AS many of you already know I have spent part of the summer studying house martin. This incredible little bird winters in central and west Africa, secretly above the rainforest canopy and then in late February starts its 3,500 mile journey north to spend the summer in the UK. Superficially they look much like swallow-with a dashing rapid flight, slate-blue back and white underparts.

But they lack the swallow’s tail streamers and have a very distinctive white patch on their lower backs which can be easily seen in flight.

Their decline across Hampshire and indeed much of the UK has been dramatic. With entire towns and villages failing to report any breeding records at all this year. House martin are colonial breeders and like to spend time in close proximity to each-other. They build mud nests, which when mixed with an enzyme in their saliva, dry rock hard. But the number of nests continues to decline.

In a previous article I talked about the lack of nest sites and peoples dislike of their droppings as a reason to clear the nests…but the summer survey has suggested something else is going on.

Just last week I was in Galloway asking visitors to a number of country estates if they recognised a photo of a house martin.

Over 70 per cent didn’t recognise it; with many saying they though it was a swallow and others suggesting wood pigeon, cuckoo, osprey and even puffin.

They didn’t recognise it because it was no longer a common bird in their area-and that is a trend reflected in interviews down here as well.

So what is happening?

Well the biggest clue came from one of the interviewees who said he had travelled in hot sunny weather from Southampton to Norwich and when he got out of his car, there was not one single dead insect on the windscreen. He remembered back to a similar drive in 1978, when he spent half an hour on arrival, scraping off the numerous bugs that had found themselves squashed on the glass or splatted over the headlights.

A Romsey friend also pointed out that his buddleia which twenty years ago would have been carpeted in butterflies in July and August, produced just a handful of red admiral, the odd white and a few peacock.

In a single generation we have indeed lost huge numbers of insects. That might be good news for car drivers; but it is terrible news for our insect eating birds. Without their primary food source, species like house martin are having to travel greater distances in search of food-and the waste of energy searching for scarce food supplies will often prove costly for young and hungry birds.

So what can you do?

The best action you can take here is Hampshire is to create new habitat for insects.

That means planting wild flowers; allowing your grass to grow long; building a bug house in a sunny location; retaining some dead rotting wood; creating log piles and putting in a wildlife pond. Nature loves places to look a bit scruffy around the edges. Sadly human beings prefer neat and tidy. So inevitably there needs to be a compromise…where we agree to leave at least one patch of our garden for nature and tidy up the rest if we have to.

In a country where there is less and less green space for either wildlife or recreation; our gardens have become the last bastion for insects that are in rapid decline and in turn they provide a place for food for many of our dwindling migrants.

If you have any creative ideas on how we can help insects locally, then don’t hesitate to contact the newspaper with your best ideas!