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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Number's up for Scottish midges
The splatometer is fitted to vehicle number plates
Wildlife experts want the public to help them count the number of midges and other flying insects in Scotland.

Throughout June, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), is asking drivers to fit a special sticky panel on their cars to catch insects.

The "splatometer" will then be removed and the number of insects counted.

The RSPB is conducting the UK-wide survey to gauge the abundance of Britain's 23,000 insect species - an essential food source for birds.

The organisation's Big Bug Count hopes to produce a geographical breakdown on the areas of the UK which appear to have the highest number of insects.

RSPB Scotland's event co-ordinator Jonathan Osborne said: "Geographic breakdown of the results will, hopefully, give us an insight into whether Scotland - and in particular the Highlands - has more flying beasties than any other part of the UK.

Favourite habitat is wet and uncultivated land
Commonly found in the north and west of Scotland
It is the female midge that bites
She can only lay eggs after a blood meal
The bite causes a swelling accompanied by itching
Midges are most prevalent between June and the end of August
"The myth of the Scots midge may be about to be exposed." The "splatometer" test should also give an indication of how insect populations affect birds.

Mr Osborne said: "Despite the importance of insects to birds, there has been little monitoring of their quantity.

"A large-scale study is needed to back up anecdotal suggestions and some scientific evidence that insects have declined in numbers.

"By taking part, people will be helping us to look at how insect declines may be affecting some of our best-loved birds."

The cardboard "splatometer" can be used once on any journey between 20 and 80 miles before it is returned to the RSPB for analysis.

Mr Osborne added: "Even journeys with no splats provide very useful information, so we're asking people to send their forms in, even if the count is zero - although I can't see there being many of these in Scotland."

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The midge leads many to take drastic action
The population study, which was pioneered in trials last year, has been welcomed by insect experts.

Dr Derek Cosens, of Edinburgh University's School of Biological Services, said: "If you put sticky board on the front of your car and drive for a fixed period of time, it would give a good measure.

"But you would need to know where the car has been driven during that period of time. It's a good idea because the RSPB could not themselves do that amount of sampling that quickly."

Many species of birds, including swallows, house martins and wagtails, depend on insects as part of their diet or as food for their chicks.

Insect numbers are thought to be affected by a number of sources, including habitat loss and use of pesticides.

Drivers who want to take part can phone 0870 787 5577 or sign up by logging onto the RSPB's Big Bug Count web page.

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18 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
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11 Feb 04  |  Science/Nature
Plan to put bite on midges
23 May 03  |  Scotland

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