Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

August 16, 2010

Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey Results for three Breeding Bird Survey Squares

Filed under: Butterflies — Andrew Masterman @ 8:48 pm

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)  is the British Trust for Ornithology’s flagship bird survey and has been running since 1994. The BBS is a line-transect survey based on randomly selected 1 km squares. It has been very effective in monitoring UK bird populations and has shown changes over time and regional differences. For example, declines in starling populations have been detected all over the UK whereas willow warblers have declined in England but increased a little in Scotland over the 1994-2009 period.

While the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) has been very effective at monitoring populations trends of both rare and common butterflies, these transects are mostly at sites which are good for butterflies and are therefore biased. To get data on butterflies in the wider countryside, the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) was rolled out in 2009. And WCBS is based on the BBS transect methodology and used the same random selection of 1 km squares to get an unbiased (in contrast to UKBMS) survey in the wider countryside.

In 2009, there was a dual approach with some 20 random selected 1 km squares being allocated to each Butterfly Conservation branch area and bird recorders who participate in BBS were also invited to re-visit their squares for butterflies in the summer.

This article is about the WCBS results from three BBS squares in 2010 which I survey for birds.

NS5057 is at Springhill just south of Barrhead in Renfrewshire and in terms of birds has the greatest number of species with a peak of 42 species recorded in 2006. The rarer species recorded there include lapwing (in 2006), sedge warbler, dipper, yellowhammer and whitethroat.  

Is it logical to expect the 1 km square with the greatest number of bird species to have the greatest number of butterfly species? As intensive farming is thought to reduce biodiversity in general, then yes, this would be a logical expectation.

NS5057 is quite rural and the land use is unimproved grassland which is grazed by cattle, sheep or horses or allowed to grow and is cut in mid-summer and some other fields don’t appear to be subject to any management. There are also a few areas of woodland.

Butterfly Results for NS5057

Species 26-Jun-10 13-Jul-10 07-Aug-10
Green-veined White 1 0 9
Meadow Brown 39 16 0
Ringlet 10 2 0
Common Blue 3 0 0
Peacock 0 0 1


So NS5057 had a total of 81 butterflies of five species recorded over the three visits.

NS4060 is at Howwood near Johnstone, Renfrewshire and is another quite rural 1 km square although in this case there are some barley fields and the first half of the transect runs through three improved pastures which are cut during mid-summer. The second half of the transect is quite varied with some wild grassy areas, unimproved pastures lightly grazed and a area of houses with waste ground. From ornithological point of view, this square has a species which has declined dramatically in recent decades owing to modern farming methods: the Grey Partridge.

Butterfly Results for NS4060

Species 02-Jul-10 22-Jul-10 15-Aug-10
Green-veined White 1 12 2
Meadow Brown 9 4 1
Ringlet 1 1 0
Small Copper 0 0 3
Peacock 0 0 6

So NS4060 had a total of 40 butterflies of five species recorded over the three visits.

The Small Copper below was one of two basking on an area of dried mud at a gate separating two fields. For most of the year, this gate area is a mud bath but in summer, it can dry out to form warm basking areas for Small Copper.  This is one example of how grazing animals can favour butterflies although often it is not just the creation of bare araes for basking but also the creation of disturbed soil which provides suitable ground for the larval foodplant to grow in.

Small Copper at Howwood 15 August 2010

Small Copper at Howwood 15 August 2010


NS6153 is the most urban of the three squares and is located at East Kilbride, Lanarkshire although parts of the transect are somewhat rural. Since 2004, there has been a significant land use change in this more rural area with conifer plantations being felled to give way to an area of birch scrub regeneration. This led to Goldcrest disappearing from this area and Whitethroat appearing together with more Willow Warbler.

Butterfly Results for NS6153

Species 03-Jul-10 29-Jul-10 15-Aug-10
Green-veined White 0 15 12
Meadow Brown 1 1 0
Small White 0 2 3
Small Tortoiseshell 0 7 3

So NS6153 had a total of 44 butterflies of four species recorded over the three visits.

Small White was present in this more urban square which is expected as Small White (and Large White) is associated with brassica growing which is more common in areas where people live. The Small Tortoiseshell were found nectaring on flowers along a stream on the transect.

The results show that the two more rural squares, NS5057 and NS4060,  had a greater number of species, five, compared with the more urban square, NS6153, four. In terms of total butterfly numbers, NS5057 had the greatest number of 81 while the more urban square, NS6153 unexpectedly came second with 44.

As someone who is intimate with these squares so to speak as a result of bird surveying in them twice a year, I was surprised by how many butterflies were present. This was particularly true of the urban square, NS6153, at East Kilbride which I expected to be a wasted effort.

It is possible that Meadow Brown and Ringlet were more numerous this year, especially in NS5057,  as the cold winter followed by the dry spring delayed grass growth significantly. The first visit occurred when many of the grass fields had not been cut and in most years, a cut may well have been made by late June/early July. Far fewer Meadow Brown were encountered during the second visit when some of the fields had been cut.

Overall, this exercise has been very successful in detecting common butterfly species in the wider countryside: green-veined white; meadow brown; and ringlet. The more interesting species were:

1)  common blue in a field grazed by horses in NS5057 which supported the foodplant, bird’s foot trefoil.  

2) small copper in unimproved pasture at NS4060 on bare ground created by livestock at a gate.

Written by Andrew Masterman

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