Insects conspicuous by their absence on trees

First published in Postbag

IS there any connection between the massive monoculture of oilseed rape and the absence of aphids on the lime and sycamore trees and consequent dry, clean and utterly empty tree canopies, including that of oak trees?

Certainly in this corner of south west Wiltshire, no longer do the trees hum with billions of diverse insects feeding on the aphids and consequently the tree tops are no longer full of clouds of insect feeding birds – most noticeably the swallows and house martins.

Come sundown, no more successions of various species of bats to hunt in the trees, because there is nothing there to feed on – and I wondered if oil seed rape cultivation might be a contributory factor in the decline of these species?

What other break crops might be grown for food or fodder which might require less toxic and constant chemical attention? We are, apparently, 76 per cent self sufficient in food production – how much more might we be to the good if we were not devoting so many thousands of acres to cultivating oil seed rape, most of which is used as an additive to motor fuel?

First, there is the question of seeds treated with nicinoids.

When the seedlings come up the fields get “blue-ed” with slug bait and then over the months, in addition to fertiliser, they get sprayed for mildew, for aphids and finally for the dreaded flea or blossom beetle.

All these are highly toxic and require an inordinate amount of attention and investment. It would be more interesting to hear the farmers’ view on this.

Anne Booth Donhead St Mary

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