Drivers counted the number of dead bugs on their number plate for study

Drivers were asked to count the number of dead insects on their windscreens and number plates in a bid to see how the population of flying bugs has declined over the past 20 years.

The citizen science survey led by Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife showed a 78 percent decline in “bug splats” on number plates across the UK since 2004.

The conservationists warned the dramatic falls in flying insects were a “red flag” for the state of nature in the UK which should not be ignored.

The Bugs Matter survey is based on the windscreen phenomenon anecdotal evidence from drivers who claim they are encountering fewer moths, flies, aphids, bees and flying beetles on their windscreens than in previous years.

The annual survey asks members of the public to record the number of flying insects squashed on their number plate. This data is then compared with information from an RSPB analysis conducted in 2004 using the same methods.

Since the original survey in 2004, records from almost 26,500 journeys across the UK have been analysed.

The innovative scheme required participating drivers to clean their number plates before embarking on a necessary journey and then record the route on their mobile phone. Post-journey, they counted the number of insects squashed on their plate using a supplied “splatometer grid” part of the survey’s equipment.

The data was then submitted through a snapshot and count details via the Bugs Matter app, being converted into a standardised measure of “splats per mile”.

According to the findings from 6,637 journeys made in 2023, England experienced an alarming fall of 83 percent between 2004 and 2023 – the steepest drop recorded in London with a whopping 91 percent reduction.

In parallel, Wales and Scotland registered a decrease of 79 percent and 76 percent, respectively. Northern Ireland – for which data is relatively limited – saw a decline of 54 percent  between 2021 and 2023 according to the revealing results.

Dr Lawrence Ball, from Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “These results are extremely concerning, particularly if insect splats serve as an accurate measure of insect populations.

“This is a red flag for the state of nature in the UK that shouldn’t be ignored.

“A decrease in the number of insects sampled of more than 75% in less than two decades is really alarming, and we’re seeing fewer insects being sampled every year.”

Andrew Whitehouse from Buglife echoed this sentiment, emphasising: “The latest Bugs Matter data suggests that the abundance of flying insects in our countryside has dramatically fallen.”

“The consequences are potentially far-reaching, not only impacting the health of the natural world, but affecting so many of the free services that nature provides for us.”

He noted the results mirror those confirming global insect number reduction.

Mr Whitehouse alerted: “Human activities continue to have a huge impact on nature habitat loss and damage, pesticide use, pollution, and climate change all contribute to the decline in insects.”

“Society must heed the warning signs of ecological collapse, and take urgent action to restore nature.”


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