Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

April 27, 2010

The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey 2010

Filed under: Butterflies — Andrew Masterman @ 8:56 pm

We are looking for volunteers to help with a national (UK) survey of butterflies during 2010.

A pilot survey had been run for a few years down south and was rolled out nationally last year. It requires each region in Britain to undertake a survey of up to 25 one kilometre squares two or three times a year during the summer. Last year we only managed to survey one third of our allocated squares and are keen to do better this year. The squares are distributed to each region by a random computer allocation, this is to give the project a scientific robustness. All squares are assessed in exactly the same way so if these squares are surveyed again in the future it will be in the same fashion, even if by a different volunteer.

Often surveys depend on individuals choosing places that are local, convenient or likely to be rewarding for finding butterflies. All good reasons for surveying, but means that other areas not so obviously appealing are overlooked. In order to overcome such a selection bias this survey has been set up to look elsewhere in a region, essentially to see what is out there.

Unfortunately this has meant that in a region like the west of Scotland some of the randomly allocated squares are in areas difficult to access. So our coverage has been less successful than elsewhere. Last year I explored two areas, one mainly a large farm and the other a hill top plantation. Neither on the face of it especially appealing, but the exploration of countryside that I would not normally visit was interesting and educational. I did see plenty of butterflies, although none were unexpected. The sighting of large numbers of Scotch Argus at the edge of the forestry plantation was rewarding. Especially as it was at the end of my final survey of the year.

The volunteers who surveyed last year area keen to examine their squares again this year, but that still leaves several squares unallocated. A minimum of two visits to each site are required, one in July and one in August, at least 10 days apart. A visit to reconnoitre the square before hand is recommended and to plan in detail the path of the survey. The organisers would like to encourage visits in May and June as well, if the volunteer is willing.

Our kilometre squares cover the area from Dumfries and Galloway to as far west as Jura and we would hope that volunteers would take on a survey of a square near to them. The vacant squares are listed at the end of this article, each is defined by OS coordinates, but I have listed approximately where they are and the type of terrain found within the square.

Briefly the survey involves walking across the square and back again in two roughly parallel lines at least 250 metres apart. The exact route will evidently depend on the terrain and access, but it does have to be described clearly and recorded in detail. My experience showed that this is a naive expectation, especially in the West of Scotland. I could have struggled in a straight line through tightly packed trees of the forestry plantation, instead I chose to keep to rides and the few open spaces. This made for a long walk, but with a friend a thermos flask of coffee we took our time and recorded plenty of butterflies. Nothing special, but we added important data to the project. Even in the middle of an extensive conifer forest Green Vein Whites abound, along with many Orange Tips. It will be fascinating to find out how they are doing after such a grim winter.

The other survey was essentially on a cattle farm. The farmer could not have been more helpful, but insisted we keep to field edges and avoid fields with cattle in them. We were happy to oblige! Consequently the trek across this kilometre square was extensive as we zig zagged around his fields, avoided his inquisitive cows and saw plenty of insects. Interestingly the butterflies seemed keen to keep close to the hedges and borders too. We counted large numbers of Green Veined Whites and Orange Tips on the first visit and plenty of Peacocks, Red Admirals, Ringlets and Meadow Browns on later visits. Like elsewhere in the UK at both sites we recorded Painted Ladies.

The method to record butterflies is the same as that used in official butterfly transects. It is really quite easy and involves recording only those butterflies (species and number) that you find or that fly into an imaginary cage 5 metres ahead of you. This ‘cage’ moves forward with you as you walk at a steady pace along the determined pathway. Once again this is very idealistic, as it is better to forget about this imaginary square when dealing with the real problems of crossing a brook, climbing over a rickety gate or avoiding frisky cows.

Butterflies that you see elsewhere are not included in the transect records, but should be separately noted. Hence there are two different recording forms that the volunteer will have to complete. Recorders are also encouraged to note day flying moths and dragon flies as well if you are confident enough to identify them. I certainly saw plenty of day flying moths and have improved my dragon fly identification skills.

There are certain weather conditions that determine when these visits can be made. Basically on a warm, sunny day when there is a minimum of wind blowing. An ideal day for butterflies and, of course, an ideal day for a walk. The exact limits and conditions are described in the detailed documents I can send out to anyone interested in volunteering.

So if you are keen then please let me know. There are plenty of species to record in the West of Scotland, but we need to have a better idea of where they are and their numbers. The data collected on a National basis in a uniform way will be a powerful source of information for Butterfly Conservation and other agencies to use in their discussions with Government (National and Local) on Biodiversity issues.


Please contact me via e mail .

A useful website about this survey is



The 11 vacant sites are as follows:-click on Map reference link to see OS map of 1 km square in top right corner.

Map reference Local place name Nearest town/place Comments Free or taken
NS1590 Summit Sligrachan hill East of Loch Eck Very rough mountainous terrain  
NY1268 Mauiscastle West of Annan Probably agricultural  
NX3153 Drumwalt North of Elrig Marsh, bog and planted forest  
NN2200 Cnoc Coinnich SE Lochgoilhead Steep mountain side  
NN2501 Coilessan burn. On Cowal Way Between Loch Goil & Loch Long Nrly all forestry, several footpaths May be taken
NN1816 Brannie burn, slopes Clachan Hill Nth Head Loch Fyne 60% forested  
NS7217 Earl Hill Nth Kirkconnel, River Nith 80% forested Felled forest, JB says unsuitable
NM8441 Balliveolan Island of Lismore Open countryside and farmland Great if you can get there
NN5520 Auchtubh Near Balquidder Farmland, forestry and boggy terrain. Mixed.  
NS3461 Kaim and Tandelmuir Lochwinnoch Farm and hills  
NS6381 Source of River Carron Campsies Forestry and hillside. Easy access from road. Nearest square to Glasgow


Written by Jo Davis


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