Splatometer

Most of the Friends of Southwick Country Park are retirees, all of us inclined to begin sentences with: When I was a child….

When we were children, a long summer trip in the car to the seaside was always interrupted at some point so that our fathers could wash the splattered insect remains off the windscreen. This no longer happens.

Researchers have developed a splatometer, a device fixed to the registration plate of a car to measure the number of insects that it hits and kills. A survey in Kent, last summer, compared the number of such impacts with a similar experiment done by the RSPB on the same stretch of road in 2004. It found only half as many impacts.

They compared the aerodynamics of cars from different eras to see if insects were less likely to hit modern cars – but it’s the other way round: insects were less likely to hit the bulkier shapes of older cars. There is only one conclusion: in the past fifteen years, our populations of flying insects have been halved.

Another survey, this time of insects hitting windscreens, conducted in rural Denmark, collected data every summer from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in the twenty year period. It also found a terrifying parallel decline in the number of swallows and martins, both species of birds that live exclusively on insects.

Insect population collapses have been reported from all over the world. Insects are the pollinators of three quarters of our crop species; they are at the base of our food chains; they are an essential component of life on Earth.

Three species of birds from the park that live exclusively on insects.

The causes of these declines are the destruction of natural habitat, the use of pesticides in modern agriculture and the various impacts of the climate crisis.

What can we do? We have to challenge the unconsidered changes that are being made to our environment. For years we drive past a damp green field with a stream running through it and then suddenly there are a hundred houses there. Each house brings its own little pool of light pollution and its own garden shed full of slug pellets and insecticides.

We have to challenge the ways in which our food is grown. We must save our weedy grassland, our muddy wetlands, our straggly hedges and overflowing ditches, all important habitat for insects.

It is not enough to drive by, sitting behind an unsplattered windscreen, saying: When I was a child…..


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