Splatometer on plate

Bugs Matter!

Car drivers and passengers are being asked to count bugs squashed on car registration plates after a journey by using an innovative app to survey insect populations; the app has been launched by Somerset, Kent, Gwent and Essex Wildlife Trusts.

The user-friendly Bugs Matter app brings 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 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).

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

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 urging people to help with the survey, so that patterns in insect numbers can be better understood. 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.

Kirby Everett, Head of Communications and Corporate Relations at Somerset Wildlife Trust said:

“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 worrying research showing that populations may have 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.”

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

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