Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

April 23, 2009

Recording and Monitoring Butterflies and Moths in South West Scotland

One of the most important aspects of conservation is the recording and monitoring of our native species. Monitoring a species over time allows us to determine whether the population is declining or increasing, and also provides data on the distribution of a particular species and whether they are increasing their range or becoming extinct at previous strongholds.

Small Tortoiseshell Survey

Small Tortoiseshell Survey


There are a range of ways in which you can get involved and I’ve listed a few below.

1. Monitoring specific species of Butterfly
The branch is looking for volunteers to help with species-specific surveys targeted to some of the most threatened butterfly species in Scotland. Participating in butterfly surveys is fun, informative and very rewarding. Plus it’s a great way to see some of the
UK’s rarest species. It involves a wee bit more than just counting butterflies as we also need to know a bit about the plants which comprise the habitat and the overall condition of the site.  To help conserve the UK BAP species in Scotland which are currently under threat, we need to revisit historical sites to see if the butterfly is still there and also to identify sites where the habitat has deteriorated and is a threat to the survival of the butterfly colony. These sites can then be flagged up with Butterfly Conservation, Scottish National Heritage and LBAP partners with the aim of getting appropriate management work done to improve the condition of the sites. This survey potentially requires only a single visit to a site (although return visits can help gain more data), and therefore you can choose to visit as few or as many sites as you wish. Every piece of information you collect could be immensely useful.
Surveys for the Chequered Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Mountain Ringlet, and Northern Brown Argus are detailed on the branch website:
2. Monitoring specific sites looking for butterflies
There are two ways that volunteers can help monitor butterflies and moths at particular sites.
2a. The first is the Butterflies of the Wider Countryside Survey.
This is a research project collecting data that can be used to monitor the abundance of butterfly species across the countryside. It involves only 2 visits to a particular site, once in July and once in August, but further optional visits in May and June would provide more data. The sites are all 1 km map squares that have been chosen randomly to provide an unbiased assessment of butterfly abundance in the countryside. The methodology involves walking across your
1km square twice in as straight a line as possible counting all of the butterflies that pass near to you. You can record others that are further off your route separately, but for the study you need to only record those that come within 5m of your position as you move along the route. This survey is being tried in our branch area for the first time during 2009 after trails in England and up in the Highland branch area of Scotland.
For more information on sites to be surveyed in the branch area and more on the methodology see
2b. The second type of site-specific survey is a Butterfly Transect.
This survey monitors butterflies on a set route through a particular site over the course of the Summer. The methodology requires one visit each week between April and September. The recorder takes a note of all butterflies that pass within a
5m by 5m ‘imaginary box’ in front of them as they walk along the route. It provides a wealth or information about the butterfly population on that site and can give an early warning of population declines, as well as providing data on when species are on the wing each year. There is a network of monitored transects (normally in nature reserves or on sites where threatened species are found) that are co-ordinated by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, but anyone can set up their own independent transect in their local park or along a canal footpath where they regularly walk with support from Butterfly conservation. A group can share a transect, which helps cover holiday weeks etc. For more information see.
3. One of the easiest ways to record butterflies is to send in casual records of butterflies you see when out for a walk, or in the garden. Every sighting is useful to build a picture of the distribution and abundance of all the species throughout the country. Each record requires a few details for it to be useful: The recorders name and address, the date, the species of butterfly seen, the number seen, and the location with a grid reference. A recording form is available here at All records are passed onto the national Butterflies for the New Millennium scheme organised by Butterfly Conservation and will be used to create distribution maps that can track changes in butterfly distribution throughout the country. Every county in the UK is covered by the recording scheme, so please keep a note of any butterflies that you see when on holiday too.
A good description of how to work out a grid reference can be found here:
4. South West Scotland is home to a large number of Moth species. Moth recording is an important part of Butterfly Conservation’s work. There are many varied species of moths throughout SW Scotland and it is well worth spending the time to study them. The National Moth Recording Scheme was set up in 2007 to provide a national database for macro-moths in the UK. This is a major step forward for moth recording in the UK. The branch area contains a number of moth species that are declining, rare or extinct in other parts of the UK, with over 854 species of macro-moths recorded in the branch area so far.

Conservation work is currently underway in the branch area to preserve the habitat of endangered burnet moths on the West Coast of Scotland. However you don’t need to travel to remote areas to record moths and provide useful data. You can record moths found in your garden using a light trap or a technique called wine/sugar roping to attract passing individuals, but even records of moths that come to your kitchen window could be very useful!

The branch has a number of moth traps available for members to borrow so they can have a go at light trapping, and a number of moth trapping events are run each year where you can come along and get an idea of what it’s all about (see events page on the branch website). There is also a network of vice county moth recorders throughout the UK, who collate all of the moth records in a particular county and who would be more than willing to help you with identifications and offer advice on how to get started. There is also a Yahoo group for Scottish moth recorders where members can post details of what they’ve caught recently or ask for Id help. We are luck enough to have some fantastically knowledgeable and experienced moth recorders in Scotland willing to help beginners get started.

For more information on recording moths and details of free training courses see the Moths Count website at

Please get in touch if you’d like to take part in any of the surveys, try moth trapping or set up your own transect and the committee will be glad to help with any questions and advice. If you’d like specific training for any of the recording schemes or just want to discuss your ideas, please get in contact and we’ll do are best to help you.

Best wishes and happy recording in 2009!

Scott Shanks


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