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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 06:00 GMT 07:00 UK
'Splatometer' counts bug numbers
Licence plate
Insects on number plates were counted throughout June
Suspicions that Scotland's insect population may not be as high as thought appear to have been confirmed in a "splatometer" survey.

The Big Bug Count was the first survey of its kind in the world, with 40,000 UK vehicle number plates studied for dead insects nationwide.

An RSPB study said the results indicate that the country may not be as midge-ridden as some may have thought.

About 324,800 insects were counted at a rate of one splat every five miles.

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) asked participants to count the number of "splatted" insects on their vehicle number plate after a journey undertaken in the month of June.

Further research

The study was prompted by fears that a decrease in insect populations could cause problems for birds, which rely on them for food.

Although the study was the first of its kind, RSPB Scotland said that many of the 2,500-plus people who took part north of the border were "astonished" at how few insects they splatted.

Swallows and house martins are specialist insect feeders and seed-eating birds, such as skylarks and house sparrows - both of which are in decline - need insects to feed to their young.

Numbers of many bird species have been dropping alarmingly and the house sparrow population has crashed by 65% in the last 31 years.

Jonathan Osborne, RSPB Scotland's count co-ordinator, said the main aim of the survey was to "form the baseline against which we would compare data from future years".

He added: "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.

"The reasons why there may be fewer insects around are not yet known - theories include habitat loss and pesticides.

"By repeating the survey in the future, we may be able to detect, for example, whether wildlife-friendly gardening and the new national agri-environment schemes are helping to raise numbers of this crucial component of our wildlife."

Counting on our six-legged pals
31 May 04  |  Science/Nature
Number's up for Scottish midges
26 May 04  |  Scotland

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