Bugging Me

Orchid cuckoo bee from Levon Bliss Microsculpture. Beautiful green and blue colours.

Have you ever imagined being an insect? Like, really imagined. 

When we told friends we were going to Scotland, the first thing they said: don’t get midged. Summer on the west coast is notorious for black swarms of these microscopic biting flies. 

For the first week in August, no problem. My husband Aden and I kept the windows open. One evening, there was a brief rain shower, then a burst of sun. Perfect breeding weather. That night there were, literally, thousands of midges in the bedroom, on the wall, on the ceiling, on the lights. 

I shrieked. Ran around like a crazy person, arms flapping. Both of us desperately Googling for solutions. 

Bowls of apple cider vinegar with washing up liquid? Diffuser with lavender? Nothing worked. Luckily we’d kept the bedroom door shut so they were confined. The next two nights we camped in the lounge and Aden vacuumed the room enough times to get rid of them, until finally, they were gone.

The role of insects from a regenerative perspective

Worldwide insect populations are declining faster than scientists can identify them. We’re losing our pollinators (like bees) at an alarming rate. In the last three decades, insects have declined up to 75% in Europe. What purpose, we wondered, do midges have within our ecosystem? 

Surely, like so many insects, they are food for other species (birds, marsupials, snakes). Without insects as pollinators, says Prof Simon Potts from the University of Reading, our food supplies and quality are in peril. 

So, how can we care that bit more about these tiny creatures? (Clearly, I failed on the midge front.) They are integral to our biodiversity.

Three ways to care (regeneratively) for our critters.

Tortoise beetle microsculpture taken by Levon Biss. It has a intricate reddish brown pattern on its rectangular body.
Tortoise beetle, Platypria melli (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae), China © Levon Biss.
Marion flightless moth microsculpture by Levin Biss. Long legs, and pincers on a brown and greyish body.
Marion flightless moth, Pringleophaga marioni (Lepidoptera, Tineidae), Marion Island, South Africa © Levon Biss.

1. See insects in a new light

Photographer Levon Biss has made an art form out of insects (see photos above). In collaboration with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, his work marries creative innovation with science. I happened to see a tiny exhibition ‘Microsculpture’ of his massively blown-up, carefully-lit photos that capture the extraordinary form, colour and evolutionary detail of insects.

Each image is created from around 8,000 individual photographs, taking around three weeks to shoot and retouch. The result is a series of photos of insect specimens (they are from the museum collection and each is pinned ‘on an adapted microscope stage’) that change how you see them. 

His photos don’t make them look any less weird or strange. But the detail of the Tortoise Beetle, for example, with its scaly back and spiky spines is like a Genghis Khan of the insect world. I see it in a new light.

2. Name insects in your garden or park

My sister posted the picture below of a caterpillar on our WhatsApp ’virtual gardening’ chat. Anyone know the name? My other sister looked it up. 

Start with butterflies. They’re pretty. Try to name every new butterfly you see. You’ll be amazed at how you relate differently to them.

Naming helps us identify — and get closer — to our more-than-human world.

A picture taken by Claire's sister Jane from a book of insects. It shows sixteen species of caterpillars.
Picture taken by Claire's sister Sarah. It shows a close up of a yellow and brown fluffy caterpillar resting on bright green leaves.
Picture taken by Claire's sister Sarah.

3. House insects wherever you can

I’ve talked about rewilding in this post. Letting weeds grow and encouraging insect-loving plants in your garden all helps. Or, if there’s a patch of grass on the pavement, plant wild flowers. Central London have taken this one step further. In Regent’s Place there are now ‘Bug Hotels’ (see below). These encourage ladybirds, butterflies and beetles to ‘thrive on campus’.

A sad irony, though. Across the road are a row of tents where homeless people live. (The council is providing for bugs not people… obv, not a regenerative approach.)

A sign displaying information on a 'bug hotel' in Regents Place. It explains the role of insects and their importance for biodiversity.
On display in Regent's Place Plaza.
A picture showing a hexagonal wooden structure under a tree to help attract insects. Highlighting the important role of insects.
'Bug Hotel' in Regent's Place Plaza.

Insects face an existential crisis

However, there’s another framing for this. Aden commented on it when he read the blog. He’s First Nations, a Gumbaynggirr man from the east coast of Australia. He tends to see how everything is interrelated — he’s a pattern thinker. ‘While we’re facing a cost of living and a housing crisis,’ he commented. ’For insects, ”cost of living” has a whole new meaning: it’s existence itself.’

Something to ponder on, next time I go to swat a mossie.

What about you? Can you cope with the crawly, jumpy, flighty ones? If you can’t, can you try? 

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

Doing community regeneratively

A photo taken by Aden shows the regenerative community of Tarbert - a row of pink, blue and white houses reflected in the water of the harbour, and green hills in the background.

Community — what does it look like for you? It’s something that I keep thinking about as we travel and stay in different places. What sort of community/communities do I want to be part of? To invest emotionally. To cheer on. To rely upon. 

Island communities buying land together (rural Scotland). Knitting groups and wellbeing walks in the city (central London). Wild swimming Wednesdays (Sheffield). In-person. Online. WhatsApp groups. There are many ways to do community. 

 Here are three examples that I’ve glimpsed upon recently. Each has regenerative aspects.

Community-owned castle: Inner Hebrides of western Scotland

We were staying near a small pretty harbour town called Tarbert (see above photo). It’s got a ruined castle: not unusual in this part of the world! The signage proudly describes how Tarbert Castle Heritage Park is ’owned by the community and entirely cared for by volunteers.’ 

They do the fun stuff: senior pupils from Tarbert Academy illustrated Medieval characters on the historical displays; and the less fun stuff: picking up litter and emptying waste bins. 

As a way to increase biodiversity of the castle ruins, the community have created a woodland and orchard, and own a flock of Hebridean sheep to keep the grass cut. They’ve partnered with a local supermarket and rely on donations to ‘achieve their sustainable maintenance plan’. 

I like the fact that the community are flipping the script on ownership and how well they’ve thought it through (including using sheep to regenerate the land). Their sense of pride is palpable. Even as a passing visitor, you sense it. 

A picture taken of Hebridean. They are used in the regenerative community of Tarbert.
Hebridean sheep. © Pinterest.

Community buy-out: Island of Gigha

Not far from Tarbert is the tiny island of Gigha (pronounced Gere, as in Richard). Scotland is notorious for absentee landlords. When the entire island came up for sale in 2001, the islanders clubbed together to buy it. 

With support from grants and loans from the Scottish government (via the National Lottery and another enterprise), they raised the millions of pounds required. From soup ‘n’ sandwich days to quiz nights and ‘sponsored rows around the island’ they made their vision a reality. According to the Gigha website, this put them ‘in the vanguard of the Scottish land reform movement.’ 

Clearly, they needed a structure and proper  governance to make it work. The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust was formed. Its aim: to promote ‘community regeneration, employment and sustainability.’ 

A photo taken by Claire shows the regenerative community owned island Gigha - the green hilly landscape with some small houses nestled in the middle and the sea behind.
Dramatic landscape of the island Gigha.
A photo taken by Claire of a white sand beach in Gigha - the regenerative community owned island. Sunny blue sky spotted with fluffy clouds, turquoise clear water and white sand below.
A beautiful beach in Gigha.

‘The Island is part of me’

Island life might not be perfect. But this short clip gives you a flavour — watch it for the hypnotic Scottish accent. When we spent the day there (travelling via ferry), we were lucky to get a table at the renowned restaurant on the island, the Boathouse. The campsite was busy and so was the tourist trade. 

The islanders have overhauled run-down housing and the population decline has been reversed. Plus, they have a viable long-term income through their four wind turbines, selling renewable energy to the mainland grid with all profits ploughed back into the Trust. (According to their website, back in 2004, Gigha was ‘the first community-owned grid-connected windfarm in Scotland.’)

Regeneration: creating a sense of care in the community 

According to an article on the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, not only has ‘community ownership built local self-confidence…. It’s changed the way people on Gigha relate to nature and one another.’ This speaks to the regenerative quality of care. So much easier to care about where we live if we have a vested interest in the place itself. (Another way we talk about this in regen is ‘place-sourced potential’: a bit jargon-ny, I know.)  

Green spaces and heatmaps

We left Scotland reluctantly. But now my husband Aden and I are finding our ‘London legs’, staying in Bloomsbury.  Just in the past day, I’ve seen a host of signs that point to the community initiatives here. From the Marchmont Community Centre to ‘improve the quality of life of local residents’, to farmers markets (everywhere in London these days, like in Sydney), to awareness about heatmaps. (Inevitably the less green in a city, the hotter they become. You can chart the hot-spots through heatmaps.) 

City community does things differently. In central London the garden squares create a focal point. I’ve missed Bloomsbury’s ‘tell the stories behind the trees’ event. But I’m signing up for the ‘wellbeing walk’ to increase my weekly step count. Last night our lovely 94-y-o neighbour, Betty, invited us for drinks. (Lovely, as we are only here a week!) She told us ALL about the colourful characters she’s known living here since 1976. 

Each place has certainly given me ideas on how I want to see communities thrive. 

What about you? How does community feed and nourish your life and work? Thoughts? Stories? 

Taken by Claire the image of a sign for a Farmers Market in Bloomsbury, London.
A picture taken of a sign for 'wellbeing' walks in the area of Bloomsbury.
"Not a guided tour".

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.