Insect Populations Plunging in UK

May 8, 2022

40 or more years ago, in the upper midwest, a car trip in the summer time meant windshields and grills plastered with dead bugs.
Applying the “splat test”, researchers in the UK have troubling findings.


The number of flying insects in Great Britain has plunged by almost 60% since 2004, according to a survey that counted splats on car registration plates. The scientists behind the survey said the drop was “terrifying”, as life on Earth depends on insects.

The results from many thousands of journeys by members of the public in the summer of 2021 were compared with results from 2004. The fall was highest in England, at 65%, with Wales recording 55% fewer insects and Scotland 28%.

With only two large surveys so far, the researchers said it was possible that those years were unusually good ones, or bad ones, for insects, potentially skewing the data, and so it was vital to repeat the analysis every year to build up a long-term trend. But the new results are consistent with other assessments of insect decline, including a car windscreen survey in rural Denmark that ran every year from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance.

Participants in the British survey downloaded an app, Bugs Matter, which enabled them to record their journeys and the number of bugs squashed on their registration plates. The next survey will run from June to August.

“This vital study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34% per decade – this is terrifying,” said Matt Shardlow at Buglife, which ran the survey along with Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). “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.”


Insect numbers have plunged by half in some parts of the world due to climate change and intensive agriculture, a study has found.

The combined pressures of global heating and farming are driving a “substantial decline” of insects across the globe, according to UK researchers.

They say we must acknowledge the threats we pose to insects, before some species are lost forever.

But preserving habitat for nature could help ensure vital insects thrive.

Lead researcher, Dr Charlie Outhwaite of UCL, said losing insect populations could be harmful not only to the natural environment, but to “human health and food security, particularly with losses of pollinators”.

“Our findings highlight the urgency of actions to preserve natural habitats, slow the expansion of high-intensity agriculture, and cut emissions to mitigate climate change,” she added.

Plummeting populations of insects around the world – a so-called “insect apocalypse” – have caused widespread concern.

However, scientific data gives a mixed picture, with some types of insects showing drastic declines, while others are staying steady. 

In the latest study, the researchers pulled together data on the range and number of nearly 20,000 insect species, including bees, ants, butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies, at about 6,000 different locations.

In areas with high-intensity agriculture and substantial warming, insect numbers have plunged by 49% and the number of different species by 27%, compared with relatively untouched places that have so far avoided the most severe impacts of climate change, according to the research, published in Nature.

But the researchers said there was some cause for hope in that setting aside areas of land for nature created a refuge for insects, which need shade to survive in hot weather.

Given the amount of land needed for solar farms, the idea of making the space between and beneath panels amenable to pollinators seems intuitive. One 2021 study, published in the journal Nature, estimated that if solar energy were to account for 25–80 per cent of the electricity mix by 2050, 0.5–2.8 per cent of the EU’s total land mass would be needed for solar generation. 

Matthew O’Neal, a professor of entomology at Iowa State University, would like to see more solar developers seize this opportunity. ‘Currently, Indiana has at least 15 planned solar energy farms in development, each projected to cover more than 1,000 acres [405 hectares]. One is planned to cover 4,500 acres,’ he says. ‘If planted with pollinator habitat, this one development would provide almost as much habitat specifically for pollinators as the entire state’s CP42 enrolment [the USDA Conservation Reserve Program’s pollinator-conservation initiative].’ 

The benefits of such projects don’t stop at the insects. Research from Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment demonstrates that pollinator-friendly solar farms can boost crop yields on nearby arable land, increase the recharging of groundwater and reduce soil erosion. In 2018, a US Department of Energy study found that ‘if all existing and planned solar facilities near soybean, almond and cranberry crops included pollinator habitat and increased yield by just one per cent, annual crop values could rise by US$1.75 million, US$4 million and US$233,000, respectively.’

‘Farmers could identify unprofitable areas, such as low-yielding, highly erodible lands, as candidates for a pollinator-friendly solar farm. There’s the potential to increase their net income with pollinator incentive schemes,’ says O’Neal. 


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