The tiny casualties of our society’s love affair with the car

EDP writer Rex Hancy.

EDP writer Rex Hancy. - Credit: Archant

In the Countryside: Rex Hancy wonders how our insect life is coping with traffic fumes.

The price we pay for the pleasures of the presence of our trees during most of the year is the time in the autumn when we labour clearing up the masses of leaves engendered. When Eddie's kitchen door was beginning to be besieged by the fluttering hordes he took out his leaf blower. Whenever we pick up a mechanical tool which has been left lying fallow so to speak for several months we have learned to expect the worst. His fears were soon realised. Eddie's nose, throat and chest were assailed by a nauseous, choking smell. Yet something was not right on two counts. The blower still worked and failing electric apparatus has an odour all of its own.

He immediately realised that this distinctive smell was caused by road traffic exhausts coming from 40 yards away. A hole had been dug in the road days before. Though it was nearly half a mile away, there is so much road traffic here now that any small obstruction to progress causes a huge build-up of vehicles. They sit outside our boundaries pouring out fumes which spill over into our gardens.

In the past I have written about the deleterious effect of these pollutants on the insect life which once proliferated here. If we are choked, with unknown lasting effects on our lungs, what enormous damage must be done to the breathing apparatus of small invertebrates? We are blessed with lungs with associated automatic bellows action. We take in fresh air and exhale the stale in almost any situation. Insects and other small invertebrates have to rely upon air filtering into their bodies through tiny openings in their sides known as spiracles. The air flows through an intricate network of fine tubes through the whole body. The essential exchange of fresh, oxygenated air for stale is able to take place but at a very much slower rate than the method we possess.

If possible, we turn our faces and hurry away from a vehicle pumping out fumes. Some insects move to cleaner environments. Most others are choked by fine particles clogging their branching internal tubes. After years of increasing onslaught, the loss of invertebrate life has been more than dramatic - it has been catastrophic.