Monthly Archives: January 2024

The Windshield Phenomenon

A New Phrase I Wish I Didn’t Know!

I suddenly realised the other day that my children (some of whom are teenagers) have never seen a car windshield (or windscreen :-/ if you are in the UK) covered in squashed bugs. “Good” you might say what a horrible thing to show a child. But really it is very worrying that they don’t know that this used to be normal in the UK during the summer, and its absence is not a great sign with regard to the UK’s levels of biodiversity.

Shifting Baselines

Example: Imagine a child growing up in a city with smog-filled skies. They may not realize the air quality is unhealthy because it’s their “normal.” This is the essence of shifting baseline syndrome: each generation accepts the current state of the environment as the baseline, even if it’s degraded compared to the past.

Windscreens of the Past

The Windshield phenomenon, also known as the Windscreen phenomenon, refers to the observation that fewer dead insects seem to accumulate on the windshields and front bumpers of cars compared to past decades. It’s become a common anecdotal observation among drivers, particularly those who have been driving for many years.

While the phenomenon itself is quite noticeable, the reasons behind it are complex and multifaceted. Here are some of the leading explanations:

1. Decline in insect populations:

  • This is arguably the most concerning explanation. Studies across the globe have documented a significant decline in insect populations, with some estimates suggesting a drop of up to 75% in some regions since the 1990s.
  • This decline is attributed to several factors, including habitat loss and fragmentation due to deforestation and urbanization, excessive pesticide useclimate change, and light pollution.

2. Changes in driving habits and car designs:

  • Modern cars tend to be more aerodynamic and have smoother front ends, which might make it less likely for insects to hit the windshield directly.
  • Additionally, increased highway speeds and changes in driving routes may also play a role, as insects are less likely to encounter cars at certain speeds or on specific roads.

3. Observer bias:

  • It’s possible that the Windshield phenomenon is partly due to our own perception. As people become aware of the decline in insect populations, they might be more likely to notice the absence of insects on their windshields, even if the actual number hasn’t changed significantly. However, I would have thought a long drive in the summer would yield a few casualties, so driving from Devon to Scotland without killing a single bug. . .  that is a bit of a coincidence.

The implications of the Windshield phenomenon are worrisome:

  • Insects play crucial roles in ecosystems as pollinators, decomposers, and prey for other animals. A significant decline in their populations could have cascading effects on entire ecosystems, impacting food webs and potentially even affecting human food security.

Therefore, it’s important to take the Windshield phenomenon seriously and investigate the causes behind it further.

More research is needed to understand the full extent of the decline in insect populations and to develop effective conservation strategies.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

  • The Windshield phenomenon is not a definitive indicator of insect decline on its own. More comprehensive studies are needed to confirm the trends and their underlying causes.
  • While the phenomenon might be partly due to observer bias, it’s still a valuable observation that raises awareness about the potential threat to insect populations.
  • Conservation efforts focused on protecting insect habitats, reducing pesticide use, and mitigating climate change are crucial to addressing the broader issue of insect decline.

Remember, even small changes in our individual habits, like choosing organic produce and opting for sustainable gardening practices, can contribute to a healthier planet for insects and ourselves.

How Can Sewage Companies Increase Biodiversity?

Perhaps – But What is Being Done at the Moment is not Enough.

Sewage companies, even though dealing with the not-so-glamorous side of our lives, can play a surprisingly crucial role in boosting biodiversity. But the light touch methods used at present will not outway the harm that outdated, and badly run assets causes. Here are some ways sewage companies claim to help at present:

1. Investing in advanced treatment technologies:

  • Membrane bioreactors (MBRs): These sophisticated systems use membranes to filter out even the tiniest contaminants, producing cleaner effluent that’s safer for aquatic life.
  • Nutrient removal technologies: Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage can trigger harmful algal blooms, upsetting the ecosystem. Advanced treatment methods like biological nutrient removal can help control these nutrients.
  • Microbial fuel cells: These innovative systems harness the power of microbes to generate electricity from wastewater, potentially turning waste into a resource and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. This may seam slightly detached from bio diversity, but resource used and climate change are both reducing biodiversity.

2. Minimizing pollution at the source:

  • Public education and outreach: Raising awareness about responsible disposal of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and other harmful substances can significantly reduce their presence in wastewater.
  • Collaboration with industries: Partnering with industries to pretreat their wastewater before it enters the municipal system can significantly lessen the load on treatment plants and protect aquatic ecosystems.
  • Investing in leak detection and repair: Leaky pipes and sewers allow untreated wastewater to escape into the environment, contaminating water sources and harming biodiversity. Regular inspections and proactive repairs can minimize these leaks.
  • Elimination Combined Sewer Overflows: Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) can have a significant and negative impact on the environment, public health, and infrastructure.

3. Creating and restoring natural habitats:

  • Wetlands construction: Wetlands act as natural filters, removing pollutants and providing habitat for diverse species. Sewage companies can create or restore wetlands near treatment plants to enhance biodiversity.
  • Riparian buffer zones: Planting trees and shrubs along riverbanks helps stabilize the soil, prevents erosion, and creates valuable habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife.
  • Fish stocking programs: In some cases, carefully planned fish stocking programs can help restore fish populations in rivers impacted by past sewage discharges.

4. Embracing circular economy principles:

  • Resource recovery: Sewage sludge, a byproduct of treatment, can be treated and turned into fertilizer or renewable energy sources, reducing reliance on virgin resources and minimizing waste.
  • Water reuse: Treated wastewater can be used for irrigation, industrial processes, or even toilet flushing, reducing pressure on freshwater resources.

By implementing these strategies, sewage companies can transform their operations from potential threats to biodiversity into valuable contributors to a healthier planet. Remember, a thriving ecosystem not only benefits the environment but also leads to cleaner water, improved public health, and a more resilient future for all.

But – The Damage is Far Worse

Sewage, a byproduct of our daily lives, poses a significant challenge to the UK’s precious biodiversity. While modern wastewater treatment facilities significantly reduce pollution, the issue remains complex, with various factors influencing the impact on different ecosystems.

Negative Effects:

  • Nutrient Overload: Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage can trigger algal blooms, depleting oxygen levels and harming aquatic life. Imagine vast stretches of water covered in thick, green scum, suffocating fish and other organisms.
Image of Algae bloom caused by sewage pollutionAlgae bloom caused by sewage pollution
  • Toxic Chemicals: Sewage can contain pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial pollutants that are harmful to wildlife. These chemicals can disrupt hormones, impair reproduction, and even cause deformities in animals.
  • Habitat Degradation: Untreated sewage spills or overflows can contaminate rivers, streams, and coastal areas, damaging sensitive ecosystems like coral reefs and seagrass meadows. These vital habitats provide food and shelter for countless species, and their loss has cascading effects throughout the food chain.
  • Spread of Disease: Sewage can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can sicken fish, birds, and other wildlife. This can lead to outbreaks of disease and population decline, disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems.
  • Plastics: Our ubiquitous companions in modern life, unfortunately find their way into our sewage systems, posing a significant and often hidden threat to aquatic ecosystems and potentially even human health. Everyday plastic items like disposable cups, plastic bags.