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DWT reserves – how many species have been recorded and what are they?

Posted: Tuesday 9th May 2017 by A-sense-of-nature

Grey mining bee, Kieron HustonGrey mining bee, Kieron Huston

What do species records tell us about our wildlife, the way we record and what we should be aiming for in the future?

Recording on reserves - 1800s to present day
In 1889 Reverend W.H. Painter spent the day at Priestcliffe Lees and recorded common wintergreen (Pyrola minor). It may have been a warm July day and no doubt the Rev. Painter observed many other plants, but for some reason that is the only species he seems to have noted down; certainly the only one for which the Trust has a record. The Reverend had not heard of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (it was another 73 years before the Trust was formed) and nor would he have known that his observation would turn out to be one of the first records from a Trust Reserve.

Since that day DWT has received 300,000 records of 5430 species (and sub-species and hybrids) from hundreds of recorders covering 45 nature reserves. This has included a further 15 records of common wintergreen seen at Priestcliffe Lees, the last time by Dr Alan Willmot in July 2011.

What do these records tell us about our wildlife, the way we record and what we should be aiming for in the future?

What do we record the most?
The most popular groups to record are birds, butterflies and higher plants. The most commonly recorded species is the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) closely followed by teal (Anas crecca), coot (Fulica atra), moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), robin (Erithacus rubecula) and blackbird (Turdus merula). In fact out of the top 100 most recorded species 91 are birds and 9 are butterflies. The most frequently recorded butterfly is small tortoiseshell with 1011 records from reserves. The three most commonly recorded plants are hawthorn, common nettle and bramble.


In terms of the number of records just 1% of species account for 52% of the records (that is over 150,000 records) and 25% of species on reserves have only ever been recorded once or twice. This reflects to some extent how abundant a species is (mallards are common), but also the level of expertise and interest in more difficult groups such as flies or beetles. 

How many species?
The graph below shows the number of species from different taxonomic groups recorded on reserves. Invertebrates, as we all know run the world and, although most species are recorded only a few times, the work that has been done over the years by entomologists demonstrates the diversity that can be found on reserves and means that over half (c. 53%) of all the species recorded are invertebrates.




The butterflies and moths, flies and beetles account for 700, 655 and 651 species respectively which is 37% of the total. Other groups include the bees, wasps and ants (221spp), bugs (211 spp.) and spiders (201 spp.). Many invertebrate groups are poorly recorded for example, the caddisflies, mayflies, lacewings and harvestmen. Even some groups with seemingly large numbers of recorded species are undoubtedly under-recorded the Hymenoptera in particular, but probably the moths, flies and beetles too.

40% of species recorded are flowering plants, ferns, fungi, lichens and mosses and liverworts – the flowering plants are some way ahead with 1113 species. There are 419 species of fungi, 271 lichens and 321 mosses and liverworts.

Vertebrates contribute only 6% of records and most of these are of a relatively small number of common birds. In total 269 bird, 47 mammal, 6 amphibian and 6 reptile species have been recorded.

Who records?
Over the years more than 1100 people have visited one of our reserves and sent in one or more records. Some volunteers record daily on one or two sites, whilst others record on multiple sites over many years. We have commissioned specialist surveys on some sites particularly for invertebrates. DWT staff also record wildlife each year as part of ongoing surveillance and monitoring work sometimes working closely with other recording groups and organisations like for example the Derbyshire Flora Group.

What do we do with the records?
In recent years we have shared records with the National Biodiversity Network, the Derbyshire Flora Group (for the Derbyshire Flora), Botanical Society of the British Isles, Natural England, Environment Agency, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society, Sorby Natural History Society, Butterfly Conservation (for the National Butterfly Monitoring project) and Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Our willow tit records have been shared with RSPB. Our mammal records have been shared with Derbyshire Mammal Group and contributed to the distribution maps in the Derbyshire Mammal Atlas. We also provide a data enquiries service for ecological consultants, researchers and students.

Internally the records help to inform management on the reserves and contribute to our understanding of species distributions and monitoring changes in distribution and abundance. The records help us to assess and respond to planning applications. However, in order to interpret the records and glean some meaningful insights we need to have a good understanding of individual species and how records have been collected. Many species are under-recorded, for example the small garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) recorded just 5 times and the ashy mining bee (Andrena cineraria) only twice. Both are quite a widespread species occurring in many gardens and both are almost certainly found on many of our reserves.

And finally we know that our records are not the whole picture, other organisations also have records, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society, Derbyshire Ornithological Society, Sorby Natural History Society and many others. Were we to gather these records for reserves we might well add many hundreds, if not thousands, of additional species to the list.

Future recording
Records collected using more standardised methods that set out fixed parameters such as timing, sampling area and sampling method and level of expertise can help answer questions about management or environmental change. With standardised data changes in populations and abundance can be tracked more accurately. Targeting particular species or groups of ‘indicator’ species can be valuable and help answer important questions about the threats species face and the role that reserves may play in protecting them. Recording can also include observations that provide many useful insights into species ecology and behaviour.

However, casual records remain essential in helping us to build up a more comprehensive picture of what wildlife is found on the Trusts reserves. For recorders encounters with wildlife and the challenge of identifying fungi, plants and animals has its own rewards and can become rather addictive.


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