The UKBMS 40th Anniversary Symposium Report

The UKBMS 40th Anniversary Symposium

On Saturday, November 12th I attended this meeting at CEH Wallingford, after a rather tediously wet journey from King’s Lynn.  I met up with several people whom I knew from Monk’s Wood where I worked for a while as a volunteer before it closed, and Jeremy Thomas whom I was at school with.

As is usual at these occasions the various talks did not disappoint.

The first was by Ernie Pollard who instigated the UKBMS at Monk’s Wood in 1973.  After various trials the scheme was rolled out with 34 sites in 1976.  By then it had become apparent that they had hit upon a scheme which was simple enough for volunteers to carry out but was powerful enough to provide accurate and consistent information, not previously available, which was an excellent way of monitoring our insect fauna.  

Tom Brereton took up the story from there.  During the 80’s and 90’s BC became increasingly involved and in 2005 their scheme was fully integrated with the UKBMS.  In 2009 the WCBS was launched.  The enormous data set which has resulted today, with 2436 sites being monitored, is now fully respected by the scientific community and has influenced conservation policy at government level, agri-environment schemes and our response to climate change.

The next talk, by Keith Porter, elaborated on these ideas, pointing out our successes, highlighting the importance of SSSIs and the fact that several species might now be extinct in Britain had it not been for this work.  We now need to give the same attention to common and widespread species as we have to the habitat-specialists. 

After an excellent buffet lunch, Marc Botham, of CEH Wallingford, told us how phenology has already been considerably affected by climate change during the lifetime of the UKBMS.  

Tom Oliver highlighted the effect of droughts on butterfly populations.   Generally, populations suffer during droughts but recover at varying rates depending on the species and other factors.  If the recovery rate is too slow to have restored the population before the next drought, it will be at risk of a terminal decline.  Droughts are now increasing in frequency and severity, the classic case being the summer of 1976, which may have been a tipping point for some species.  

Chris Thomas (brother of Jeremy) talked eloquently, elaborating on butterflies’ response to climate change, and pointing out how complicated the situation is.  

After a tea break, Jeremy Thomas, also an architect of the UKMBS, talked about the contribution of UKBMS to conservation.  In particular, with reference to grazing and sward height, of crucial concern to his iconic work on the large blue.

Chris van Swaay, from the Netherlands, told us how the UKBMS is spreading in Europe and elsewhere, with transects now in 22 countries.  The UKBMS does not lend itself well to some situations for example in the tropics, where other methods give better results. 

David Roy, also of CEH Wallingford, suggested some hopes for the future.  Some species from the Continent may manage to colonise or re-colonise the UK.  Improved techniques in data capture and computerised analysis, and greater collaboration with other agencies and countries may help us to face the many challenges of the future.  

Finally, Martin Warren rounded off a most enjoyable day with some concluding remarks.  


Julian Bull.  19/11/2016.