IF you have been vaguely awake for the past 30 years, you’ll have heard all sorts of serious people saying the world’s climate is changing.
They’ve told us endlessly the Arctic ice cap is melting, islands in the South Pacific are drowning and the rainy season in South East Asia is no longer reliable.
It all seemed so far away and unimportant.
To make matters worse, some of the serious people were seriously annoying.
Whenever Greta Thunberg popped up on television, I was overcome with the urgent need to buy another patio heater.
When Meghan Markle told me to leave the car at home, I wanted to shoot a polar bear in the middle of its face.
But then, 12 months ago, the problem arrived in Britain. We had the wettest autumn for 50 years and the wettest February ever.
Then, in April, the sun came out and stayed there for months . . . until in August we had a day so hot my wisteria died.
Suddenly, we could all see for ourselves the weather is changing. But what exactly are we supposed to do about it?
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Build a nuclear power station at the bottom of the garden? Invent cold fusion? Move to a cave?
It all seems impossible — because fighting the next weather system is like fighting the tide.
And besides, how can you concentrate on doing your bit for the climate when you are constantly being told about other things which are apparently even more important?
You have to take a knee while simultaneously clapping the NHS and trying in vain to drink organic sludge through a disintegrating paper straw.
Then you’ve got the fact California is on fire, there’s a maniac in the White House, a pandemic has destroyed the world’s economy, Sir David Attenborough is on TV telling you to become a vegetablist and half your followers on Instagram are twittering on about plastic cutlery and rhino poaching and offsetting your carbon footprint by planting a tree.
The past six months have been like standing under a big green waterfall.
And it’s why I’ve decided I’m going to focus on just one thing. The most important thing.
The biggest threat, by far, to our long-term future on Earth.
The alarming decline in insect numbers.
If I told you the tiger was on the verge of extinction, you’d be very sad and almost certainly give 50p to a tiger preservation society.
It’s the same story with the elephant, the rhinoceros and the blue whale.
But the sad truth is that if these majestic creatures disappear from the planet, it won’t really make much difference.
If we lose our insects, however, we are in for a very bumpy ride. And then a light smattering of oblivion.
To most people, insects are annoying.
They ruin picnics. They sting you. They bite you.
They make an irritating buzzing noise when you are trying to have an afternoon nap and they land on your nose if you finally manage it.
Oh, and they kill millions of people every year by spreading diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus and dengue fever.
However, between 50 and 90 per cent of everything we eat comes from flowering plants.
And most of these rely for their survival on bees carrying pollen from the male part of the plant to the lady’s area.
Put simply, without insects flowering plants can’t reproduce. So they die out, along with all the birds and mammals that also rely on them for food.
It gets worse. At present, intensive farming and climate change mean America is losing three tons of topsoil per acre EVERY YEAR.
It’s drying out and being blown as dust into the oceans. And when it’s gone, everything from California to New York will be a desert.
Creating more is a massively slow process. It can take 1,000 years to make an inch of topsoil.
And you won’t get any at all unless you have insects which take the raw materials and, bit by bit, turn them into nutrients.
We are told, over and over again, that in five or ten centuries the climate will have made life on Earth impossible.
But without insects, we’ll all be dead in 50 years. And they are dying out at a staggering rate.
There was a time when you drove down the motorway in the summer and after ten miles your windscreen would be an opaque graveyard of creepy crawlies.
Not any more. Now you can do 1,000 miles in a coach with a windscreen the size of a football pitch and not hit one.
Yes, there are still 1.4billion insects for every person on Earth. But the numbers are falling by about ten per cent per decade.
One study in Germany suggests that in the past 30 years, the number of flying insects has dropped by a truly alarming 75 per cent.
I know many of you are too busy waving Black Lives Matter banners and not throwing plastic bags in the sea and driving hybrids to do anything to arrest that decline.
But it’s important that some people do. And as I spend most of my time farming these days, it’s where I’ve decided to focus my attention.
I started the year with five beehives, and now there are 25.
Which means that, come the spring, there will be FIVE MILLION bees buzzing around in my fields, helping the wild flowers and the crops.
I’ve also planted insect super-highways in the fields which allow the insects we like to get to the middle of a crop more easily . . . where they can eat the insects we don’t like.
Then I built three dams across various streams to create ponds and boggy wetland areas, which are already home to dragonflies, damselflies and great diving beetles. I’ll have mayflies next year, I hope.
And I’ve been staggered how quickly these little things have had an effect.
When I moved to the farm ten years ago, I almost never saw a songbird.
Whereas last night, I saw a flock of maybe 50 gold-finches flitting about. My hedgerows — which I’ve stopped cutting, mainly due to laziness — now house countless yellowhammers.
And in one field yesterday I was astonished and thrilled to see a lapwing.
Yes, I know I’ve spent most of my life driving Lamborghinis round corners in a cloud of tyre smoke.
But I do have other interests as well . . . and the lapwing is one of them.
I’ve even put some trout in one of the ponds I made and now they’ve been fattened up by the flies, they’ve attracted a squadron of herons and a family of otters.
Sometimes it feels like I’m living in one of Sir David Attenborough’s wet dreams.
And you can join in. If you have a garden, dig a pond. Even if it’s only 2ft across, it’ll still feel like the Atlantic Ocean to a water boatman.
Then compost your waste, ask your local council to make verges insect-friendly and plant any native herb, bush, tree or flower you can think of.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Oh for God’s sake, Clarkson. I’ve already done my bit. I’ve bought a Toyota Prius.”
Yes. And the only tangible effect of that is . . . you’ve ended up with a terrible car.
It’s the same story with vegetarianism. You achieve nothing apart from a new-found ability to clear the room with one of your evil-smelling farts.
Maybe you’ve also started using straws made of paper instead of plastic.
Great — but now you have to suck so hard it’ll feel like your lungs are about to implode. And what good will it do? None you’ll ever see.
However, if you do something small in your garden, such as not bothering to pick up a fallen branch, you will one day see an insect that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for you.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll then see a bird swoop down and eat it. And that’ll be down to you too.
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