The population of flying insects has declined by nearly two-thirds in less than 20 years, according to a survey asking people to count crushed bugs on their license plates.
The Citizen Science Bugs Matter survey, conducted by conservation organizations Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife, found a 64 per cent drop in the number of bugs sprayed on vehicle registration plates across the UK between 2004 and 2022.
The situation had actually worsened since last year, when the survey showed a nearly 59% drop in numbers since 2004.
Experts said it was not clear what proportion of the five-point drop between 2021 and 2022 was due to long-term trends or the result of record summer temperatures, but suggested climate change played a role in both issues.
The survey supports other scientific studies showing continued declines in flying insects in Western Europe this century.
The conservation groups said insects provide essential services, underpinning food chains, pollinating most of the world’s crops and providing natural pest control, and that without them, people’s ability to survive on Earth would be threatened.
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They are on the decline due to habitat loss and damage, climate change, pollution of rivers and streams, use of pesticides and development – with mounting evidence these have led to significant declines in insect numbers in the UK and around the world, conservationists have warned .
Now conducted annually, the survey asked the public to record the number of flying insects crushed on their license plates and compared it to data from a 2004 RSPB analysis that used the same methods.
Before a necessary trip in their vehicle, the drivers cleaned their license plates, recorded the route on their cell phones, and then counted the crushed insects using a “splatometer grid” supplied as part of the survey.
They then submitted a photo and counted details via the Bugs Matter app, and the data was converted to splashes per mile to make it comparable between trips.
The story goes on
Data collected under the program showed a continued decline in insect spatter in England, with a 68% reduction compared to 2004, seven percentage points worse than the 61% drop in 2021.
Wales saw a 75% drop in bug splat numbers this summer, significantly worse than the 55% drop in 2021 compared to 2004 numbers.
But Scotland saw something of a turnaround with a 40% drop compared to 2004, better than 2021 figures which saw a 49% drop from 2004 figures.
The findings came as ministers gathered in Montreal for the UN Cop15 nature summit aimed at agreeing a deal to halt and reverse wildlife and habitat loss by 2030.
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Andrew Whitehouse, Operations Manager at Buglife, said: “For the second year in a row, Bugs Matter has shown a potentially catastrophic decline in the number of flying insects.
“Urgent action is needed to address the loss of diversity and abundance of insect life.
“We will expect our leaders at Cop15 to act decisively to restore nature at scale – both for wildlife and for the health and well-being of future generations.”
The Bugs Matter team now wants to continue developing their app in time for the 2023 survey season. In the new changes, they hope to include an artificial intelligence trial that automatically detects the number of smudges on a license plate.