Bugs Matter project helps us understand insect abundance in Kent
Kent Wildlife Trust is running a Heritage Lottery funded project, ‘Bugs Matter’, which aims to develop a better understanding of what is happening in our environment, and how to measure landscape-scale outcomes of conservation work.
One aim of the project is to measure ecosystem function – the resources and services provided by animals, plants, and the environment, and the way they interact with each other and benefit society.
The project uses an innovative insect sampling method conducted by members of the public to assess the difference in insect abundance in Kent, South East England at two points in a 15-year timeframe. The technique was first trialed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
A growing body of recent evidence highlights population declines in insects and other invertebrates at global scales, the consequences of which are potentially catastrophic. Kent Wildlife Trust’s Bugs Matter survey points to similar results with 50% fewer insects recorded in Kent since 2004.
The Bugs Matter survey
Using a standardised sampling grid termed a ‘splatometer’, members of the public were asked to record the number of insects squashed on their car registration plate.
The key finding of the study is that there were 50% fewer insects squashed on car number plates in 2019 than in 2004. A national survey of this type was led by the RSPB in 2004.
By repeating the survey in Kent in 2019, Kent Wildlife Trust was able to compare the abundance of insects between these points in time. Kent Wildlife Trust found a significant difference in ‘splat density’ of approximately 50%, from an average of 0.2 splats per mile to 0.1 splats per mile.
The difference Kent Wildlife Trust has observed mirrors patterns of decline widely reported by others. However, more data over a number of years will be required to confirm the direction of any trend as this study is based on observations from two points in time it does not constitute a decline in itself.
Insects face mass extinction
Insects pollinate three quarters of our food crops, as well as being the main food source for many birds, small mammals and fish. Insects are a critical component of ecosystems and animal life is at risk. Without them, life on earth would simply collapse.
You can help by taking part in our survey this summer as well as taking two simple actions at home:
1. STOP killing insects by reducing our use of pesticides where we live, work and farm
2. START to create more insect-friendly habitats in towns, cities and the countryside
Kent Wildlife Trust is seeking more volunteers to take part in the survey in 2020 without whom we would not be able to understand what is happening to insects in our county.
The survey is planned to run again from June 2020
Climate and Nature Emergency
We are in the midst of a climate and nature emergency. Around the world we can see the devastating impact of climate change on people and the natural world around us. At Kent Wildlife Trust we work together to collate data, understand the causes and work towards reversing the decline in order to secure a sustainable future for all insect life and ourselves.
Through Projects like Bugs Matter, Wild about Gardens, and Roadside Reserves we work together to address the causes of insect loss, halt and reverse them, and secure a sustainable future for insect life and for ourselves.
Without bees and pollinators we will struggle to produce food and survive in the future – can you help fund our natural solution?
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Don’t farmers need pesticides?
In many parts of Britain, traditional family farms have given way to large agri-businesses, typified by large fields, often managed by external contractors, maintained as near perfect monocultures by high inputs of pesticides and fertilizers.
The result is a landscape that produces more food, more cheaply, than it used to, but is largely inhospitable to wildlife and provides employment for very few people. The low price of food on the supermarket shelves that we have become used to does not reflect the true environmental costs of its production. It is also important to note that farmers only receive a fraction of the retail sale price of food, so the cost of improved on-farm practice would have a relatively small impact on shoppers.
Recent studies from France estimate that total pesticide use can be reduced by 42% without significant reductions to yield or profit
France is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides in Europe (per unit of agricultural area). In 2013, after controversy over levels of pesticide concentration in drinking water, the French government set a target of a 50% decrease in pesticide use, promoting the principles of agroecology and advocating integrated management of pests for a reduction of pesticide reliance.
Food security and economic impacts were a major consideration for policy advisors and researchers:
“We demonstrated that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and proﬁtability in arable farms. We analysed the potential conﬂicts between pesticide use and productivity or proﬁtability with data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France. We failed to detect any conﬂict between low pesticide use and both high productivity and high proﬁtability in 77% of the farms.” Lechenet et al. 2017
How do I stop my plants and vegetables being eaten?
Gardening without chemicals is a good way to ensure that the food and plants you grow are free of pesticides or chemicals, thriving without the extra expense of dangerous products that are harmful to our wildlife. If you’ve used chemicals in the past, this might sound like an invitation to every pest for miles around to shred your garden ... and that might well happen at first. But, with time and patience, you’ll end up with a rewarding, healthier garden for ditching the chemicals.
Spraying to deal with pests can often kill the predators too, or at least make them want to avoid your garden. When you stop using chemicals, aphids are the first creatures to return as they have a short breeding cycle. Their predators may take longer to come back, but stick with it and know it will be better in the long run!
In the end you’ll wonder why you ever needed chemicals in the first place.
What can we do today?
We can turn our cities, towns, villages and gardens into a buzzing network of insect-friendly habitats. We have about ½ million hectares of gardens in the UK, plus city parks and green spaces, school playing fields, railway embankments and cuttings, road verges and roundabouts; if managed favourably, and if we avoid pesticide use these areas could go a long way towards creating a national ‘Nature Recovery Network’.
250,000 miles of road verges. More could be managed for wildlife by sowing insect friendly seed mixes, mowing later in the year, and removing the cuttings. Green bridges should be a part of transport infrastructure projects.
430,000 hectares of gardens. Wildflowers in gardens have huge potential to help pollinators such as bees. A network of small patches could help bees thrive in urban areas.
52 million people. 80% of the UK’s population live in urban areas. New parks, street trees, green roofs and walls are an important way to help everyone experience nature in daily life.
Our public spaces. Two thirds of amenity land is short mown grass, but meadow habitats support eight times more wildlife. Just allowing more flower species in the grass, and mowing some areas less frequently has been shown to be of huge benefit to insects. Greener and more biodiverse neighbourhoods provide health and wellbeing benefits for people.
Our farmland. 70% of UK land is farmland, so making our farms more wildlife friendly and sustainable is vital
What pressure is being put upon government to act?
The Wildlife Trusts and our Greener UK partners are campaigning for UK Government to pass new laws that will not only protect but will also help to restore green spaces and wild places.
We want a Nature Recovery Network enshrined in law to:
- protect existing wildlife sites and map out where wildlife ought to be, joining up important places for wildlife, while ensuring more people can live closer to nature
- Set targets for environmental improvement and nature’s recovery;
- Require plans to be produced to integrate national and local regulation, spending, investment and action.
You can find out more about our Wilder Kent campaign here.
Read more about the issues facing our environment