Insects on the telly

It was a Wednesday evening in June and the insects of Warwick Gardens were all a-fluster. It was the day they were going to be on BBC Springwatch. They were huddled around a window on a house on Lyndhurst Grove peering through the glass at the television.

And then it started. They watched in anticipation as they were taken on a whirlwind tour of Norfolk, northern Scotland and Northern Ireland. They ooo’d and aaah’d at the glorious habitats in these far flung locations and realised they’d never even seen the sea before. They laughed at the shelducks waddling out of a tree, booed at the hatching of grey wagtails, and the caterpillars celebrated the decline of the blue tits! They learnt about tracking pine martins (which they thought looked like the local foxes) and marvelled at otters. And they were staggered by the sheer amount of sea birds on cliffs and gaped in awe at the guillemots that looked like badly drawn penguins.

And then they were on. Iolo Williams introduced Penny Metal and the insects chirped in delight as they saw their friends on national television. They cheered when they saw the scarce fungus weevil, who they thought had left the park years ago, emerging from lockdown. They saw their park from above, shot via a drone, and those who couldn’t fly finally saw where they actually lived – the dragonflies were surprised that anything man-made could fly that high.

As usual the common green shield bugs were having sex, and the more modest gorse shield bugs covered their faces in embarrassment at the behaviour of the local chavs. Local superstar Myopa, already a Twitter celebrity who had previously appeared in a blog, in a book and in Time Out magazine, also made an appearance and now has primetime television to add to her CV.

And then the film finished and the insects were so excited to see Michaela Strachan holding the book they all starred in and she loved it! As she flipped through the pages they all saw themselves, and they couldn’t believe someone so well known liked them and was telling other people to look at them too. And they did! Ever since, they have been peered at and prodded and photographed by every passerby who has been looking in the bushes at Warwick Gardens.

To watch the episode: BBC Springwatch

Buggered off

Its the middle of July and Warwick Gardens is looking a bit worse for wear, reflecting the vibe of the country after voting to leave the EU. The foxes have flattened the foliage; the bindweed, with their delicate white trumpet flowers a foil for the hidden intentions of domination, has spread insidiously over the nettles and brambles suppressing any hope of freedom of growth; and the daisies are looking a bit weary with having to regrow after being constantly mowed down. The yarrow, hoping to host their annual festival of pollen and nectar, have popped up in an empty venue.

Red capsid bug

Red capsid bug creeping around

Last year this place was buzzing. It was noisy and full of life – a showcase of the sheer diversity of invertebrates in the park. But it seems that this year is one festival too many; the insects are preferring a more boutique ‘meadow-style’ festival offering a mélange of flowers and a more discerning flavour of nectar, sown especially to add colour and variety to bland parks. Everything is really quiet. The Roesel’s bush-crickets, normally hired to chirrup up business, chose to leave the park believing it was overrun with migrant species, a cynical lie perpetrated by unscrupulous anti-orthopterists; and the remaining grasshoppers have gone on strike, aghast that the crickets were lied to. The flies, patriotic and always up for a fight, are flitting around making nuisance for the non-natives. A few red capsid bugs are creeping around, anxious not to be mistaken for a Pokémon Go character, but all the while wishing that they could be found and appreciated as a real living thing. Even the mirid bugs got bored waiting for the party to start and just buggered off. And the weather hasn’t helped. A dull wet spring and cool temperatures have exacerbated and confused many residents about when and where to start a family. Its like nobody cares, exhausted at the changes around them.

The mottled shield bugs have had their lilac habitat ripped away by someone ‘wanting a better view of the park’, and having arrived in Peckham only a few years ago feel rather rejected. The hawthorn shield bugs, with their brightly coloured coats of majesty, have had their ancestral home savaged by cuts, the lower branches lopped off to make it cheaper to maintain. And the parent bugs and birch catkin bugs got ousted from their favourite independent tree in the multi-species part of the park, chopped down by someone ‘wanting more light in their garden’. They had to relocate to the big corporate birch trees on the other side of the park. Unfortunately it seems they didn’t ‘fit in’ as they have disappeared, leaving the planthoppers with no one to play with. Or, as this is the main constituency of the rather moderate birch shield bug, maybe the birch catkin bugs, with their left-wing ideals about ‘rights to live on the same tree – we share the same host plant’, were viewed as a threat to the stability of the community, fuelled by pedantic catkin politics, forcing a campaign to stop them taking over.

Common green shield bug nymph

Common green shield bug nymph – the only shield bug in the park

At least the green shield bugs, the hard-working bugs of the park with no obvious affiliation to any plant, are holding on. Those green shield bugs who everyone knows so well that they are prefixed with ‘common’ and generally taken for granted by the conservationists. The bugs who spend their days dutifully sap-supping, impervious to the strange weather we are having, almost neglected until someone prods them too far and they revert to their chav name of ‘stink’bug’. How long before they realise they are the only prey for the bigger enemy – the solitary wasps with a taste for shield bug nymphs on the hunt to stock their nests with the fattest, juiciest specimens to feed their offspring.