A NEW report has warned of an "insect apocalypse" after finding more than half of the world’s insects may have been killed in the last 50 years.

The Wildlife Trust report said 40 per cent of the million known species of insect are facing extinction, largely due to pesticides and habitat destruction.

The report’s author, Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex, explained the findings.

He said: “It’s a review of all the evidence on insect decline. It looks at how quickly populations are falling, and what we can do to prevent them from disappearing.

“The rate of decline is spectacular, and it is affecting all the insects we have information on.

“The UK has some of the best data on this, and we can see that butterflies, for example, are in rapid decline.

“In specialist habitats since 1976, insect numbers have fallen by 77 per cent.

“I’ve been involved with some of the studies in the review personally and the decline over the past 30 years is pretty obvious. My work has mainly focused on bumblebees. 23 species of bee and wasp have gone extinct in the UK.

“In Sussex, a whole bunch of species that used to be completely common have vanished. Nowadays you’d be hard pushed to find some of the insects that used to be common in gardens, from hoverflies to beetles.

“But unless you’re recording scientifically, it’s not necessarily obvious. It’s difficult to remember how common butterflies were when you were a kid.

“The example I often give is the ‘windscreen effect’. People over 30-40 will remember that after a long summer drive when they were younger, you’d have to clean your windscreen because of all the bugs.

“These days you can drive all day in July and your windscreen will stay spotless.

“It may be that cars are a bit more streamlined but nonetheless there is a visible difference.”

“I’m responsible for the phrase ‘insect apocalypse’. It’s not to say that all insects will go extinct: I imagine we’ll always have cockroaches and houseflies.

“But it is the case that our more beautiful and useful insects might disappear.

“The effects are obvious. Three-quarters of the world’s crops are fertilised by some kind of insect. Chocolate, tomatoes, and coffee all rely on insect fertilisation. We’d be left with wind-pollinated crops like rice, bread, and porridge, and not much else. You couldn’t feed the global population without insects.

“In some sense the insect apocalypse has already arrived. In parts of South West China and India, crops have to be pollinated by hand.

“Insects also provide food for birds, bats, and one way or another they are intimately involved in the ecosystem.

“If they were to disappear it would be absolutely catastrophic for the rest of life on earth.

“It’s hard to say how long we’ve got. At the moment, we’re losing about one species an hour. But if we get cracking, we can turn things around. That’s if we act now. If we dither, it will be too late.”

Professor Goulson, who lives in Blackboys near Uckfield, suggested making changes in your garden, such as cutting grass less often and avoiding pesticides.

Gardens accound for half a million square hectares of land in the UK, but that area pales in comparison to the amount given over to farming.

Professor Goulson said farming represents a more “thorny challenge”.

But he said if insects are to be saved, the government must reward farms with subsidies for reducing pesticide use. At present, he said the subsidy system incentivises large-scale farming that can harm insects.

He has been taken aback by the sudden interest in his work. He said: “I’ve been a little surprised by the attention the report has attracted.

“Insects generally don’t get much attention: it’s the charismatic creatures like tigers and puffins that usually make the headlines. It looks like people are waking up.”