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Last Updated: Friday, 23 April, 2004, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Conservationists get behind bugs
Ophionine ichneumonid, Roger Key/Buglife
Many species now struggle to hold their numbers up (Image: Roger Key)
Creepy-crawlies in the UK now have a new champion - it is called Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

The UK has 45,000 invertebrate species, the majority of which are insects, such as beetles and ants; but include other creatures such as spiders and worms.

A recent report documenting the 20-year fall among three-quarters of butterfly species has prompted concern we may now be facing a major extinction crisis.

"Fifty percent of invertebrates are in decline," says Buglife's Matt Shardlow.

"But these are creatures which are a very important part of the environment. They play an essential role in ecosystems - the very same ecosystems that support us," the organisation's conservation director told BBC News Online.

Insecure knowledge

At least 98% of all animal species are invertebrates. They are an essential food to most birds and mammals, to pollinating plants and recycling nutrients.

Rare weevil hunting wasp (Cerceris quadricincta), Peter Har/Buglife
Brownfield sites are important havens for some species (Image: Peter Har)
Unfortunately, many species are now under pressure, primarily because of changes brought on the environment by human activity.

Over the last 200 years, at least 230 invertebrate species have become extinct in the UK alone; 1,900 are rare or threatened.

Ecologist and conservation biologist Lord Robert May, current president of The Royal Society, supported the launch of Buglife: "Our knowledge of insects and other invertebrates - the small things that arguably run the world - is not very secure.

Hibernating earthworm, Roger Key/Buglife
Worms are invertebrates, too (Image: Roger Key)
"One recent report suggests rates of decline are significantly more severe for invertebrates than vertebrates."

Buglife has many of the leading conservation groups in the UK behind it, such as the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife, the Royal Entomological Society, Butterfly Conservation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Bug dialogue

Buglife says it will undertake and promote invertebrate research. It will also campaign on environmental issues.

Matt Shardlow said subjects such as habitat destruction would be high on the group's agenda.

Dead-nettle leaf beetle (Chrysolina fastuosa), Ben Hamers/Buglife
Beautiful but vital to the health of ecosystems as well (Image: Ben Hamers)
A particular concern is the increased development now taking place on "brownfield" sites as the government tries to meet the demand for new housing in the south-east of England.

"Some of these areas are immensely important to invertebrate diversity. Indeed, some brownfield sites have as many scarce or endangered species living on them as ancient forests have - but ancient forests are protected," said Mr Shardlow.

"For those sites which are critical, we will be talking to developers, planners and politicians to persuade them that we cannot simply destroy them."

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