Ten Years of Butterfly monitoring at Teifi Marshes and Coed Maidie

It started at Teifi Marshes in 1999. I suddenly found myself with time to use entirely for myself. What to do. Beyond the age where I might be paid for work lessened the search. I didn’t fancy working in charity shops- needed something more active. So a visit to the recently opened Teifi Marshes to offer my voluntary services. My qualifications suggested some sort of survey work. Flowers and birds were already covered and butterflies were suggested. I couldn’t believe my luck and the chance to survey the park to see what was there. Recording forms and a rough idea of how to set up a walk to do this was given to me.

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly

The Transect (walk) chosen went through different habitats. Wet meadows, a disused car park, a dry meadow, calcareous waste on the site of old slate quarries, wooded paths and paths near the river and marshes.

1999 was used as a trial to get used to identifying butterflies while walking at a steady pace. Some butterflies were netted to check identities and to note features which enable quick identification. The wet meadows were fairly dry so the problem of finding oneself stuck on one leg in bog steadily sinking while the second wellington was a good pace away, also stuck, didn’t occur until the next spring. This occurred frequently in wet years and I soon learned to wear very old clothes and take a walking stick. The warden promised to come and look for me if my car was still there after six o’clock in the evening. Butterfly counting takes place between 10.45 and 15.45!

2000 and counting the different species and recording them started in earnest. I used Excel’s spread sheet for initial records. The same transect was walked, if weather allowed, every week between the April 1st and September 30th. Counts are done under strict conditions, above given temperatures and below given wind speeds as well as between given times. In 2002 Coed Maidie was added to the survey. It was not such a big site with fewer habitats and on the other side of the river Teify. It was a good check on species I was seeing at Teifi Marshes, was one species increasing or declining at one site and not the other etc.

Around this time Butterfly Conservation offered their soft wear in exchange for my results. This meant that records from this part of West Wales could be added to a national database and could be seen and used by researchers over the British Isles and elsewhere. A symposium at Reading University a couple of years ago confirmed this as speaker after speaker thanked recorders without whom their work would have been impossible. Recording is time consuming and therefore expensive for salaried staff though many envy us the opportunity to carry out surveys. Fitting my results on Excel into Butterfly Conservations system was quite a problem, checking and rechecking for accuracy nearly drove me to drink.

Butterflies have been adopted by government as an indicator species to the health of our environment. They are sensitive to changes in weather. They are unable to fly in wet or cold weather and are often seen warming themselves on wood early in the morning; they take shelter at the first hint of rain. They are attractive and easy to identify.

Do we have a perfect system for counting butterflies, no; it is still being developed a new more rigorous system is being run alongside of the current one. Has all this time and effort been wasted. No, more people are now aware of the need for conservation at a time when this small island is under pressure for housing and transport and food. We need to take care of what is available. Butterflies and other insects help feed the nation by fertilising our crops. No artificial fertilisation is available for crops. Butterflies can roughly be divided into three groups, generalists, these move around easily and are not fussy about food or habitat; specialists who require limited conditions to survive and live in isolated pockets separated by unfavourable habitats. They are vulnerable to sudden change such as new building or agricultural methods and thirdly immigrants. Generalist seems to be surviving, it is the specialist who requires special attention and there have been some successes in halting decline in some species. It is important to check that a generalist species does not join the specialists by destroying its feeding and shelter.

Thanks to Mike Snow who kept my records safely during the many changes in staff and office during these ten years.