Bugs Matter – The Importance of Urban and Grassland Ecosystems

09 Dec 2022

Through the Natural Environment Bill and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy we need to ensure that Scotland’s species-rich grasslands are valued and restored. Machair, meadows and species-rich pastures must be protected and managed for their biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services.

Last year Buglife found that the abundance of flying insects in the UK had plummeted by nearly 60% over the last 17 years; highlighting a worrying trend and the crucial need for insect-focussed conservation research, nationwide.

The 2021 Bugs Matter findings, which were published in a report released by Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife (Bugs Matter 2021 Full Technical Report), show that the number of insects sampled on vehicle number plates by citizen scientists across the UK reduced by a staggering 59% between 2004 and 2021. These findings are consistent with research which has widely reported declining trends in insect populations globally.

Insect counts differed across the UK, but there was no positive news for insects in any of our nations. England suffered the greatest decline with 65% fewer insects recorded in 2021 than in 2004.  Wales recorded 55% fewer insects, whilst Scotland saw the smallest decline, still with 28% fewer insects in 2021 when compared to 2004 figures. 

Inspired by the ‘windscreen phenomenon’ (a term given to the general observation that people are seeing fewer insects squashed on the windscreens of their cars today compared to several decades ago), Bugs Matter enlists the help of the public to monitor the health of the UK’s insect populations. 

Insects and other invertebrates 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.

We need a Scottish Biodiversity Strategy that protects the ecosystems our pollinating insects rely on. These habitats need to be connected and provide a network across which pollinators can move through the landscape. It is essential that we develop a comprehensive grassland database for Scotland to support the development of nature networks. We need to support species-rich grassland restoration, meadow creation and management in agri-environment schemes and support High Nature Value farming.

The Natural Environment Bill needs to legally protect ancient grasslands, hedgerows and field margins. We should encourage intercropping and use this opportunity to legislate to reduce pesticide use and ban certain pesticides eg neonicotinoids which we know are devasting for our wild bees.

As we manage the multiple competing targets within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, and make the changes we need to in order to tackle the climate emergency, we need to ensure we plant the right trees in the right place, avoiding planting on unimproved grassland.

Urban areas can also provide essential homes for pollinating insects, our cities and towns can contribute to Scotlands biodiversity and provide refuges in an otherwise impermeable landscape.

We need to use the Natural Environment Bill and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy to protect and maintain open mosaic habitats in urban areas, reduce light pollution which can negatively impact our insect populations, and increase the extent of blue/green infrastructure- green roofs, green bridges, walls, SUDs, rain gardens etc. We should use the Natural Environment Bill to ban or reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides by local authorities.

The Nature Restoration Fund is already helping many local authorities to make positive changes and they are doing a fantastic job. We need to ensure local authorities are supported and have the right resources, skills and capacity to deliver targets within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and National Planning Framework 4.

Insects are essential to supporting and maintaining a healthy environment, so when their numbers fall that is an indication that nature is in trouble. Insect numbers can also show where wildlife is recovering, and so can be used to measure how the work supported through the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is helping nature’s recovery.


Natalie Stevenson, Scotland and Northern Ireland Manager at Buglife 


Image: Claire Pumfrey


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

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