He could be a bit jaded, telling the same story over and over again. He may be in Paris doing interviews for three days in a row, buried in the soft sofa of his press officer, Dave Goulson still has his eyes widening with joy when he is asked to tell about his encounter with the bumblebees. Mid 1990s, England. He was then a very young ecologist at the University of Southampton and still a specialist in butterflies.
That day, he lies down in a flowerbed and watches the dance of the bumblebees. “I realized that some were approaching the flowers, stopping for a moment and then going around them at the last moment. “He tells it like an epic adventure, with a lot of gestures and “bzzz”. “I wondered why. Finding the answer occupied me for five years. »
Prohibition of neonicotinoids
Finished the work on the butterflies. He discovers that the bumblebees smell the scent of their congeners on the plants and thus avoid foraging on those that have already been visited. Behind the “stuffy teddy bears” as he says, hide archi-complex creatures. “Butterflies are very simple, very boring compared to bumblebees,” he says. The provocation is calculated, followed by flat apologies for his first loves: “I shouldn’t be rude, they are magnificent of course. »
Thirty years after this meeting, the ecologist is recognized worldwide for his scientific publications, dozens to his credit. After having worked for a long time on the behavior of bumblebees and conservation measures, he turned to the role of neonicotinoids in the decline of insects, around the turn of the 2010s.
“Other articles had already put their finger on the subject, but it is also partly thanks to his work that Europe has looked into banning neonicotinoids”, says Bernard Vaissière, researcher in pollination and ecology. bees at INRAE (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment).
Dave Goulson navigates between the academic world and the popularization of the general public. In 2006, at age 41, he set up an NGO in the UK focused on bumblebee conservation, which is still active today. He doesn’t know if he should call himself an activist. When we meet him at his press attaché in any case, he is in France to promote his latest book, Silent Land. Prevent the extinction of insects (1). The seventh in less than ten years – the others have sold a total of half a million copies worldwide – and one more stone in his life’s work: convincing others that they must love insects or at least respect them for what they do.
It also offers concrete political solutions, both for governments, local administrations, farmers, gardeners, and citizens in general. His book – halfway between the popularization of insects and the practical manual for action – offers a whole list of them: banning pesticides in urban areas (which is already the case in France), imposing hedges between crops, reduce the frequency of lawn mowing, educate about nature…
“He is one of those researchers who claim to come out of their ivory tower,” notes Bernard Vaissière. He was quite a pioneer in this field, even if this does not prevent his work from being recognized in the academic world. »
76% fewer insects in thirty years
By dint of giving 40 to 50 conferences a year, he has tried everything to raise awareness about extinction. Spell out the terrifying figures of decline: in thirty years, 80% of insects have disappeared in Europe. Coldly recall the role of pollination in agriculture (the services rendered have been calculated at 220 billion euros per year on a global scale) or underline the indispensable role of such and such an insect.
For a long time, he thought that policy makers would be more sensitive to economic and utilitarian arguments. On second thought, he’s not so sure anymore. “I want to protect insects because I simply love them. Each species has its history, each has its own tiny life, he says. It’s when people start caring about it that they really care about saving it. »
Today, it is rather said that preventing extinction involves relearning to love all these little people. Take, for example, earwigs. He asks: “Did you know that females are excellent mothers? »
His reasons for hope: “I meet more and more teenagers and students”
“There seems to be a real generational change. I give dozens of conferences a year and, for a long time, I saw only gray-haired people there, often retirees who had free time. Now, I meet more and more teenagers and students there: it’s a sign that a growing part of the population is concerned about this issue. I dare to hope that one day we will reach enough numbers to persuade politicians to take strong measures to prevent the extinction of insects. The decline of a species is reversible until it disappears. Then it’s too late. »