refuge or corridor for the invertebrates. You can even help to grow more grass and flowers on a patch of land so that more and more bugs come in that patch of land. If it is a concrete building, you can put the flowers on the roof or window sill. If you see, a dirt pat can be converted into a beautiful flowering area with minimal effort. The key element here is to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers. Let’s have a look at the bugs that I captured through my camera:
- Moth of Vaporum:
It came into my garden and my kitchen. So, I was rescuing it with my hands. They are harmless and brilliant pollinators. Most of the bugs aren’t seen during the day because they fly at night time.
- Hornet Mimic Hoverfly:
This fly tries to make itself look like a hornet that can sting. They are not only brilliant pollinators but also good controllers of pests.
- “How do you manage to take pictures of so many bugs?”
I take all these pictures with my small smartphone. I take all the pictures from a distance of five feet from the bugs so that I can zoom in and then click the picture.
- Red Admiral:
It came in my garden last year. It was having a little bit of warm-up in the sun. They just hide in sheds or cracks in winters. Log piles are excellent for beetles and other bugs because they lay eggs, the eggs hatch and it is wonderful to see the beetles emerging.
- Flower Crab Spider:
Most people might be afraid of spiders. I’ve got a few spiders. But, they are harmless and again, brilliant pest-controlling insects. They also eat honeybees. The crab spiders also eat a lot of flies and a lot of pests. Some plants secrete certain chemicals that attract Spider crabs. This is done by the flowers when they are being attacked by insects and they want the spider crabs to eat the bugs. So, this is a defense mechanism that the plants use for their protection.
- Mint Moth:
It is very pretty. It is very tiny and I captured it on a mint plant. I see them in my garden every year.
- Garden Spider:
This is another common insect that we get to see in our gardens. It was sitting on my jasmine plant hiding away.
- Jersey Tiger Moth:
It is a visitor in the UK. I managed to catch both sides of the insect. It landed on my window. It has a beautiful orange color on the bottom part of the wing and brown & white patches on the upper part of the wings.
Particularly stunning, it is banded with hooks. It also tries to pretend as a wasp but it doesn’t sting. It will pollinate your plants and hatch its eggs that will eat the moths.
- “How do you identify all these varieties of insects?”
It comes with experience and knowledge. You can even make use of the internet for the identification of these insects.
- Wolf Spider:
I created a little pond in my garden last year during the pandemic and I was very pleased to see a Wolf spider landing in my pond. It was drinking from my pond. Again, spiders are best for pest control. Most people are uncomfortable with spiders. But, try to not squash them.
- Mining Bee:
I have a mining bee that is laying its egg in a hole in the ground. The bee will then start to fill the hole with nectar and grass so that when the eggs hatch, they would have nutrients and grass for their protection. In the UK, most of the people are building Bee hotels with Bamboos. Even we can build such houses which are free.
My child once went into the garden and came in with a handful of worms. I was delighted to see how curious my child was! Worms aerate the soil, they allow the water to pass through the soil, they transfer microbes from one habitat to another. They help the soil to be healthy. They are globally everywhere. They are reducing the excessive use of chemicals.
The next picture that you see is of a ladybird Larvae in my garden. They are beautiful beetles with red spots on their bodies. First, they turn from an egg to larvae and then from larvae to a bug.
- “You are a very keen observer and patient viewer of minute details of the insects.”, added Zehra.
- This has happened over the years. I have a lot of things growing in my garden.
- Holly Blue butterfly:
I have let weed species of plants grow in my garden. So, this butterfly landed on one such plant in my garden.
- Buff-tailed bumblebee:
It is having a feast on the salvia plant.
The next slide that you see depicts some of the bugs that aren’t in my garden. You can get to see the details of these plants in my book. The one in the center is known as Tardigrade. They are not insects. They can withstand nuclear radiation. They can withstand dehydration. They can withstand amazing heats. They are also known as moss piglets. They are very important in livestock as they convert fecal matter or waste matter into useful nutrients.
Importance of Bug education for the youth
We need to teach children that bugs are just fine. They are not ugly, little creatures. But, are most important for soil as well as the ecosystem. Leave them alone, don’t squash them. Just let them be where they are. You can also rebug your shopping, rebug your clothes. Don’t keep buying loads of clothes. Let the flowers grow the way they are growing. Do not disturb them. Do not disturb a woodpile. Let the beetles be in the woodpile and live happily. There are loads of tips in my book.
Let’s get answers to some questions now from the bug expert Vicky!
- “What can be done to protect our plants from pets in home gardening without causing much harm to the pest as well?”
If we are speaking of slugs and snails, they can be real trouble in the garden. We can buy a Biocontrol in the form of Nematode eggs. It is a sort of powder. When you disperse it in water and then spray it in your garden. It will infect some of the snails and the slugs. They will become less of a threat in the garden. We can even provide a pest-free condition by providing the garden with predators that will eat the pests. You can even choose plants that are resistant to pests. Rosemary can be grown. It is a wonderful herb. Rosemary is not liked by the bugs. Nasturtiums can be planted too. They are the plants that are completely edible and intriguing crops. The bugs eat these plants and leave your crop alone. So, this is a great way to protect your crop from bugs.
- “Have you talked about these things in your book?”
Yes. I have got all this information in my book. You can get all this information online as well. But, have a look at my book also. There are lots of organizations and links mentioned in my book. You can get loads of information for free. The organic bodies are a lot more willing to talk about effective gardening techniques.
- “What about remedies for mosquitoes and bed bugs?”
When it comes to domestic bugs like bed bugs and mosquitoes, the best thing is to keep them out and have barriers for their entry. We can even make use of peppermint oil that will repel these domestic bugs.
- “What are your tips on controlling the population of mosquitoes?”
We need to use chemicals in real situations. Anti-malarial insecticides can be made use of. The medium of their reproduction can be removed which is water. So damp water should not be allowed to stay. Mosquito nets at night time can also be used to keep mosquitoes away. You can use the chemicals in moderation because if you use chemicals in excess, the invertebrates become resistant to the chemicals.
- “Can you tell us a little about how to control cockroaches?”
If they are causing problems, it is better to kill them, If we use too many chemicals, the chemicals will become useless because the cockroaches will adapt to the chemicals very quickly. They will develop a different layer of coating on their skin or they will develop a change in their structure of DNA. I do love cockroaches though. They are incredible! I remember living in Ecuador and the whole room changed color as I walked in because the cockroaches moved on the sides.
- “Are there any benefits of cockroaches?”
Their brilliant waste management skills. They do an incredible job in converting dead bodies into much more digestible nutrients. So, they are incredibly important across the globe. Some of the smaller breeds of cockroaches are pollinators as well.
- “How can we access your book in India?”
My book is available on Amazon. The website named “Rebuggingtheplanet.org” can be made use of where I have put the links for buying my book. We have also shared the description of the E-book.
That was a very wonderful and enlightening session. It was very interesting to know that bugs are very useful to us. Buying organic food and doing organic gardening is also key factor for safeguarding the bugs. A lot of farmers are also opting for organic farming.
- “Any last words that you would like to deliver to the viewers?”
My suggestion would be to share the word and get people to understand about protecting bugs and understanding gardening minutely.
End of a resourceful workshop. Thank you, Vicky!
Thank you so much for sharing your valuable knowledge with us. You even shared good knowledge about cotton which is the most important material for clothes in India. Amazing to have you with us today. Thank you so much for giving your time and giving your time. Thank you everyone for joining us in the workshop. If you have more doubts about bugs or gardening, you can reach Vicky through her Twitter handle. Thank you, everyone.