The rate of dung-pat degradation in cattle pastures in south west England was examined between May and September 2002, using batches of standardized, 1.5 kg, artificially-formed cow pats. In pats in which insects were allowed free access, the rate of disappearance, measured as ash-free dry weight, was faster in spring than summer and the loss of organic matter ranged between 0.69 and 1.99% per day, equating to an estimated time for complete disappearance of 57–78 and 88–111 days in spring and summer, respectively. To assess the role of colonizing insects on decomposition, six batches of pats were constructed and either left uncovered or, using fine mesh cages, were covered for 2, 7 or 14 days following deposition to exclude colonizing insects, after which they were uncovered. After 35 days all pats were then retrieved from the field, the composition of the invertebrate community within each pat was determined and the degree of degradation, measured as ash-free dry weight, was assessed. Covered pats had significantly higher rates of ash-free dry weight loss than uncovered pats. From the 180 pats that were recovered and searched, larvae of Aphodius (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) were the most numerous taxon collected (1435 individuals). Aphodius larvae were significantly more abundant in pats that remained uncovered or were covered for 2 days only, compared to pats that had been covered for 7 or 14 days. The results show that the exclusion of insects for as little as two days following deposition causes a significant reduction in both the insect population and the subsequent rate of pat degradation.