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The War of the Locust

The War of the Locust

Fighting insects, protecting crops and bringing disciplines together

Desert locusts have plagued rural communities since farming began and managing the damage they can cause has posed an ongoing challenge to both farmers and governments. The British Empire’s attempts to eradicate this pest were recorded by the Anti-Locust Research Centre (ALRC) from the late 1920s through to the 1970s. Working as part of an AHRC-funded interdisciplinary team examining the history of the ALRC, Dr Fletcher’s research has recognised the significance and legacy of these campaigns and their contemporary relevance for agricultural communities where locust remain a threat.

The challenge

Apart from specialists, few in the wider fields of science, arts and humanities know the story behind today’s complex campaigns against the locust. With food security threats rising worldwide, learning lessons from the past is increasingly crucial. Using historical data from the ALRC, Dr Rob Fletcher (Department of History) and Dr Greg McInerny (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies), are helping to inform contemporary responses and raise global awareness of the impact of locusts.

Our approach

In collaboration with the University of Portsmouth and the Glasgow School of Art, the project covered several areas of study:

  • The history of entomology

  • Statistical ecology

  • Art history

  • Britain’s imperial legacy

  • Information visualisation

Through art exhibitions, museum displays and knowledge exchange seminars with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (UNFAO), the teams’ research offered new insights into managing and predicting the locust threats, as well as revealing and exhibiting thousands of ALRC locust specimens that had not been accessed for decades.

Our impact

International locust control remains a serious concern for international and non-governmental organisations and, in 2018, our researchers presented their key findings to the UNFAO, informing their understanding of historical trends and demonstrating the relevance of this research to current recording and forecasting efforts. The team worked with the National Museum of Wales and the National History Museum in London to curate exhibitions displaying previously undisplayed locust specimens and creating films about the work of the ALRC.

Broadcasts about the project, including a programme on Swiss Public Radio about the history of locust control efforts, art exhibitions, multimedia work with the Glasgow School of Art and new films, have reached diverse audiences. All together, our researchers have brought the issues around locust control, and the history of the ALRC, to over 120,000 people.

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