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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Surprise from squashed bug study
Bug count
The splatometer was fitted to vehicle number plates
Experts are "astonished" at the results of a study of squashed bugs, which suggest they may be in decline.

The Big Bug Count was organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Motorists were asked to count the number of insects squashed on their number plates after a journey.

But despite reports of a boom in swarming wasps during the summer, the study revealed just one squashed bug for every five miles driven.

The idea for the survey was based on anecdotal evidence that the number of insects squashed on cars has declined in recent years.

With the help of an RSPB "splatometer", more than 1,200 people from the north-east of England took part in the survey, with around 40,000 taking part nationwide.

But the RSPB says it was surprised to find that a total of 324,814 insects were recorded - an average rate of only one splat every five miles.

Future research

Richard Bashford, RSPB's Big Bug Count co-ordinator, said: "The main aim of the survey was to form the baseline against which we would compare data from future years.

"Although variation in insect numbers across the UK was small, there appears to be a gradual increase in numbers from the south east of England to Scotland.

"The reasons for this, and the potential consequences for birds, will be the focus of future research."

Many species of birds depend on insects - either as the main part of their diet or as food for their chicks.

Mr Bashford added: "Because this is a new survey we can't show for sure that insects have declined.

"However, in order to see if there are any changes in insect populations in the future, the RSPB will repeat this survey.

"In time we will be able to compare these results with those from our bird monitoring to see if there are any links."

Theories for fewer insects include habitat loss and pesticides.

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