Wednesday, 19 February 2014

UK Butterfly monitoring – explaining the schemes and surveys

There’s been lots of coverage today of a new set of data on UK butterfly numbers. You may have seen headlines such as “Farmland butterflies bounce” back and “British farmland butterflies bounce back after 2013 summer, survey finds”.

The reports are based on a new release of data which was collected in 2013 as part of the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS).

The WCBS is run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).

As today’s press release from Butterfly Conservation states The annual survey (WCBS), running since 2009, counts butterflies in more than 850 randomly selected 1km-squares across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to assess the health of butterfly populations across the wider countryside rather than at specially managed hotspots such as nature reserves.” 

Common blue (photo by Ross Newham)

WCBS is part of the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme (UKBMS), which has been running since 1976, and has a remit to monitors changes in the abundance of butterflies throughout the United Kingdom since 1976. Regular readers of this blog will already know how UKBMS data contributes to some of the biodiversity indicators which inform UK environmental policy making.

For those confused by the multiple butterfly surveys and schemes operated in the UK the following details may help.

  • Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, running since 2009, aims to more effectively monitor the changing abundance of widespread butterfly species across the general countryside.
  • United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme, running since 1976, is very effective at monitoring habitat specialist butterflies and lowland semi-natural habitats.

According to the UKBMS website, in the 37 years the scheme has operated, "Recorders have made around a quarter of a million weekly visits to more than 1,500 separate sites, walking over half a million kilometres and counting over 16.4 million butterflies! 

The UKBMS 2013 results should be out in a few weeks time. The 2012 results were published on 26 March 2013.

All the butterfly surveys, as well as the majority of wildlife recording in the UK, principally rely on the efforts of volunteers so I’ll leave the last word to Kate Risely. Kate co-ordinates the Breeding Bird Survey butterfly surveyors at the BTO. She commented earlier, "These results demonstrate the value of large scale volunteer surveys for monitoring country-wide trends in butterfly numbers. Recording butterflies and birds at the same sites gives us a unique insight into the health of our countryside.”

Barnaby Smith, Media Relations Manager, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Update 20 February 2013

Links to CEH news stories about the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey

2013 results Farmland butterflies thrived in 2013
2012 results Grass-feeding butterflies defy 2012 deluge
2011 results Small Tortoiseshell decline highlighted in new study

Links to CEH news stories about the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme

The 2013 results will be published in a few weeks
2012 results Washout 2012 was the worst year for UK butterflies on record
2011 results Record-breaking 2011 Spring helped some of the UK's rarer butterflies
2010 results Rare butterflies show signs of recovery
2009 results Fears grow for some of Britain's rarest butterflies
2008 results UK butterfly numbers fall to new low
2007 results Butterflies at record low after wet summer of 2007

United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme data and results

Key findings including annual, 10-year and long-term (series) trends for 56 species
Reports and publications
Obtaining data

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