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Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey

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News:

The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) will be running in 2014, as a collaborative project with BTO and CEH. Many thanks to all of you who took part and helped to encourage participation in the WCBS. Last year 857 random 1km squares were covered by over 700 recorders - a fabulous achievement and an 11% increase in coverage compared to 2012.

The 2013 WCBS newsletter is now available in pdf format (512 KB).

New recorders are very welcome and there are still squares available so let's try and hit our 1000 square target this year. The survey is co-ordinated separately by the BTO and Butterfly Conservation, although the method is exactly the same. The Insect Flower Search Pilot will not be happening this year. Here's how to take part:

Butterfly Conservation recorders
If you surveyed a Butterfly Conservation WCBS square (not a BTO BBS square) and wish to continue with the survey, then please download forms and instructions from the bottom of the page or contact the WCBS co-ordinator via email survey@butterfly-conservation.org or phone 01929 406006 to receive information in the post or to receive a copy of your route map.

If you wish to start the survey on a new square this year then please get in touch with the WCBS co-ordinator to be allocated a random square close to your home.

BTO Breeding Bird Survey recorders
If you already take part in the BTO BBS and if you are continuing the survey from last year then you will receive details from the BTO in May.

If you are a BTO BBS recorder and wish to start the survey this year then please contact bbs@bto.org to register and take part.

Background

Photo of Small Copper butterfly

The Small Copper – one of a number
of wider countryside species
in decline

Through the UKBMS project, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology have developed a method for a new monitoring scheme that aims to more effectively monitor the changing abundance of widespread butterfly species across the general countryside.

This new scheme runs in parallel with UKBMS transect monitoring, which is very effective at monitoring habitat specialist butterflies and lowland semi-natural habitats, and the BNM project which acts as the main source of information on where butterflies live.

BTO Logo

Wider countryside monitoring is organised in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

If you have JavaScript enabled in your web browser, clicking on one of the section titles below will show that piece of information. However, you can also chose to Show All the sections, or even Hide All, if you so wish.

Photo of a grassy field

New monitoring is required, to more
accurately assess the changing
abundance of butterflies in lowland
pasture and other widespread
habitats.

Strong emphasis has been placed on making sure that the WCBS is both scientifically sound (by sampling of the countryside through random sampling) and efficient (a scheme with fewer visits to account for the fact that butterfly species are now uncommon across much of the general countryside).

Through consulting widely in 2005/6 and successful pilot years in 2007/8, the method we have come up with is based on the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (the ‘BBS’), counting along two parallel 1-km long transects subdivided into 10 sections, located within randomly selected 1-km squares.  The differences being that butterflies are counted in a more restricted area than for birds and at different times of the day. Only 2-4 visits are required compared to 26 on transects.

Photo of apeople surveying

Over 250 volunteers took part in the
pilot studies in 2007

Map of site locations

310 squares surveyed in 2007 by BC (green circles)
and BTO (blue squares) recorders

Good coverage was achieved across Great Britain with 310 squares surveyed. In total 181 BBS squares were surveyed by 165 recorders, nearly double the prediction, and only 33 squares received just one visit.  99 squares were surveyed by 86 recorders in the four selected Butterfly Conservation Branches (Highland, Norfolk, South Wales, Somerset and Bristol) with a further 30 completed by staff (total= 129). 50 squares were visited during May-June to pick up early flying species. The majority of squares were in England (258) followed by Wales (31), Scotland (20) and one square in Northern Ireland.

In spite of the poor weather 42 butterfly species were seen across the UK, including nearly all of the target wider countryside species (excluding the White-letter Hairstreak), plus a good range of migrants and rarer species such as the Large Heath and White Admiral. On average nearly 100 butterflies and ten species were seen per square based on two summer visits, showing that taking part in this survey in the future should produce a good diversity of butterflies for recorders. There were, however, 15 squares where the recorder saw no butterflies on single visits, although at the other extreme one recorder in Kent counted a staggering 672 butterflies on one visit.  The most species rich squares were in Norfolk and Somerset both with 15 species recorded on single visits. Of particular interest were the high occupancy rates (percentage squares occupied)  of the Small Heath (20%) and the Wall Brown (5%) which are UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species in decline. It wasn’t just butterflies that caught recorder’s eyes - dragonflies were recorded on more than 50% of squares and day-flying moths were recorded on a quarter of squares.

Wider countryside field testing was repeated in 2008 to further refine field methods and to compare abundance and occupancy (number of squares occupied) in common species between 2007 and 2008 a) within wider countryside squares and b) in comparison to transects.

All recorders that took part in 2007 were invited to take part again in 2008. 192 squares were surveyed in 2008- 62% of last year's total (310). The 38% decrease in uptake was mainly due to very unsettled weather in 2008 and uncertainties over the roll out.

On average 11 species and 104 individuals were seen per square based on 2 summer visits, which is the same as 2007 (10 species and 95 individuals). In total 40 species were recorded in 2008 with 5 species lost compared to 2007 and 3 species gained, all of which are habitat specialists recorded in low numbers. Two key target species of the WCBS are the Small Copper and the Small Heath, both of which increased in abundance and in the number of squares occupied in 2008. The decline in the Small Tortoiseshell was detected using the new method, with 17% fewer squares occupied in 2008. Overall the occupancy figures were relatively stable which is to be expected over a short time scale and provides evidence that the method is robust.

Map of WCBS square locations

Location of the WCBS squares-
360 BTO BBS squares (blue) and
403 Butterfly Conservation squares (green)

Following four years of pilot studies, the WCBS was formally launched in 2009. The WCBS is the first UK-wide survey of butterfly abundance based on random sampling. In spite of limited resources for promotion, there was a fantastic response by volunteer recorders. In total 1642 visits were made to 763 1-km squares (see map) by 611 recorders, who collectively walked 3300 km of survey line, counting 119,000 butterflies of 47 species.

The full feedback newsletter can be downloaded here.

The most widely recorded species over the core July and August period was the Large White, occurring in nearly 90% of squares, whilst the most abundant species was the Meadow Brown with approximately 15,000 individuals counted. Two Browns (Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper) and three Whites (Large White, Small White, Green-veined White) accounted for two thirds of all butterflies counted.

On average, recorders saw 11 species and 160 butterflies per square (based on two visits). This represents a marked increase in numbers from the pilot study years, when around 100 butterflies were seen in the same period. This increase could be due to a good year for migrant species such as the Painted Lady which was present in 83% of squares and ranked 4th in total abundance compared to 2008 when it ranked 26th and also Large White which jumped three places to 1st position in 2009. Encouragingly the Small Copper, a species of intermediate range and abundance, was seen in over a quarter of squares and moved five places up the table to become the 14th most commonly seen species.

Looking back to 2008, butterfly numbers are up by nearly a third and 1-2 more species were seen per visit. With three years of data from 2007-2009 we will be able to look at changes in butterfly abundance in the wider countryside and the possible reasons for change.

The Insect Flower Search Pilot study was very successful with around a third of recorders taking part. The Common Carder Bumblebee was the most widespread species and the Marmalade Hoverfly was the most abundant. The pilot study will not be continuing in 2010 but it shows that recorders are keen to look for other insects in the countryside.

Map of WCBS square locations

Location of the WCBS squares-
276 BTO BBS squares (blue)
362 Butterfly Conservation squares (green)
85 Contract (yellow)

The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) is the main scheme for monitoring population changes of the UK's common and widespread butterflies. The survey is a partnership project run jointly by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). We now have five years of data (including the pilot years of 2007 and 2008) from the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS). In 2011, 723 squares were surveyed by 523 recorders who counted in excess of 67,000 butterflies of 45 species. This is a fantastic recording effort and we wish to thank everyone who took part.

The newsletter of the 2011 results can be downloaded here.

On average recorders saw 47 butterflies of seven species per survey made over July and August compared to 60 butterflies of 7 species per survey in 2010. These data support anecdotal observations that 2011 was a relatively poor year for common and widespread butterflies. Almost two-thirds of the butterflies seen comprised of Meadow Brown, Small White, Green-veined White, Large White and Gatekeeper. The most widespread (and abundant) species was the Meadow Brown occurring in over 80% of squares.

Due to a grant from Scottish Natural Heritage coverage was boosted in Scotland, giving more representative coverage for a number of northerly distributed species including Scotch Argus. The Essex Skipper had a good year as did the Red Admiral. However, it wasn't all good news; both the Small Tortoiseshell and Common Blue had poor years.

Participants once again recorded day-flying moths in 146 squares, Silver-Y was the most widespread species and Six-spot Burnet was the most abundant. Dragonflies and damselflies were recorded in 222 squares Common Darter was the most widespread and abundant species for the third year running.

Map of WCBS square locations

Location of the WCBS squares-
334 BTO BBS squares (blue)
437 Butterfly Conservation squares (pink)

The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) is the main scheme for monitoring population changes of the UK's common and widespread butterflies. The survey is a partnership project run jointly by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). We now have six years of data (including the pilot years of 2007 and 2008) from the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS). In 2012, 771 squares were surveyed by 648 recorders who counted in excess of 64,000 butterflies of 46 species. This is a fantastic recording effort and we wish to thank everyone who took part.

The newsletter of the 2012 results can be downloaded here.

It was a good year for some of the grass-feeding Satyrid (Brown) species. For the fourth consecutive year Meadow Brown was the most abundant butterfly with 18,629 individuals counted. It was also the most wide spread species occurring in almost 90% of squares. Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small White, Ringlet and Green-veined white accounted for over two-thirds of butterflies observed.

For the majority of species it was a poor year – the worst in a four year series. There has been a year-on-year decline in mean butterfly abundance in each year of the WCBS. On average, recorders saw 44 butterflies of four species per survey made over July and August compared to 80 butterflies of 8 species per survey in 2009.

Participants once again recorded day-flying moths in 222 squares, Silver-Y was the most widespread and abundant species. Dragonflies and damselflies were recorded in 259 squares; Common Blue Damselfly was the most abundant species and Common Hawker the most widespread species.

Map of WCBS square locations

Location of the WCBS squares-
374 BTO BBS squares (blue)
483 Butterfly Conservation squares (pink)

The WCBS is the most comprehensive UK-wide survey of insect abundance to use a robust random sampling framework and is important in assessing the changing status of butterfly species in the wider countryside and in providing an indicator of the health of nature. The scheme is run as a partnership between Butterfly Conservation (BC), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), co-funded by a multi-agency consortium led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

We now have seven years of data (including the pilot years of 2007 and 2008) from the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS). In 2013, 857 squares were surveyed by more than 700 recorders who counted in excess of 140,000 butterflies of 45 species. This is a fantastic recording effort and we wish to thank everyone who took part.

The newsletter of the 2013 results can be downloaded here.

A simple analysis of yearly totals indicated that the vast majority of butterflies fared better than in 2012. Last year recorders saw an average of 85 butterflies of five species per survey made over July and August – almost double the numbers recorded in 2012.

The Small Tortoiseshell, which has suffered an ongoing decline, recorded its best summer since the start of WCBS. More than 6,833 individuals were counted with the butterfly seen in 80% of squares compared to just 40% in 2012. Following an appalling 2012, the Common Blue also enjoyed a good year with an average five-fold increase in abundance per-square. The Small Copper and Brimstone also thrived – and were both more widespread and abundant than in the previous year. The Large White and Small White, commonly known as the ‘cabbage whites’ were also recorded in profusion with more than twice the number of Large Whites counted per square and five times the number of Small Whites in 2013 than in 2012. For the fifth year in succession the Meadow Brown was the most widespread and abundant species. The butterfly was recorded in more than 90% of squares with 8,000 more butterflies counted in 2013 than 2012. The Holly Blue and Red Admiral were among the minority of species that didn’t have such a good year with numbers down for both compared to 2012. Participants once again recorded day-flying moths in 304 squares, Silver-Y was the most widespread and abundant species. Dragonflies and damselflies were recorded in 323 squares; Common Blue Damselfly was the most abundant species and Common Darter the most widespread species.

To take part in the WCBS please contact the WCBS co-ordinator:

Dr Zoë Randle

Butterfly Conservation
Manor Yard
East Lulworth
Wareham
Dorset
BH20 5QP

Tel: 01929 406006
Email: survey@butterfly-conservation.org

To take part on an existing BTO BBS square please contact the BBS National Organiser:

Kate Risely

BTO
The Nunnery
Thetford
Norfolk
IP24 2PU

Tel: 01842 750050
Email: bbs@bto.org

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