THE number of flying insects in Scotland has dropped by nearly 30% in 20 years - leading to new concerns that "nature is in trouble".

While the bugs may be seen as a nuisance to some, they are critical to a healthy functioning environment. They pollinate most of the world’s crops, provide natural pest control services, decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients into the soil.

Without them, life on earth would collapse.

But the Bugs Matter survey has found the abundance of the flying creatures has plummeted by a "staggering" 27% between 2004 and 2021 highlighting what researchers say is "a worrying trend and the crucial need for insect-focussed conservation research, nationwide".

The findings produced co-produced by Buglife, the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates is the result of citzens scientists across the country recording the numbers of insects that become accidently squashed on vehicle number plates during a journey.

Insects were counted using a ‘splatometer’ – a standard-sized grid, to ensure counts were made consistently.

The 2021 Bugs Matter findings show that the number of insects sampled on vehicle number plates by citizen scientists across Scotland decreased by a "staggering" 27% between 2004 and 2021. These findings are consistent with research which has widely reported declining trends in insect populations globally.

HeraldScotland:

Buglife said that counting insects not only gives an estimate of the abundance of insect life in our towns and countryside, but is also a measure of the health of our environment.

Natalie Stevenson, Scotland and Northern Ireland manager at Buglife, said: “This vital study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34% per decade, this is terrifying.

" We cannot put off action any longer, for the health and wellbeing of future generations this demands a political and a societal response, it is essential that we halt biodiversity decline – now!”

Buglife say that there are various ways the public can help reverse the decline of insects.

They suggest using alternatives to peat, which help reduce CO2 emissions and slow the impact of climate change on insects and our environment.

It suggests that by eliminating or reducing use of pesticides, "we can stop the decline of thousands of insects in an instant". And it suggests that government should be lobbied for stronger laws to reduce pesticide use and work to improve the quality of waters in our rivers and streams.

It even suggests we should be less tidy. Insects can be helped in the garden by letting grass grow longer.

"If every garden had a little patch for insects, collectively it would probably be the biggest area of wildlife habitat in the world," Buglife said.

It also called on the public to watch their carbon footprint.

"Climate change is a growing threat to a wide range of wildlife, including insects. Buy your food from local suppliers, use your local shop, or grow your own vegetables. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, it will also help small food producers to compete with big food and farming businesses," they said.

HeraldScotland:

Paul Hadaway, director of conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust, co-authors of the study said “The results from the Bugs Matter study should shock and concern us all. We are seeing declines in insects which reflect the enormous threats and loss of wildlife more broadly across the country.

"These declines are happening at an alarming rate and without concerted action to address them we face a stark future. Insects and pollinators are fundamental to the health of our environment and rural economies. We need action for all our wildlife now by creating more and bigger areas of habitats, providing corridors through the landscape for wildlife and allowing nature space to recover.”

Scotland's official wildlife and natural environment agency NatureScot which has been providing crucial help for bees, hoverflies and other pollinators in 2021 has developed a strategy to prevent their decline due to changes in land use, habitat loss, diseases, pesticides and climate change.

The aim of the strategy is to make Scotland more pollinator-friendly, halting and reversing the decline in native pollinator populations.