For the past few weeks I have been building an “insect hotel” at the project where I work as a volunteer on Saturday mornings, Worcester Old North Stables Community Teaching and Display Gardens. The intention is that the “hotel” will provide a haven for hibernating insects, including solitary bees and solitary wasps, butterflies, ladybirds and beetles. If the end result of my endeavours is half decent I may publish a photograph of it in a future post.
I appreciate that many people have little love for insects – apart, perhaps, for butterflies and bees. Yet, whether we love them or hate them, the broad community of insects is vital to our future.
Much of our food depends on insect pollination, not just by bees but also by flies, wasps, ants, moths, butterflies, midges, and beetles.
Insects also lie at the base of most food chains.
This is why a recent finding by a team of German entomologists is so alarming. The team discovered an estimated drop of 76% in the population of flying insects over a 25 year period. This figure relates only to insects studied in designated conservation areas, so there is every chance that overall the figures are even worse.
How has this happened, and why has it happened so suddenly?
Modern farming has made vast areas of land inhospitable for insects. Alongside climate change and the destruction of areas of wild land, the overuse of harmful agrochemicals is almost certainly a major contributory factor in the decline. We have known for some time about the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee populations, and it stands to reason that other insect species will be similarly adversely affected by these and other toxic chemicals, many of them specifically designed to kill insect pests.
One scientist has described the German study’s findings as “ecological Armageddon”.
Is there anything we individuals can do? Yes, there is.
The first thing to do is to look at what we eat.
If we are to have a sustainable future, it will have to be organic. Decades of harmful pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers and fungicides have created tracts of spent soils, desertification and huge ecological damage. When we choose to eat organic we are de facto not supporting the use of agrochemicals in the growing of the food we eat.
Similarly, if we were to stop eating meat, or at least to reduce the amount we eat, then we would reduce our personal contribution to global warming by a significant amount (according to one calculation I have seen, stopping eating meat for a year would lead to a 50% reduction in an individual’s carbon footprint).
Then there are also environmental changes we can make. Growing more flowers and plants in our gardens, allotments and balconies may seem small-scale, but collectively it makes a difference by helping to attract and support insect populations. The healthiest bee populations in the UK are found in the heart of London, precisely because of the wide diversity in a relatively small geographical area of food sources found on balconies, allotments, parks and gardens.
And then there are political statements we can make. Many of us signed the petition calling for a continued EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. There is currently a new petition needing support which calls for a similar ban on the toxic herbicide glyphosate. Please consider giving this your support.
Ecosystems have been shown to be generally resilient and adaptable over time, but what is happening now to our insect population appears to be developing on an unprecedented scale and very quickly.
What happens next is down to us.
On to the recipe.
The flavours in this autumnal dish are simply fabulous. Roasting the mushrooms helps lock in their robust flavour, which is beautifully matched by the creamy but vegan tarragon sauce. Vegan and gluten-free pasta is widely available.
roast mushroom tagliatelle with tarragon sauce
360 g tagliatelle (there are good vegan and gluten-free versions available)
500 g organic chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
20 g fresh French tarragon
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy cream
250 ml mushroom or vegetable stock
a little chopped fresh French tarragon
grated Parmesan (optional)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F, gas mark 5). Place the sliced mushrooms in a roasting tray and add two tablespoons of olive oil and the thyme sprigs. Toss to combine then place in the oven for 30 minutes.
2. While the mushrooms are roasting, place a pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta and make the sauce. Pour one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the shallot and cook, stirring for 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the stock and the chopped tarragon. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Cook the tagliatelle in boiling water, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Once the mushrooms are cooked, drain off any excess oil and liquid from the roasting tray then add the mushrooms to the tarragon sauce, along with the soy cream. Stir to combine and remove from the heat. Drain the pasta and return to its pan. Add the mushroom and tarragon sauce and stir through. Serve immediately, garnished with a little reserved tarragon and – for non-vegans – some grated Parmesan.
Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan
Tags: bees, neonicotinoids, pesticides
26 replies ›
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Thanks again for the intro and then the recipe.
Great recipe and very current important info about pesticides and declining insect populations. I am a trustee of a charity in Kidderminster where we are creating a vegetable garden at our wellbeing centre and I would love to visit your project in Worcester to see the gardens? Regards Callie
Thank you for your comments and for introducing yourself. I like the sound of your project. You would be most welcome to visit the Worcester Community Teaching and Display Gardens, which is situated right on the edge of Worcester racecource (on the opposite side to the river). We’re open on Saturday mornings – which is when I’m there – and most days during the week. Whichever of us is available when you visit would be delighted to give you a tour and show you what we are doing there. Steve
Another great blog and recipe but people need to be aware of possible insect killing qualities of bought in plants see link https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news/how-safe-are-garden-centre-plants
Thanks John, and thank you for the link.
Yum! Thanks for sharing!
Disturbing results on the insects. I’m glad we took out all our lawn and planted flowering ground cover. The recipe looks wonderful.
Thank you Peggy. Hope you are enjoying Russia x
I have a similar recipe for Tagliatelle with mushrooms, and it’s one of my favourite combinations, a classic one but most delicious! 😀
Goodness, that looks delicious! You had me at mushrooms and tarragon and cream. I actually have all these ingredients on hand so I think I’ll try this out. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Vanessa. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! 🙂
Great recipe……….loved it 🙂
Yum! Makes me hungry just looking at it! And I was just having this conversations. Couple days ago with my kids about the importance of insects and how we need to respect them as they have a big role to play. Thanks for all the added info you shared!
My pleasure: thank you for your kind comments 🙂
So Important! Shall repost to groups of friends after work tomorrow . . . . so important, and most people do not realize. Have watched quite a few films taken atop Paris rooftop beehive collections: supposedly producing some of the best honey in the country! Tarragon, thyme and soy cream – that will make my weekend pasta treat sing – thanks !
Thank you Eha 🙂
I love mushrooms; never thought of preparing them this way. Lovely, Steve.
On another matter, you are the one to answer my query, Steve. I’ve been hearing about flatulent cows and methane emissions for some time. At the same time there’s a push for insect farming. Less meat. Domesticated cattle aren’t likely to survive as a species if we stop farming them. Do you think that’s where things are heading and is that the plan?
Hi Mary, and thanks for your comments. The way I see things is simply this: if we ate less meat, or stopped eating meat altogether, we would be healthier. We would also have a more efficient food system (currently billions of tons of perfectly edible is fed to animals on farms – an extremely inefficient way to convert protein – rather than going directly to people). Land we currently use for grazing would be freed up for other uses and we would also reduce the growing risk of antibiotic resistance (in modern farming, antibiotics are routinely fed to pigs and cattle). And, yes, you are right, we would no longer need domesticated livestock. As for what might happen next, there is no “plan” as such: perhaps these modern livestock breeds would indeed die out, or perhaps they would evolve – they originally descended from wild animals after all. Steve
Very keen to see your insect hotel when it is finished and to hear more about how it works – please do share! Lovely recipe, as always.
Thank you Chez! 🙂
So agree with you . I’m an avid vegetable, fruit and flower gardener and the insects in the air play such a huge role in how successful gardening is. It really is a beautiful pasta dish as well.
Thank you 🙂
Bug-lover here. ‘Alarming’ is not strong enough a word to indicate our negative impact on our exoskeleton’d little friends. I spend a lot of time at the elemtary school undoing the psychological brainwashing by parents about which insects are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad.’ They’re ALL GOOD and are required for our very survival!!
Judging upon insect downturns (and related amphibian and birds, on which they feed), we may be in trouble. We’re not too far up the chain …