Are falling insect numbers due to record summer temperatures?

The Bugs Matter Citizen Science Survey, led by conservation charities Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife, found a 64% decline in insect numbers sampled on vehicle number plates between 2004 and 2022 across the UK, highlighting the urgent need for more, large-scale research on insects, and action to reverse declines in their abundance.

As world leaders meet to discuss global declines in biodiversity at the COP15 UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2022 Bugs Matter Survey results reveal further shocking declines in the numbers of flying insects in the UK, supporting the call that urgent action is needed to restore insect populations. Increasingly, abundance, not just diversity, is being recognised as a key driver in creating landscapes that are resilient to the impacts of the climate and nature crises.

Are falling insect numbers due to record summer temperatures?

The Bugs Matter Citizen Science Survey uses an innovative method for the large-scale surveying of flying insect abundance across the UK. The survey runs every summer and involves citizen scientists recording the number of insect splats on their vehicle number plates following a journey.

The latest 2022 Bugs Matter report has found that the number of insects sampled by citizen scientists across the UK reduced by a worrying 64% between 2004 and 2022. This is a 5% greater decline than that observed between 2004 and 2021, it is not clear what proportion of this decline is due to the long-term trend or the result of record summer temperatures, but climate change links these two factors. England, Northern Ireland and Wales saw continued declines into 2022, but figures for Scotland showed an upward trend.

Insects make up the greatest proportion of life on Earth. They underpin food chains, pollinate most of the world’s crops, and provide natural pest control services. Without insects, life on earth would collapse and the survivability of humanity on our planet would be threatened.

There are many causes of insect declines – these include the loss and damage to habitats, climate change, pollution of rivers and streams, use of pesticides, and development of wild spaces. There is growing evidence that these factors have caused significant declines in insect abundance in the UK and worldwide – with knock on consequences for other wildlife and for people.

The Bugs Matter Citizen Science survey provides an efficient and scalable approach to monitor trends in insect abundance. It is hoped that the survey method could be adopted in other countries, with citizen scientists across the planet taking part to compile a hugely valuable global dataset.

The Bugs Matter team are now busy with upgrades to the app in time for the 2023 survey season, including a trial of artificial intelligence to automatically detect the number of insect splats on a number plate.

Evan Bowen-Jones, Chief Executive at Kent Wildlife Trust, said : “Thanks to citizen scientists across the country, we are building a better picture of the health of our insect populations and already we are seeing some concerning patterns in the data. However, we need more citizen scientists to take part in the Bugs Matter survey next year and into the future, to understand whether we are seeing actual long-term trends or the impact of the extreme temperatures we faced in 2022. Thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s survey. We hope even more citizen scientists will contribute to this valuable dataset in the 2023 survey period and beyond.”   

Andrew Whitehouse, Head of Operations at Buglife, said: “For the second year running, Bugs Matter has shown potentially catastrophic declines in the abundance of flying insects.  Urgent action is required to address the loss of the diversity and abundance of insect life.  We will look to our leaders at COP15 for decisive action to restore nature at scale – both for wildlife, and for the health and wellbeing of future generations.

The 2023 Bugs Matter survey season will begin on 1 June 2023. Those keen to get involved can download the free Bugs Matter app now to sign up for next year’s survey:

Apple store https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/bugs-matter/id1525891356

Google play https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.natural_apptitude.bugsmatter&gl=US&pli=1

The Bugs Matter 2022 Full Technical Report can be found here

The Bugs Matter 2022 Summary Report can be found here

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

There are many other ways in which people can help reverse insect declines:

Using alternatives to peat can help reduce CO2 emissions and slow the impact of climate change on insects and our environment.

Put away the spray – by eliminating or reducing our use of pesticides, we can stop the decline of thousands of insects in an instant.

Be less tidy – you can help the insects in your garden by letting the grass grow longer and sowing wildflowers. If every garden had a little patch for insects, collectively it would probably be the biggest area of wildlife habitat in the world.

Watch your footprint – climate change is a growing threat to a wide range of wildlife, including insects. Buy your food from local suppliers, use your local shop, or grow your own vegetables. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, it will also help small food producers to compete with big food and farming businesses.

Join an organisation such as your local Wildlife Trust or Buglife. Charities like these do vital work to protect and restore our most important wildlife sites, restore lost habitats at scale and reconnect our countryside through initiatives like B-Lines, lobby government for stronger laws to reduce pesticide use and work to improve the quality of waters in our rivers and streams.

Kent Wildlife Trust? 

Kent Wildlife Trust is the county’s leading conservation charity with more than 31,000 members and over 1000 registered volunteers. We manage and protect over 9000 acres of land across more than 80 different sites and nature reserves, alongside 3 visitor centres. We work closely with local communities, landowners and partners to protect and improve habitats in the countryside, coast and town for the benefit of the wildlife and people of Kent. The charity also campaigns against inappropriate and damaging development; and educates and inspires young people to help secure a more sustainable future and create a Wilder Kent. Visit our website here: kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/

Buglife

Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates our aim is to halt the extinction of invertebrate species and to achieve sustainable populations of invertebrates. Invertebrates are vitally important to a healthy planet – humans and other life forms could not survive without them. The food we eat, the fish we catch, the birds we see, the flowers we smell and the hum of life we hear, simply would not exist without bugs. Invertebrates underpin life on earth and without them the world’s ecosystems would collapse. www.buglife.org.uk

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