Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Dave Goulson - review by Nigel Andrew

Nigel Andrew

To Bee or Not to Bee

Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse


Jonathan Cape 324pp £20

As the title suggests, this is a book with an urgent message, which the author hammers home forcefully. Dave Goulson is well known as one of Britain’s leading entomologists, a bumblebee specialist and the author of such popular works as The Garden Jungle and A Sting in the Tale.

Silent Earth is a cri de coeur on behalf of those easily disregarded creatures, insects, written in the light of recent research that paints an alarming picture of decline. Most dramatic were the findings of German entomologists who, trapping insects at sixty-three sites in nature reserves across Germany, reported an overall decline in insect biomass of 75 per cent between 1989 and 2016 (rising to 82 per cent in midsummer, the traditional insect peak). And that was in nature reserves. Goulson analyses these figures expertly, considering the factors that might have inflated them but still concluding that they represent extremely bad news for insects, and not only in Germany. The reasons are not far to seek: wholesale habitat loss, massive overuse of toxic agrichemicals, light pollution as a result of urban spread, accidental and deliberate introduction of alien species – a whole catalogue of factors coming together to bring about, in the words of one of Goulson’s chapter headings, ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

It is a sad and worrying story, not least because, as Goulson makes clear, we have so many reasons to value insects, not only in and of themselves but also for their usefulness in such crucial work as pollinating crops, controlling pests, aerating the soil and disposing of

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