Pig For Victory No.16: How Eradicating Pests Could Finish Us All Off

In Tackle the Pest, Tackle Him Early, Dig for Victory Leaflet No. 16, Tells You How there was a leaning towards the destruction of all pests. You can see the Blitz on Bugs (1944) how the bugs were placed on the same level as an invading German army. Though we can smile about this now, even laugh, there is a problem in those final images of a plant knocked back, then starting to grow again. It is an echo of things to come after the war with the full on deployment of chemicals in the battle against pests.

There has been an imbalance between field crops and pest control since the 1970s and the creation of large scale field systems. We are not advocating a return to small scale mixed farms; global competition and the free market has put pay to this. A tomato grown in the UK can easily be undercut by a tomato grown in Spain. Yet imports are still a concern, not from an economic point of view but from an ethical and biological viewpoint. We have all seen over the last half century the import of bugs and diseases in produce or plants that have effectively taken hold, from Dutch Elm Disease to Ash Die Back. We are introducing plants and bugs into our eco-system that are akin to an invading army in the Blitz on Bugs film, we have imported trees and fruits that often have hidden problems waiting to attack. These are our real enemies in maintaining the balance in our eco-system. However, there is no point taking the approach in WWII, we cannot spray pests out of existence or we may eradicate those pests we need. 

Think twice before spraying away pests.

Think of a garden without snails. We can hear you sigh from here, a happy content little sigh that laments the destruction of cabbages and carrots. However, if you take every snail away, you have a problem, snails are necessary, just like slugs, woodlice and aphids. They are part of a food chain. The snail and slug will break down decaying material, and in turn will feed the birds in your garden. Aphids on plants will bring in hoverflies and ladybirds, they will even bring in small birds. Those of us who grow plums and greengages will know that at this time of year the new growth can be attacked by aphids. We could reach for the spray but wait, you will soon see blue tits move in on this food source. In a matter of days they will have eradicated the pest. We have seen this time after time. Of course, under glass we have to take a hand, literally, with aphids but outside we have to accept that they are part of an eco-system, part of a food chain that ends with us. If we continue to be heavy handed in how we deal with pests, we will find that vital parts of the chain will vanish. We have seen the start of this with bees but don't forget, butterflies and moths are suffering too, ladybirds are on the decline and along with this we have seen a slump in our native birds. We have to find a balance between what we grow and put aside what we think nature should be. That starts with the soil and how we grow rather than what we spray. Forewarned is forearmed.

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