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Openreach Engineers Asked to Measure Insect Splats on UK Vans

Tuesday, Jun 25th, 2024 (12:10 pm) - Score 8,960

Network access provider Openreach (BT) has revealed that a good number of their UK broadband and phone engineers will now be voluntarily 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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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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29 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Charming – all cars, lorries, vans & motorcycles in UK always getting insect splats. No big deal!

    1. Avatar photo Alastair Stevens says:

      The fact that they’ve dropped by 78% is a very big deal. They are a crucial part of the food chain we depend on….

    2. Avatar photo Bob says:

      When the food starts running out we will be sure to put you and your family at the back of the queue. See how much of a big deal you think it is then.

    3. Avatar photo Mo says:


  2. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

    what’s that got to do with the price of tea in china!!

    1. Avatar photo Abby says:

      Tea is pollinated by insects. The massive crash in global insect populations means, in China, they are having to use human workers to pollinate tea plants. Imagine how much more expensive it is to hire someone to do what nature used to do for us for free?

    2. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

      After that detailed response, I’ll give you that

  3. Avatar photo Robert Sims says:

    This is so easy to automate – just take a high res photo and use a machine learning model (convolutional neural network with Pytorch on Amazon Sage would be a good framework/platform) to identify the number of dead flies.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Looking forward to you contributing your expertise to help deliver this volunteer project.

      Great work!

  4. Avatar photo Careless Whisper says:

    Rumour has it that they’ve outsourced it to Kellys Communications…

    1. Avatar photo Cumbria Tel says:

      I’d expect half a job to be done then. That’s if they can be bothered to do it in the first place!

  5. Avatar photo chris conder says:

    the design of cars and windscreens has resulted in fewer bug splats. no shortage of bugs. also there are so many lights these days they aren’t drawn to headlights as much.

    1. Avatar photo Alex says:

      Yes and the earth is flat, chris

    2. Avatar photo DaveisDead says:

      @chris condor

      That is staggeringly ignorant. Care to cite *ANY* proof of what you’re saying? There is a considerable amount of evidence showing insect populations have crashed globally and UK is no different. Even anecdotally I can see there’s way less insect about than just 10 years ago let alone what it was like in my youth.

      Understanding what’s going on is vital if we want any chance of stopping the decline and make no mistake bugs and insects are absolutely vital to our very existance as a species.

    3. Avatar photo G_Unit says:

      Whilst I do not think that windscreen changes prove that insects aren’t in decline (they demonstrably are) but I will say that there is something in the windscreen design point.

      I’ve recently changed from a Mazda 3 (2014) to a Suzuki Swift and the windscreen is at much less of an angle, much more upright and less aerodynamic – and I’ve noticed a lot more insect splats as a result when doing the same journey(s) as I did in the previous car.

  6. Avatar photo Martyn says:

    Is this the forerunner to a 10mph nationwide speed limit!
    At least they don’t have to taste them.

  7. Avatar photo Alex says:

    Really sad to see you take such a negative view on an initiative to help protect our environment Mark.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Not negative. I was very much adopting a “tongue in cheek” approach, and make no apology for using humour when writing about bug splats ;).

  8. Avatar photo David says:

    Believe a Coyote has been recorded, in darkest Derbyshire! Beep! Beep!

  9. Avatar photo Ed says:

    The word ‘fun’ in the opening sentence is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting there.

  10. Avatar photo Lewis says:

    6 months time: open reach blames insect counting as the reason for missing fibre installation targets again

  11. Avatar photo Diver Fred says:

    Guess there as always going to be some negative comments about this project. I think it’s great! I can certainly attest to the reduction in insects, it’s very noticeable this year; we have no House Martins returning. to the nest in the eves of our house That’s the first time in 26 years since we bought the house

    According to the news it’s common in East of England with the big reduction in insect numbers.

  12. Avatar photo Jack says:

    Bug lives matter?

  13. Avatar photo Omer says:

    What a joke. As if we ain’t got enough work to do! For what it’s worth and I know this is purely anecdotal, but I personally haven’t seen a decrease in bug splats on my windscreen. If anything it’s just as bad as previous years

    1. Avatar photo Alex says:

      It’s voluntary. Nobody’s making anyone do it. If you’re too busy or don’t care about the planet, don’t bother!

    2. Avatar photo Omer says:


      Never suggested for a moment that it wasn’t voluntary. It says so in the article. I just can’t imagine many people wanting to volunteer. And it’s absurd to suggest that not wanting to count bug splats on your windshield means you don’t care about the environment. I’ve probably got thousands of bug splats on the front of my van.How long would it take to count them all you think? And what if you lost count? You’d have to start again! An absolute waste of time, it would be better for the environment if they sponsored their engineers to plant a tree or something.

    3. Avatar photo Alex says:

      If you’d actually read it so carefully, you’d know that it’s about counting splats on the number plate – which would take someone all of about 1 minute. But carry on being the internet outraged, it’s fine.

  14. Avatar photo Anyudrr says:

    Is it a trial and then an extended trial…lol…

  15. Avatar photo Ivo says:

    Abit too much for me this

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