When gnats besiege my brow on a summer’s evening pigeon shooting, I’m the first to complain and reach for the Jungle Formula. And when caterpillars of white butterflies reduce my cabbages to shreds, I am not amused. But these minor nuisances certainly do not stop me lamenting the overall decline of Britain’s insect population in recent times. And continued expert analysis merely confirms what is obvious to the average countryman.
Numerically, at least, insects are the most important class of animals on earth, and must be the concern of us all. A relatively small number of insects aesthetically enrich our lives, notably the butterflies whose bold colours brighten what is often a relatively dull and uniform environment. Even town people can attract them to their gardens with a little judicious planting, and even chilly Britain boasts a list of some 60 species.
Could you imagine how drab our spring would be without the sulphurous brimstone? How uninteresting chalk downland would be in summer without the dancing blues? And how empty autumn orchards will be without the peacocks and red admirals in drunken clusters upon the rotting fruit?
Then there are the crickets and grasshoppers, which charm us with their chirruping about the hay fields. Likewise, the lamps of glowworms, which still fire the night in a few favourite areas, and the dazzling damselflies that haunt the pond side.
And many others, which are neither beautiful nor dashing, still capture our imagination with their speed and ingenuity. For centuries, the social life of ants has been held up as a model of economy and the humble bee has been the inspiration of many lifetime studies. Such wondrous diversity and apparent intelligence has done much to redeem the legions of other creepy-crawlies that eat, wriggle, sting and bore their way through the very foundations of our existence.
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