University researcher sets BBC’s Countryfile aglow

Television screens across the country were set aglow this morning as a University of Sussex researcher appeared on BBC One’s Countryfile, highlighting the plight of glow worms.

Craig Perl, an entomologist from the University’s School of Life Sciences, took presenter Jules Hudson on a night time walk to the top of Mount Caburn in East Sussex, to try to find the now-rare insect.

The site is one of the few remaining breeding sites for glow worms in the South East.

Craig Perl said: “They were a lot more common many years ago but we think their populations are now in decline and there’s definitely been some habitat degradation that’s happened over the past few years. We also think that light pollution can be having a really big effect on them.

“The light pollution is affecting both the males and the females.

“For the females, the setting sun is a really important cue for them to begin their glowing behaviour. If they can’t see that because it’s been swamped out by light pollution, then they don’t glow, they don’t attract a male and then they don’t mate.

“For the males it’s a bit different. They can either not find the female if she’s glowing underneath a light, perchance. Alternatively, he can be distracted by points of very, very bright light which may be more attractive to him than an actual glowing female.”

The filming took place a few weeks after a public walk led by researchers as part of National Insect Week in June. It gave experts a chance to highlight to members of the public, the threats facing the glow worm. Despite being iconic and familiar to most children, the majority of the UK are unaware of even their most basic details, such as the fact that they’re actually beetles not worms.

The Countryfile episode, broadcast on BBC One today at 9.15am, showed the use of green LED imitation females, initially devised by Dr Alan Stewart from the University of Sussex, to prove the effect of artificial light on the glow worms.

The research project on glow worms is led by Dr Jeremy Niven and Dr Alan Stewart, and funded by the Research Development Fund at Sussex.

You can watch the episode again on the BBC iPlayer website.

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