Writtle College celebrates being part of 50 years of national insect survey

May 2014

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

Every single day for almost half a century, insects have been collected at Writtle College for a national survey.

The College has been part of the Rothamsted Insect Survey for the last 46 years and has been recognised at a special ceremony for its important and voluntary contribution to understanding aphid and moth insect populations.

On the Lordship Campus, behind the laboratories and just next to a field full of oilseed rape, there is a 12.2m tall suction trap – one of only 15 in the country – and a light moth trap.

The suction trap sucks up insects from the air which are deposited into separate containers for each day. These are then collected by Writtle College staff and volunteer students twice a week and sent to the Rothamsted Insect Survey headquarters in Harpenden to be identified, counted, recorded and added to their database.

Jean Watson, Senior Science Technician explains: “Writtle College has been involved in the survey for at least 46 years. From the database, the Rothamsted Insect Survey team can alert farmers about potential infestations that could affect their crops, such as sugar beet, cereals or oilseed rape.

“Aphids act as viral vectors. As sap sucking insects they can pass on viruses as well as weakening crops thereby reducing potential crop yields. Likewise, the caterpillars of moths which use specific crops in their life cycle could potentially wipe out a whole crop, if not controlled.

“If the farmers know these insects are present, they can take preventative control measures to minimise crop damage.

“The survey also gives vital information in terms of conservation, the effect of climate change, the life cycle of insects and which species are prevalent at any one time. From this information, the team at Rothamsted can work out methods of maintaining and increasing the yield from crops, which is vital in light of the need for sustainable food production for increasing populations.”

Jean and her colleague Mandy Smith, Laboratory Technician Demonstrator, attended ‘50 years of the Rothamsted Insect Survey’ celebrations at Rothamsted Research on 29 April and received certificates recognising the huge voluntary task and contribution the College has made to understanding insect populations.