Flying insect numbers dropped by almost 60% in UK car windscreen test

Have you noticed that the number of bugs landing on your car windshield has decreased over the past few decades?

If so, you are not alone. Two conservation groups in the UK set out to test the often-seen ‘windscreen phenomenon’, and the result was shocking: the number of flying insects landing on UK cars dropped by almost 60% in just 17 years.

“This life-saving study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34% per decade, it’s terrifying,” Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow said in a press release. “We can delay action no longer, for the health and well-being of future generations this demands a political and societal response, it is essential that we halt the decline in biodiversity – now!”

Buglife produced the Bugs Matter 2021 report with the Kent Wildlife Trust. The two groups set out to test the so-called “windshield phenomenon” by having citizen scientists record how many insects and other invertebrates ended up splattering on their license plates after a trip.

Sky News explained the process:

Before making an essential trip in their vehicle, drivers cleaned their license plates and then counted the insects crushed on them using a “splatometer grid” provided as part of the survey.

They then submitted a photo and counted the details via the Bugs Matter app and the data was converted to “splats per mile” to make it comparable between rides.

The research team looked at the “splats per mile” of 599 trips made in Kent in 2019 and 3,348 trips made across the UK in 2021, according to the report. They then compared the figures with data from a similar study conducted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 2004. What they found was that the abundance of insects on license plates had decreased by 58.5% between 2021 and 2004. The decline was observed. across the UK, but was highest in England, at 65%, followed by Wales at 55% and Scotland at 27.9%.

The researchers acknowledged that their conclusions were only based on two years, which could have been exceptionally good or bad, The Guardian reported. However, the findings are consistent with a growing number of scientific studies showing an alarming decline in insect populations around the world. Many insect populations decline by 1-2% each year, or 10-20% each decade.

That’s a problem because insects are essential for pollinating food, recycling waste and contributing to the food web, according to AP News.

Insects “are absolutely the fabric by which Mother Nature and the tree of life are built,” University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner told AP News.

This is true both globally and in the UK.

“The results of the Bugs Matter study should shock and worry us all. We are seeing a decline in insects that reflects the huge threats and loss of wildlife more broadly across the country,” Kent Wildlife Trust conservation director Paul Hadaway said in the press release. “These declines are occurring at an alarming rate and without concerted action to address them, we face a bleak future. Insects and pollinators are essential to the health of our environment and rural economies. We need action to all of our wildlife now by creating larger and larger areas of habitat, providing corridors through the landscape for wildlife, and allowing natural space to recover.

Buglife also said individuals can do their part by not using pesticides, planting wildflowers and refraining from mowing their lawns, The Guardian reported.