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2018 June Nature Notes

 Nature Notes

 Late snow, early heat, this is what I call climate change!  This year the temperature has been up and down like a yoyo.  I have a flippant theory that Britain does not have a climate, just weather.  However, one thing does not change from year to year, and that is the gradual increase of day-length from the winter equinox (c. December 21st) to that of the summer c. June 21st).  We are rapidly heading for the latter.  Sitting outside in the evening during the early May bank holiday weekend was great.  However, the temperature has now dropped again.  This seesawing of temperatures must be playing havoc with the insects as I am seeing very few here in Uckfield.  This is going to be a problem for the insectivorous birds and bats who depend on large numbers of insects for survival.  One striking absence is house martins, I have not seen one in Britain yet this year.  These little anthropophilic birds feed on large amounts of insects, nest in the eaves of our houses and produce 2 or 3 broods per year usually.  They winter in Africa and then follow the gradual appearance of insects as the wave of emergence proceeds north with the increasing day-length.  The flight north from central Africa to Britain can take as long as 3 months.  However, if the insects do not emerge, the birds will not move and may not be able to breed.

There has been much in the news recently about neonicotinoids, these are chemical insecticides that modern farmers are using to eliminate insects that affect crop productivity. These chemicals are systemic (are taken up by the plants) and persistent (they do not decay quickly). As field sizes get larger and more land is cultivated, the spread of these insecticides has been increasing, and they are not selective, they will kill all insects and probably other invertebrates as well. This includes the bees that pollinate our fruit crops. However, the EU voted to ban the use of these insecticides by the end of 2018 with the exemption of greenhouses. Also, these chemicals are on pet flee treatments, in stables and animal transport vehicles, which account for about a third of all their uses. These uses are set to continue. We can only hope that alternatives can be found before all our insects and the other animals and plants that depend on them, disappear completely.

Dr.Martyn Stenning