The Garden Jungle (or Gardening to Save the Planet), by Dave Goulson

Our June speaker was Professor Dave Goulson, who gave us an insight into the lives of some of the tiny creatures that live in our gardens, and gave us tips on how to garden so that we can encourage as many of them as possible to flourish.

Chairman John Price and Programme Secretary Sue Wheeler with Dave Goulson

Dave is a professor of biology at Sussex University, with a passion for entomology.  He has written many books, and his lecture was based around one of his latest bestsellers – The Garden Jungle.

He began by showing us the diversity seen amongst insects.  Some are colourful – to disguise themselves, for camouflage or to advertise that they are poisonous.  Others are mimics, with some flies pretending to be bees. They have also adapted cleverly over the time they have been inhabiting the earth – for insects preceded the dinosaurs by many millions of years.  Next time you see a bee you can think of it as a vegan wasp, that switched to feeding on pollen rather than insect prey.

Life on earth needs insects to continue – without them our ecosystems would rapidly collapse.   They provide food for birds, fish and reptiles; they recycle dung and corpses; they keep the soil healthy; they distribute seeds; and they play a vital role in pollination.  And insects are in trouble, with well documented declines in many species, particularly those that are habitat specialists.  Human behaviour has driven habitat losses, with our enthusiasm for agricultural monocultures, and our use of pesticides has wiped out many insect populations.

So how can gardeners help these insect populations recover?  Gardens, parks and verges combine to form a far greater area than the country’s nature reserves.  So by making them more wildlife friendly, we can reverse the declines. 

Gardeners may think of themselves as “green”, but when you consider that the average trip to the Garden Centre results in the purchase of a plant that has been grown in peat, in a heated greenhouse, treated with insecticide, in a disposable plastic pot it is obvious that changes need to be made.

Dave gave us some steps to maximise the insect life in our gardens.  Use plants with open flowers.  Reimagine weeds as wild flowers. Mow less.  Build bug hotels to provide homes for insects. Plant flowering trees – which can provide continuity of food supply for insects from March through to June.  AND STOP USING PESTICIDES. Simple!

Dave gave us an entertaining but very thought provoking evening.  We now know how we can make a difference.  The rest is up to us!