Virtual ‘splatometer’ makes it even easier for citizen scientists to contribute to Bugs Matter survey in Northern Ireland

Thursday 1st June 2023

  • The Bugs Matter survey involves citizen scientists counting the number of insect splats on their number plates after a journey.
  • New virtual ‘splatometer’ makes counting and photographing splats even easier and improves the sustainability of the survey.
  • The 2022 survey revealed a dramatic decline of 46% in insect populations in Northern Ireland.

Conservation charities Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife have launched the Bugs Matter 2023 Survey, introducing a new virtual ‘splatometer’ to measure insect splats on number plates as a measure of insect abundance. This ground-breaking initiative aims to measure the alarming decline in insect numbers repeatedly reported across the United Kingdom and the globe.

Last year’s results from the Bugs Matter citizen science survey revealed a dramatic decrease in insect populations. In Northern Ireland, the survey found a staggering decrease of 46% in the number of insects splatted on vehicle number plates between 2021 and 2022. The annual Bugs Matter survey is valuable tool to better understand trends in insect abundance up and down the UK.

The important question to answer now is whether the results from the past two years of the survey indicate a long-term trend. However, the number of journeys logged in Northern Ireland was relatively low and produced a small dataset. The Bugs Matter team needs more and more citizen scientists to sign up and take part every year to provide a long-term, reliable dataset. The results of Bugs Matter will better inform effective conservation strategies to halt and reverse declining insect trends across the country.

One key development for this year’s survey is the discontinuation of paper ‘splatometers’ – grids used to record the number of insects splatted on number plates as a measure of insect abundance. Previously, participants had to wait for their splatometer to be posted, causing potential delays in data collection. Now, with the switch to a virtual template, individuals can instantly and seamlessly take part in the survey. This improvement not only increases the survey’s efficiency, but also promotes sustainability through reduced printing, paper and postage.

The Bugs Matter survey encourages citizen scientists in Northern Ireland to demonstrate how insect numbers are faring. By participating, anyone can contribute to a nationwide effort to monitor insect populations in order to develop targeted conservation measures.

Dr Lawrence Ball at Kent Wildlife Trust says, “By joining the Bugs Matter survey, every participant becomes a vital contributor to our understanding of insect population numbers in Northern Ireland. The survey enables us to collect data efficiently and sustainably, thanks to the elimination of paper splatometers this year. Together, we can make a difference in preserving populations of our valuable insects.

Joshua Clarke at Buglife says, “The reality of flying insect declines and the knock-on effects across ecosystems is troubling.  This citizen science study provides that much needed data set to paint the picture most of us are already talking about. Although we can see the decline in the data, the journeys recorded in Northern Ireland fall behind rest of the UK. For year 3, with the introduction of a digital grid making it easier than ever to take part, we anticipate an increase in journeys recorded and a stronger data set for comparison. A huge thank you to those who took part in the previous years and continued support!

The Bugs Matter survey is running from June 1 to August 31 2023, aligning with peak insect activity. Participants can visit the Bugs Matter website (Bugs Matter – Buglife) to download the free app for iOS and Android.