Why we should learn to love wasps, maggots and slugs
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Vicki Hird is on a mission to get us to fall in love with bugs.
And the Stoke Newington eco-warrior has written a book to champion the remarkable things that insects do - and suggest ways to 'rebug the planet.'
The 54-year-old says it should start with rebranding them from creepie crawlies to marvellous minibeasts who help to pollinate plants, clean water and enrich soil.
"We need to re-bug our attitudes so when we are talking to our children we get a positive reaction not the revulsion that's common. In this country they are not a threat but they are fantastically important for keeping natural systems working and making the planet livable."
Instead of a puppy or a kitten, Hird got her children a family of stick insects as their first pets.
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"They are fantastic, they breed without mating, you can see them dropping their eggs in a container, hatching and shedding their skin. You get them in your hands and rock them from side to side. They eat ivy and bramble - much easier than a dog."
And for her 50th birthday she got a tattoo of a Madagascan giraffe-necked weevil.
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"When I am 60 going to have a cockchafer beetle with lovely antennae," she smiles.
As well as singing the praises of little-loved wasps, maggots, and slugs, Rebugging The Planet (Chelsea Green £12.99) is packed with suggestions for finding insects in schools, verges and gardens, starting with taking children on a minibeast treasure hunt.
"I tell people when they are out in the garden or on a road verge, stay still and look. The more you look the more you see. You can observe how a wild animal goes about their business. If you have a smart phone take a pic, zoom in and see how beautiful they are. Look under leaves for sawfly larvae which look like caterpillars, or find where a leafcutter bee has made a cocoon for their babies. Wasps for example are important pollinators and pest controllers who eat flies to feed their babies. It's incredibly valuable for children to get outside learning about insects. That curiosity is quickly snuffed out by adults, but the next generation need to understand."
Although Hird cites the perilous threats to the insect world of intensive farming, climate change, habitat loss and pollution, the book is an upbeat call to action listing small ways we can play our part.
"I was sitting on a long train journey aiming for 100 ways to rebug the planet. I got up to 50 and thought maybe it's better in a book so people understand why they should be doing things. There's lots you can do quickly - you can start on a windowsill - all the way up to getting involved in your local green space or an international campaign."
In her own "handkerchief-sized garden" she has let the weeds grow in borders to become a magnet for bees, and created a bug hotel out of bamboo sticks. She suggests leaving your lawn uncut in May, making your own compost, letting parts of your garden go wild, and piling up logs as a habitat for beetles, among other tips.
Hird, who heads up sustainable farming campaigns for Sustain and the Alliance for Better Food and Farming, says supporting good farming practices and buying from high welfare producers will make a difference, alongside avoiding fast fashion - which uses plastics and "vast amounts of insecticides" to grow cotton.
"Insects particularly earthworms are important in creating soils in which we grow our crops, they take the leaf litter and through their stomachs turn it into nutrients. Bugs are important for keeping water fresh and clean by filtering the materials that fall into rivers. They are critical for feeding things higher up the food chain. Without their seed dispersal and soil creation we wouldn't have trees or be able to feed ourselves. It's a system which has grown for millions of years. We are creating an environment that's bad for them, but it would't take much to turn it around."
She would love to Rebug schools, encourage them to teach biology outside, grow their own food, and "make insects part of that story." It was while campaigning with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for better access to community spaces to grow food that she saw "exciting signs of hope."
"There was an understanding that growing your own food is healthy for the planet and children," she says. "I think Springwatch and citizen science projects have created more interest that you can be part of the solution. But while there's lots of research on large animals and rewilding, there's not enough work on invertebrates except when it's about killing them. We need more research on their importance, the impact of habitat change and how to protect them."