Thousands of volunteer motorists in UK confirm collapse of insect populations

lhis estimates follow one another and all point to the same observation: that of a massive and rapid collapse of insect populations in Europe, a possible prelude to an environmental disaster on a scale hard to imagine. The Kent Wildlife Trust and The Invertebrate Conservation Trust (or “Buglife”) released the results of a study on Friday, May 6, indicating the loss of nearly 60% of flying insects in the UK between 2004 and 2021. This is not just a problem for entomologists: in addition to their intrinsic value, insects form one of the food chains of terrestrial ecosystems, pollinating crops and recycling nutrients in the soil.

Though particularly striking, such a collapse, in just seventeen years, does not surprise scientists. It corresponds to the orders of magnitude of the results achieved in other Western European countries in recent years. The originality of the work of the two UK foundations lies rather in their protocol: the authors, led by Kent Wildlife Trust ecologists Lawrence Ball and Paul Tinsley-Marshall, used the data obtained and sent by thousands of volunteer motorists with their smart phone .

The principle is simple. An application, Bugs Matter, allows volunteers to count the number of insect impacts on their vehicle’s license plate during a trip. The volunteers fill in the type of vehicle, make sure their plates are clean before departure and the application then records the characteristics of the trip (start and end point, average speed, landscapes crossed, type of road, time and date of travel, weather , etc.). Upon arrival a photo of the small frame – or “splash meter” (splatometer, in English) – attached to the front license plate you can count the number of insects that have been hit during the trip. Which objectifies the ‘clean windshield syndrome’, which drivers – especially those of a certain age – are increasingly affected by.

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However, the program did not run continuously and only three measuring points are available. In 2004, data was collected from nearly 15,000 trips, totaling nearly 1.4 million kilometers, or just under 200,000 attacked insects. The average number of invertebrates encountered per kilometer traveled was compared with data obtained in 2019 and 2021, with approximately 600 journeys totaling 16,000 kilometers and 3,300 journeys, which amounts to approximately 195,000 kilometers of British roads. In 2004, a license plate hit an average of 0.15 insects per kilometer, compared to about 0.062 in 2019 and 2021.

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