RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Butterfly survey could help your knowledge

If you can’t tell a copper from a skipper, now is the chance to learn; and you will be helping the environment as well.

Not bobbies or boats, but butterflies. The British Trust for Ornithology wants you to help in assessing how British butterflies are performing.

The BTO already organises a nationwide survey of birds with their Garden Birdwatch. Thirteen thousand people take part and very useful it all is too, as it gives a yearly national census of which birds are using our gardens and how their numbers alter from year to year.

It is a sort of Domesday record which people in years to come will use to assess planning proposals of new housing estates and the effect on the countryside, or how bird populations are adapting to global warming or new pollutants. This is the largest year-round survey of birds in the whole world.

The BTO is the UK’s leading bird-research charity. Altogether, 60,000 volunteers contribute to their many different surveys. Garden Birdwatch is just one of these surveys. This work underpins conservation action in the UK.

For 40 years I sent them details of every bird that bred in Kingley Vale and also West Dean Woods, and this showed enormous changes over decades. Now the 100 staff at Thetford and Bangor in Wales, Bangor in Northern Ireland and Stirling in Scotland want to get the same sort of support from all of us in our gardens throughout the UK to report on the butterflies, all 58 different species of them.

That makes the job much easier for everyone as there are so few butterflies in this country compared to the hundreds of different birds. In Sussex, a good country garden on the downs should have about 15-20 species.

My own garden has 28 species, but only because I am lucky enough to live in the centre of a nature reserve which is one of the best-managed coppice woodlands in southern Britain.

I am also at pains to keep the garden for wild plants, birds, mammals, and insects; rather than as a Chelsea Flower Show of exotic species which native fauna and flora don’t necessarily like.

Nevertheless, if .you have only one species of butterfly, such as a peacock or red admiral, do let the BTO know. They can be contacted by emailing gbw@bto.org, or by telephoning 01842 750050, or by writing to GBW BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, or visit www.bto.org/bbw.

They will send you a free magazine and enquiry pack.

You never know, you might have a small copper in your garden though you’ll never have a large one.

As for skippers: large and small will be your neighbours if you would only stop cutting a small part of your lawn and let them lay in the long grass. Give it a go.