IN PARTS of China, apple trees have to be pollinated by hand because they’ve lost their wild bee colonies.

Closer to home, ecologist Andy Lees makes an observation that equally points to the environmental disaster looming.

“People my age – I’m 53 – will remember going on long car journeys and having to clean the number plates afterwards because they were covered in insects, and that doesn’t happen now.

“Invertebrates are in decline, we know that – there’s been a 45 per cent decrease in the past 35 years.

“But we rely on insects for all sorts of services, such as pollination and pest control and nutrient recycling.

“In terms of their importance to pollination alone, 75 per cent of the world’s food crops require pollination, so we’ll be in big trouble if we stay on this track.”

Our mostly intensive and increasingly chemical-dependent farming industry was unsustainable in its current form, he said.

Also, space had to be cut into farms where wildlife could flourish.

“We have to find ways of growing food, but also allowing space for nature, because it obviously plays a crucial role in the cycle.”

Scientists have been warning for years now that biodiversity is declining rapidly all over the world.

In 2012, Prof. Carsten Rahbek said on behalf of 100 researchers and policy experts who had gathered for a conference at Copenhagen University: “The biodiversity crisis – i.e. the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems – is probably a greater threat than global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of humankind on Earth.

“There is a need for scientists, politicians and government authorities to closely collaborate if we are to solve this crisis.”

And earlier this year, a leaked draft of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report, prepared by 150 environmental experts from 50 countries during a three-year study, revealed the pick of the world’s leading scientists believed the planet’s ‘life-support’ systems were approaching a danger zone for humanity.

Up to one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, it concluded.

The thing is, there is lots we can all do to help prevent that happening, said Andy. Municipal policy and public attitudes can change and be changed, and the actions taken on the ground simple.

In relation to municipal policy, Andy and two other local residents, Wendy Breach and James Swabey, have started the ball rolling in Hexham by approaching the town and county councils about their approaches to grass cutting.

“Yes, I want to talk about that, because we want to make sure people know what is happening when they start to see changes on the Sele,” he said.

“They are small changes, but we are very aware that the Sele is in people’s hearts.”

Basically, the grass is now being allowed to grow higher than usual in the area of the park closest to the Selegate entrance.

He said: “In the past, people have regarded long grass as a problem, but if you manage the rough on a golf course, the higher level allows daisies, selfheal (a violet coloured wildflower) and clover to grow.

“We know people want things tidy, so there are mown edges, but it’s not as tidy as people are used to.”

The word ‘tidy’ leads him onto the subject of gardens and the national obsession with making them as spick and span as can be.

“The trend in gardening has been going in the wrong direction recently,” he said. “A report produced in London said the city was losing the equivalent of 2.5 Hyde Parks a year to paving slabs and Tarmac.

“People talk about rewilding at large, but if people start letting go a little bit in their gardens and leaving the grass to grow higher, even just in small patches, it will help.

“Think like an insect and look at your garden from its perspective. An insect would see a tidy garden as a desolate, hostile environment.”

Top tips were: don’t tidy up so often; leave decaying vegetation to do just that; and most of all, reduce, and preferably eliminate, the use of pesticides. “We need to reduce our dependence on chemicals, full stop,” he said.