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'Terrifying' fall in flying insects means we face 'stark future', Buglife and Kent Wildlife Trust warn


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A "terrifying" 72% fall in flying insects over the past 17 years means we face a "stark future" unless urgent action is taken.

In Kent, the staggering drop in insects such as flies, midges and bees was more than 10% higher than the national average.

A lacewing Picture: Jaybee/www.phocus-on.co.uk
A lacewing Picture: Jaybee/www.phocus-on.co.uk

It was recorded by citizen scientists who counted the number of squashed bugs on their number plates.

Last year, 579 insects were hit during 389 journeys spanning 9,130 miles, a splat-rate of 0.113 per mile.

This was a significant fall from the 0.228 per mile recorded over 34,555 miles in 2004.

Across the UK, flying insects fell by 58.5% from 2004 to 2021.

The figures come from a Bugs Matter survey led by Kent Wildlife Trust and conservation charity Buglife and match a global decline in insect populations – 41% of species are in decline and a third are at risk of extinction.

Insect populations fell by 72% in Kent Picture: Dan TP
Insect populations fell by 72% in Kent Picture: Dan TP

Volunteers wiped their number plates clean at the start of journeys and counted the number of splats at the end, uploading the figures to the Bugs Matter app.

Insects and other invertebrates are critical to a healthy functioning environment.

They pollinate most of the world’s crops, provide natural pest control services, decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients into the soil.

Without them, life on earth would collapse so when they fall, nature is in trouble.

Rising numbers would point to wildlife recovering so is a useful indicator of conservation successes.

Dr Lawrence Ball is from Kent Wildlife Trust

People can help fight insect decline by being less tidy and allowing sections of their gardens to grow into mini meadows – although Medway Council's own No Mow May project was scrapped this year after complaints it was too untidy.

Shopping locally and growing veg at home would help insects by reducing CO2 emissions.

Reducing pesticide use would also help but in January the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs allowed the emergency use of bee- and insect-killing neonicotinoid Cruiser SB for the second year.

The chemical is banned under EU law except in extreme circumstances but was needed to combat a virus which was ravaging the sugar beet industry, it was claimed.

Kent Wildlife Trust's head of conservation Paul Hadaway said: “The results from the Bugs Matter study should shock and concern us all. We are seeing declines in insects which reflect the enormous threats and loss of wildlife more broadly across the country. These declines are happening at an alarming rate and without concerted action to address them we face a stark future.

"Insects and pollinators are fundamental to the health of our environment and rural economies. We need action for all our wildlife now by creating more and bigger areas of habitats, providing corridors through the landscape for wildlife and allowing nature space to recover.”

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Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife, added: “This vital study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34% per decade, this is terrifying.

"We cannot put off action any longer, for the health and wellbeing of future generations this demands a political and a societal response, it is essential that we halt biodiversity decline – now!”

For more information on the project, click here. www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/bugs-matter

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