Recording Butterflies

There are 36 butterfly species resident in Bedfordshire and a further two species arrive regularly each year as migrants. With a bit of planning and travelling around the county it is usually possible to see them all within one season.
Why Record?

You may find that your interest and understanding will increase if you record the butterflies you see. If you then submit your records to the Joint County Recorders your observations will be pooled with those of others to build up the picture of what our butterflies are up to. As an example these web-pages are the result of over 233,917 such observations and couldn't have been produced without them!

Butterflies are sensitive indicators of the health of the countryside and recording them is helpful for advising wildlife conservation in general.

As development pressures impinge on our countryside it is important to know where our most vulnerable wildlife live and where the most precious habitats remain. Providing a centralised source of accessible information is an vital part of informing the planning and conservation processes. By passing records of wildlife to County Recorders (not just of butterflies, but for all wildlife) these can become available to the conservation organizations that need to know and can act on wildlife's behalf.

What is a Record?

A comprehensive record would contain all of the following items about an observation:
  • Date
  • Species
  • Quantity seen
  • Stage/sex (i.e. Adult, Male, Female, Pair, Egg, Caterpillar, Chrysalis)
  • Location description
  • Grid Reference
  • Observer name(s)
  • Comment - anything notable about the observation. (Optional if nothing special about it).

An easy way to record on paper in the field is to write down the date, location description and its 1km grid square at the top, then use an abbreviation for the common name of each species encountered and "five-barred gates" to count observations as you go, e.g. "RA |||" would mean three Red Admirals seen. You can then make extra notes if you see caterpillars, or mating pairs, or precise location details of any rare species you find, etc.

If you are unsure of an identification it is better not to record it than to guess, as this could result in an incorrect record. However, if you can take a photo or write down a good description of the butterfly we will be happy to try to identify it for you.
Grid References

It is sufficient for most species to record just the 4-figure number for the 1km square in which the observation was made, e.g. TL1245. For sites that straddle 1km square boundaries (e.g. Chicksands Wood) please record each 1km square separately if possible.

For rarer species a 6-figure grid reference should be recorded if possible to indicate the 100m square of the sighting.

Do not use Tetrads. (If you don't know what a Tetrad is, don't worry, it's an old-fashioned way of recording that isn't very precise).

Which Species should be Recorded?

Records of all species are valuable, even common ones. Butterfly distribution, abundance and flight-times change over time, so having a good set of records for all species and locations throughout the season is a good way to pick up trends, so please report everything you see.
If you see any of the species marked for Immediate notification, please contact Peter or Keith as soon as possible so that they can be followed-up while the species is still in season.

Species 6-figure (100m)
grid reference
Dingy Skipper Yes 
Grizzled Skipper Yes 
Small Skipper  
Essex Skipper  
Large Skipper  
Orange Tip  
Large White  
Small White  
Green-veined White  
Clouded Yellow  
Wall Brown YesYes
Speckled Wood  
Small Heath  
Meadow Brown  
Marbled White  
Silver-washed Fritillary  
Dark Green Fritillary  
White Admiral  
Purple Emperor Yes
Red Admiral  
Painted Lady  
Small Tortoiseshell  
Duke of Burgundy YesYes
Small Copper  
Purple Hairstreak Yes 
Green Hairstreak Yes 
White-letter Hairstreak Yes 
Black Hairstreak YesYes
Small Blue Yes 
Holly Blue  
Brown Argus  
Common Blue  
Chalkhill Blue  
Anything else! YesYes

* 4-figure (1km) grid references are sufficient resolution for species not marked with "Yes".
When and Where to Record

If you visit a site in mid-May, mid-June and mid-July then you are likely to find most of the species that are resident there. This can help discover unknown colonies and check on the health of known colonies.

There are many areas of the county for which we have few records and recording these at any time in the season may lead to interesting discoveries.

Recording throughout the year will also pick-up first and last flight times, as well as abundance, which are useful for seeing how global warming may be affecting species.

HERE is a chart that can be used as a guide to when each species may be found in flight.


If you really get the recording bug and want to record a particular site throughout the year, you could consider doing a transect. This is a regular route walked weekly from the start of April to the end of September, and therefore requires dedication and/or a group of enthusiasts to share the workload. Monitoring a nature reserve in this way year after year can be very helpful to the conservation organization that manages it as butterflies are a good indicator of the health of the habitat. If you would like to start to do a transect it would be best to discuss the approach with Keith or Peter first.
Submitting Records

Records should be sent to the joint County Recorders, ideally before the end of November. Send them either to Peter or Keith, it doesn't matter which, but by preference if your records are on paper please send them to Peter, or if they are in an electronic format, send them to Keith.

Records can now also be submitted on-line HERE.

If you are able to submit records on a spreadsheet please do so. With about 12,000 records to process each year this really does help us! (Please use a separate column for each of the items to be recorded, and a new row for each record). A pre-formatted spreadsheet is available HERE for use.

If however you wish to submit records on paper, please do so - they are all welcome.

Keith Balmer
6 Salcombe Close
MK40 3BA
Tel: 01234 304741
Peter Glenister
2 Sutton Gardens,
Tel: 01582 524994

Enjoy Butterflies!

Butterflies should be enjoyed, so don't feel obliged to record if you don't want to!