The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey and Butterfly Recorders’ Meeting

As I previously mentioned, I was asked to talk about the WCBS at the recent National Butterfly Recorders’ Meeting.  This was a nerve-wracking moment as I don’t do a lot of public speaking and there was a room full of butterfly greats there – Matthew Oates really should have his own accompanying drum roll.  However, I did managed ten minutes with virtually nothing included about butterflies; for me it was about the people who do the surveys.

I started co-ordinating the butterfly survey for Beds and Northants 3 years ago, and inherited 10 surveyed 1km squares which is not very many in an area of 3000 km2.  It had been higher, but the previous co-ordinator had gone off chasing swallowtails in Norfolk (and he did three of the squares).  We are now regularly surveying over 20 sites (over 30 if you include those from the BTO).

My presentation was about how we had increased to more than 20 squares and, with the help of some volunteers from the BTO, had amassed records of nearly 35,000 butterflies (more details on the actual butterflies in another post).

I’ve tried various ways of upping the numbers: Twitter, the local wildlife trust, and local wildlife groups, but only some have had any affect.  Maybe I am targeting the wrong people.  I had a bit of luck at the local AGM – after all these are people who like butterflies enough to spend a Saturday afternoon at a meeting, and I will try this again this year.  I’m also going to try and target local areas with a lot of empty squares and see if we can get some of them covered as well as talking to the local agricultural college and university.

It really is a nice survey to do and is seen as one of the best scientific surveys that Butterfly Conservation carry out – mainly due to the random allocation of the squares.  It also targets the more common butterflies as it is carried out in July and August – just two visits on a sunny afternoon are required so it isn’t a massive time commitment.

I get a lot of good feedback from volunteers about the survey – some really do love it and look forward to it each year.  The question is – how do I persuade more people to come and do their bit for butterflies and for citizen science?  Answers on a postcard please…

The National Butterfly Recorders’ Meeting

Every year Butterfly Conservation hold a Recorders’ meeting in Birmingham, this year I was asked to talk to the Recorders (more on this in a later post), so I went along for just the second time.  It is a day with a wide and varied schedule of talks and one that is open to anyone with an interest in butterflies.  These are the highlights of just some of the talks, but there were others scattered in between (although I admit to losing the plot with the talk about butterflies and nitrogen – too statistical for me) so plenty for everyone.

The day opened with a talk by the always interesting Richard Fox who gave highlights of 2014 in terms of butterflies – prior to the full results that were saved until the end of the day.  The year was dominated by tortoiseshells.  The familiar small tortoiseshell continued its recovery from its precipitous decline earlier in the decade (something that I think has been reflected in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire) but the real star was the influx of the Scarce Tortoiseshell from the continent.  Prior to 2014 there were only 2 records – last year there were 19 (and some have been seen this year already).

Zoe Randle spoke about the importance and use of Citizen Science for conservation.  It was so useful to know that the data that volunteers submit through the various schemes run by Butterfly Conservation is put to use with 170 peer reviewed papers making use of the data – papers that have been cited 7,000 times.

A local highlight was the work done in Northamptonshire to try and reverse the decline of the Wood White.  This is a three year project that has just come to an end having been funded mainly through the SITA landfill grants but also receiving money from the local Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire Butterfly Conservation group.  Through working with the Forestry Commission to clear the rides through the woods and uncover the ditches running alongside these rides they have increased the number of wood whites seen for less than a dozen in 2009 to over 150 in 2013 and over 250 in 2o14.  The challenge is now on to keep this going now the official project is over and to replicate it elsewhere.

It it always a pleasure to hear Matthew Oates talking, this time about how the National Trust is prioritising the work it is doing on its land to improve the environment- particularly its farmland.

One of the more scientific talks of the day was from Bristol University researcher – Jon Bridle, who has been investigating whether the Brown Argus, a butterfly that has increased its distribution, possibly due to changing climate, has done so because of any evolutionary changes.  The work focused on the chosen food plant of the butterfly as in two areas of the UK where it had an established presence it had two different food plants – geranium molle and rock rose.  It appears that in the new areas they use exclusively the geranium on which to lay their eggs – those moved to areas with just rock rose didn’t lay at all.  However, when butterflies in areas of rock rose were moved to the new areas they were just as happy, if not happier using the geranium.  Interesting don’t you think.

The final talk gave details of the results of the various butterfly recording schemes for the last year – with the winners and losers described.  However, they will be doing a press release later in the week, so if I told you the results now I’d have to kill you.  Best keep them to myself.