Openreach Engineers Told to Measure Insect Splats on UK Vans

Network access provider Openreach (BT) has revealed that a good number of their UK broadband and phone engineers will now be given an extra fun task to perform, which involves measuring the number of bugs that get unceremoniously splatted across their vans.

The company currently operates the UK’s second-largest commercial van fleet, which totals around 29,000 vehicles and covers more than 4 million miles every year. Suffice to say that a lot of insects get wiped out on their vehicles and this is of interest to the ‘Bugslife‘ study (supported by the Kent Wildlife Trust), which is a national citizen science project that aims to raise awareness of insect conservation.

NOTE: The survey is based on the ‘windscreen phenomenon’, a term given to the anecdotal observation that people tend to find fewer insects squashed on the windscreens of their cars now, compared to the past. But this is actually not good news.

The UK wide survey, which started on 1st May 2024 and runs until 30th September 2024, essentially encourages volunteers to measure insect splats (the number of dead insects) on vehicle number plates as a sign of insect abundance. Naturally, the addition of Openreach’s fleet could make a huge difference to this, with the operator “aiming to double last year’s input data by recording 4,000 Openreach journeys alone.”

The hope is that Openreach’s commitment might inspire other businesses to get involved. But the network operator also sees this as helping in their efforts to “minimise its disturbance to natural habitats and move towards becoming a nature positive business.”

Andrew Whale, Chief Engineer for Openreach, said:

“Using our fleet and our engineers on the ground to support this important piece of citizen science is simply the right thing to do, and an easy one for everybody to take action for nature; we can all get involved, it’s very simple to do and we are proud to support one of our partners in improving this critical data”

The “Bugs Matter” study has been conducted on an annual basis since 2001, based on a reference survey by the RSPB in 2004. Analysis of records from nearly 26,500 UK journeys over this period shows a continuing decrease in insect numbers, with the number of insect splats nationwide in 2023 being 78% lower than that of 2004. Good news if you’re planning a countryside picnic, at least.

On the one hand, counting insects gives an estimate of the abundance of insect life in our towns, and countryside, and a measure of the health of our environment. This can be used to show where wildlife is recovering and thus how effective any related conservation efforts have been, as well as where there may be problems. On the other hand, yuk!

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