Calling citizen scientists! It’s a bug’s life

Amy Lewis

Car drivers and passengers asked to count bugs squashed on car registration plates after a journey.

An innovative app to survey insect populations has been launched by Somerset, Kent, Gwent and Essex Wildlife Trusts. The user-friendly Bugs Matter app brings meaningful citizen science to the pockets of thousands and will help wildlife organisations better understand how our insect populations are faring. 

Smartphone users can take part by downloading the free Bugs Matter app. The concept is simple: before making an essential journey in a vehicle, clean the number plate and then when you reach your destination count the bugs squashed on the number plate using a ‘splatometer’ grid that will be posted to you. A photo and details are then submitted via the app. You don’t even need to be the driver of the vehicle you are travelling in (though you will need their permission).  

Bugs Matter App

The survey is based on the ‘windscreen phenomenon’, a term given to the observation that people tend to find fewer insects squashed on the windscreens of their cars compared to several decades ago.

There is growing evidence of insect decline on a global scale, caused by habitat loss and pesticides. The consequences are potentially catastrophic for the integrity of our ecosystems, including pollination of crops and food security. 

 

However, evidence is still lacking or only partly understood for many insect groups and species. Gathering evidence to show the need for urgent action is the first step in making a difference.  In the UK only butterflies and moths have been monitored in enough detail to allow trends to be fully understood. 

The Wildlife Trusts are hoping for hundreds of sign-ups and are urging people to help with the survey, so that patterns in insect numbers can be better understood.

Splatometer

In 2019, dozens of citizen scientists helped Kent Wildlife Trust gather data on the numbers of insects squashed on car number plates. The results showed that the numbers of insects counted was 50% lower than in a survey using the same method carried out by the RSPB in 2004. This is a startling figure, though there is not enough evidence to say it represents a decline.  

If we thought about it, most of us probably wouldn’t be able to recall the last time we had to wash hundreds of bugs off our car windscreen. Lots of attention is given to the declines of large, charismatic animals, but recent evidence suggests that it is the abundance of insects - our smaller critters - that need a bigger slice of our attention. And whilst there is research showing that populations may have worryingly fallen by 50% or more since 1970, evidence is still lacking or only partly understood for many insect groups and species, so we’re really excited about the Bugs Matter initiative and how it will help us gather data to fill in those gaps and provide evidence to show the need for urgent action. We hope that as many people as possible enjoy getting involved, in the knowledge that it is a really valuable piece of citizen science action.
Kirby Everett
Head of Communications and Corporate Relations at Somerset Wildlife Trust

Download the Bugs Matter app from your app store today and be ready to survey from 1 June to 31 August 2021.

For more info please visit: https://www.somersetwildlife.org/bugs-matter

Notes to editors

Images: note that these images are for one-off use only in connection with this story. All photographers must be credited.

Bugs Matter Survey: Kent Wildlife Trust’s Bugs Matter Survey found 50% fewer insects recorded in Kent in 2019 than in 2004. Read the news piece here and the find the report here.

Insect Declines and Why they Matter (2019), Author: Prof David Goulson, University of Sussex key Findings:

  • 23 species of bee and flower-visiting wasp have gone extinct in the UK since 1850.
  • The geographic ranges of many bumblebee species have more than halved between 1960 and 2012.
  • Numbers of butterflies fell by 46% between 1976 and 2017, with declines running at 77% in ‘habitat specialist species’ such as Marsh Fritillaries and Wood White butterflies.
  • The abundance of larger moths such as the Garden Tiger dwindled by 28% between 1968 and 2007, with Southern England experiencing the most dramatic changes with a 40% drop in numbers.
     

About Somerset Wildlife Trust – www.somersetwildlife.org

Somerset’s wildlife is part of what makes living, working and visiting the county so special. Somerset Wildlife Trust has been protecting vulnerable wildlife and preserving Somerset’s wild places for over 50 years and, with over 20,000 members, is the largest conservation charity in the county.  Alongside our members and volunteers, we work year-round to protect wildlife, transform landscapes and put nature back into people’s lives. 

Our reserves holding of over 1,700 hectares incorporates a diverse range of habitats from wetlands to woodlands, grasslands and meadows, and provide secure environments for a diverse range of wildlife such as Dormice, Otters, Hedgehogs, Barn Owls and many other species - as well as providing safe havens for some of Somerset’s most iconic species such as Bittern and Large Blue butterfly.

The majority of our work is made possible through the support of our members and people who live and work in the county who choose to make donations, fundraise for us or leave generous gifts in their wills. By working together with our members and supporters we really can make a difference.

You can follow us on Twitter at SomersetWT or Facebook on @Somersetwildlifetrust