This site uses cookies please click 'Accept' to continue and remove this message or 'More....' to view our cookie policy

Continued use of this site indicates that you accept our cookie policy

For full access to iFootpath, to join the walking community, rate the walks, print, leave comments, mark walks as Favourite & Completed (mirror in the App), and much more please register and login. It's free (no subscription, no charge to view or download a walking guide or GPS route) and only takes a moment or two. Already registered? Login here.


The Decline of Flying Insects

It is very easy to take the natural environment we enjoy on our country walks for granted, but scientists are continuing to report a worrying trend. Flying insects, including pollinators like bees and butterflies, continue to decline in numbers, despite schemes across Europe to support them. Perhaps we all need to do our bit in supporting these winged-workers to ensure the sustainability of our green surroundings…

big buttefly count chart image copyEarlier this year I took part in the Big Butterfly Count. I love taking part in Citizen Science projects; schemes that only ask for an hour of your time to observe and report your sightings in your local green spaces. The findings not only help scientists understand trends in animal and plant populations, but also help to inform which conservation projects are most needed and most effective.

The Big Butterfly Count takes place every summer (in July and August), with participants asked to count butterfly sightings for just a 15-minute period. More than 60,000 people took part in 2017 and the results are just out. The challenging British summer weather played a big part in the life of butterflies this year. July and August were dominated by unsettled weather and above average rainfall (the classic curse of the school holidays!). Overall it was one of the wettest UK summers for 100 years. And this after six months (January-June) of above average monthly temperatures, which encouraged butterflies to emerge earlier than usual.

Small Tortoiseshell 2The combined impacts of this topsy-turvy weather were to reduce the numbers of butterflies seen during Big Butterfly Count 2017, both because the abundance of some species was reduced by the summer weather and because others had come out early and were already past their peak numbers when the count started. Despite an amazing 550,000 individual insects being spotted during Big Butterfly Count 2017, the average number of individuals seen per 15-minute count was the lowest recorded since the project began in 2010. I was lucky enough to spot a Comma and a Small Tortoiseshell, both of which appear in the top 10 most abundant butterflies this year. You can see the full results at

This week also saw the release of results of a study in Germany, looking into the abundance of all flying insects in the last 27 years. While it is well documented that butterflies and bees have been disappearing in Europe and North America, this study in PLOS ONE is the first to document that flying insects in general are suffering a steep decline.

The results suggest flying insects have declined by 76% over this period. The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany since 1989. While the study did not pinpoint a reason for the drop, researchers said many nature reserves are encircled by farm fields, and that pesticides could be to blame. Researchers are concerned because insects are important pollinators and also a key part of the food chain, serving as meals for birds, bats, reptiles and other small creatures.

bee on flowerWhatever the causal factors responsible for the decline, they are having a far more devastating effect on total insect biomass than has been appreciated previously. The scientists stressed the importance of adopting measures known to be beneficial for insects, including strips of flowers around farmland and minimising the effects of intensive agriculture. The full study can be found at

Such a large and widespread problem can feel daunting to us as individuals, but scientists are also clear that every one of us can make a difference in some way. If you have a garden, look out for seeds and plants marked with the RHS Perfect for Pollinators symbol, recommended to support bees and butterflies. If you want to really do your bit, then try to make sure you have flowering plants throughout the season, from early spring through the late autumn, to support as many insects as possible. You might also want to install an insect house in one corner of your garden, to provide some much-needed shelter and space for hibernation.

You could also help scientists and conservationists by offering some of your time. There are plenty of opportunities to take part in Citizen Science projects. The Big Butterfly Count 2018 starts on July 20, while Friends of the Earth run the Great British Bee Count each year ( If you are willing to give a little more time, then look up volunteering opportunities with your local Wildlife Trust. Whatever help you are able to give, big or small, I know our countryside’s tiny winged-workers will be really grateful.

20 October 2017
iFootpath Expert: Tag your Favourite and Completed...
Favourite Autumn Facts

Related Posts

What our customers say

We've an App too

Did you know that we have an iFootopath App? - includes all walks with directions and a live map...

No need to print and no more wrong turns....

Get the iFootpath App

appstore  en badge web generic

Click top right X to close.

Do you want to download the GPX/GPS for this Walk?

Did you know that we have an iFootopath App? - includes all walks with directions and a live map powered by the GPX file? - Find out more...

We have an FAQ for GPX files, how to download them and how to translate them for use on a Garmin etc - Click here for help 

Know what you are doing? - then just dismiss this notice and click the GPX icon again.

Get the iFootpath App

appstore  en badge web generic

Click top right X to close.


The length of our walking guides is given in miles and rounded to the nearest full mile (whole number) for simplicity. For short walks (of less than 2 miles) or walks that have a length that ends in .5, a more accurate walk length may be given in the first section of the walk introduction. For example, the Length in the header may be listed as 6 miles, and the introduction may confirm that the exact length of the walk is 5.5 miles. The walk length is calculated from the GPS file that was created by the walk author GPS tracking the walk whilst walking, using the iFootpath App GPS Tracker, meaning it is very accurate. Our bespoke tracker is particularly detailed and plots a walkers position about every 10 seconds. The tracker is calibrated to match two other reputable map and walking sources, Ordnance Survey and Nike. As with all standardised walk and map lengths, the distance does not take account of hills and slopes, just the distance you would measure using a piece of string on a flat map version of the terrain, so hilly walks will feel longer than stated. If you track the route using another GPS App or Tracker App or Fitness Device, you can expect the distance you record to be different due to different calibrations. This is particularly true of those Apps and devices that count your motion and steps – these can only guess the distance you have travelled with each step and so are much less accurate.

Grade (Boots)

The grade of a walk is an indicator of how difficult the terrain is that you will encounter along the way. This does not take into account the walk length but does suggest how challenging the walk will be. It takes into account things like hills, path surfaces and obstacles (like stiles, gates, steps and rock scrambles). An easy walk, graded as 1 (and shown as 1 Boot) indicates a walk that is essentially flat, has no sharp hills to climb, has no stiles, is easy to navigate (probably along a well-worn path) and is suitable for most levels of fitness. A difficult walk, graded as 5 (and represented by 5 Boots) indicates a walk that is strenuous and involves steep ascents and/or descents. It may be technically challenging involving difficult terrain or obstacles that require scrambling with your hands. Please note that the grading for walks is subjective and open to interpretation and should only be used as a guide when selecting a walk.

NOTE: Do be aware that the level of stamina required for any walk will vary depending on both the walk length and the difficulty grade - you should only walk within your limits.

Click top right X to close.