Bugs on the windscreen

For years I have been wondering why on long journeys during the summer in the UK we have been arriving at our destinations with barely a single bug splat on the windscreen. Many times on one of those long journeys, in an idle moment, my mind has wondered to ‘why now no bugs?’, when in our earlier driving years it was a guaranteed feature of a long summer journey to accumulate a full covering of bug splats.

We of course need to acknowledge that each and every one of these incidents involved the life of another living creature coming to an end. So maybe those moments of wondering ‘why no bugs?’ would have been better spent giving thanks for the prevention of each and every tragedy.

The problem was the sneaking suspicion there were no bugs on the windscreen simply because there were no bugs in the first place, and then the question must again be why?

We are told the decline in farmland birds is directly caused by modern farming practices leading to less insects, which in turn is less food for the birds. Maybe simply modern farming is the reason there are no more bugs to be hit by the cars travelling down the roads.

But there could be other reasons which we should consider. What if there were bugs but they were just not appearing on our windscreens? Other postulations in those idle moments have included:

  • The aerodynamics of cars today has improved so much that the bugs are not killed when they come in contact with the windscreen.
  • Maybe there are just many more cars on the roads these days which means what bugs there were to go around are spread between many more windscreens.
  • Or maybe the extra traffic volumes mean the roads are less habitable places to be for insects and they just stay away. Especially given the volume of nighttime traffic.
  • What if we all just spend much more time on bigger roads – dual carriageways and motorways – the simple size of the road spaces means we are much further from the fields and hedgerows where the bugs live? Whereas in the past we had to travel more frequently down traditional single carriageway A-roads flanked with hedgerows.
  • Do we now put something in our fuel which is particularly harmful to insects which somehow sterilises our busy road spaces?

The reason for writing this now is that this year we have experienced almost every long car journey in May has resulted in absolute carnage on our windscreens. On the one hand this is terrible for each and every one of those insects but it also means quite simply the reason we went for years getting no bugs on the windscreen is because there were no bugs.

May 2022 has simply proven none of the above reasons has anything to do with almost 20 years without bugs because we now know that when the bugs are there they are everywhere and sadly no amount of aerodynamics will spare them.

So if the bugs were not there at all then we must start to turn our attention to who or what has caused the consistent suppression of insect life in the UK for the last 20+ years?

It would be easy to blame the farmers and their pesticides. From cold war days when the UK MOD tested the potential drift of lethal chemical and biological warfare released in the Channel on prevailing South Westerly winds, those test aerosols made it all the way to London and beyond. Surely therefore, however careful farmers try to be in the application of pesticides, with such a drift in play the UK would effectively be blanketed in a concoction no insect life could thrive under.

But hold on, why 2022? Why have the bugs come back quite so quickly in one year? For many years various farmers have been forced to remove crop treatment after crop treatment as different chemicals get banned. Was one particular crop treatment banned in 2020 or 2021 which has made ALL the difference?

While this could be possible it would be hugely concerning if science didn’t know the drastic damage this one chemical was doing and hadn’t acted to ban it so much sooner.

So the question remains, why have the bugs been missing? Of course it is likely to be a number of factors and we should ultimately be grateful for the evidence they have returned. We can then monitor what happens in subsequent years and perhaps eliminate possibilities until we understand which factor, or most likely which combination of factors, is at play.

For me though this sudden return of the bugs makes me feel there is a greater chance the cause is a singular factor. I acknowledge my evidence is highly subjective and before any particular factor should be concerned about my finger pointing this subject is serious enough to deserve some proper science be behind even a theory but that will not stop me putting a theory out there for now.

For my theory I simply refer to the 2019 film The Aeronauts. I have no financial interest in boosting it’s takings but I have to refer to the scene when Amelia and James reach many thousands of feet into the sky only to discover they are surrounded by butterflies. Yes, this beautiful but ultimately frail creature which lives for only a few weeks at most has a natural habitat which includes the high places of the Troposphere.

So if we are going to ask which bit of an insects’ habitat has most been changed in the last two years leading to the new volume of insect life at ground level we would do well to consider the impact of the world’s aircraft fleet being grounded during COVID-19.

What correlation exists between the increase in the volume of short-hall aircraft and the decline in bugs on my windscreen?

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