The Insect Conservation and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan aims to help BENHS members, and others, undertake UKBAP-related projects, particularly in relation to the BENHS role as Lead Partner with respect to threatened heathland species (the bee flies Thyridanthrax fenestratus, Bombylius minor and the hover fly Chrysotoxum octomaculatum).
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, where the Convention on Biological Diversity was signed by over 150 countries (including the UK and the EC). The UK published its Action Plan in January 1994 (Anon, 1994) and a more detailed plan in1995 (Anon, 1995).
1.2 Key events
The UKBAP has differed from previous conservation initiatives in the UK in that it has involved many organisations outside of the statutory conservation agencies and the voluntary conservation organisations. It has both a national focus (with groups responsible for promoting action for priority habitats and species) and local involvement (via county and regional groups with their respective plans). Both habitat and species groups have proceeded in parallel to raise funds and try to deliver the targets agreed for their sectors.
UKBAP has sought funding from a variety of new sources (including commercial sponsorship) with varying degrees of success. Government Departments (including MAFF) agencies (Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency) and a wide range of non-governmental organisations have all participated in the various national and local groups.
There is much new activity as a result of UKBAP, so much so that keeping track of what is happening is impossible! Try the WWW sites listed as a means of finding out what is going on, but not everything will be listed there.
Currently, there is much happening with various invertebrate groups, including Butterfly Conservation leading with butterflies and priority moths, PTES leading with Stag Beetle and BENHS leading with priority heathland flies. Species Recovery Programmes are underway in the country conservation agencies, with funded projects and grants on BAP priority species and other threatened plants and animals.
1.3 Reference publications
Anon (1994) Biodiversity: the UK action plan. HMSO, London.
Anon (1995) Biodiversity: the UK Steering Group report. Two volumes. HMSO, London.
Anon (1999) UK Biodiversity Group: Tranche 2 Action Plans: Volume IV – invertebrates. English Nature, Peterborough.
1.4 Websites for biodiversity themes
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) http://www.defra.gov.uk/
Forestry Commission (FC) http://www.forestry.gov.uk/
Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) http://www.ccw.gov.uk/
Department of Environment, Northern Ireland (EHS) http://www.doeni.gov.uk/
Natural England http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/
Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)
(includes UKBAP Action Plans) http://www.jncc.gov.uk/
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) http://www.snh.org.uk/
Biological Records Centre (BRC) http://www.brc.ac.uk/
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) http://www.bto.org/
Environment Agency (EA) http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/
Invertebrate Link (JCCBI) http://www.royensoc.co.uk/InvLink/Index.html
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) http://www.gwct.org.uk/
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) http://www.ceh.ac.uk/
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) http://www.sepa.org.uk/
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) http://www.wwt.org.uk/
National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Partners
National Biodiversity Network (NBN) http://www.nbn.org.uk
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) http://www.nerc.ac.uk/
Natural History Museum http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) http://www.rspb.org.uk/
The Wildlife Trusts http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/
European Environment Agency http://www.eea.europa.eu/
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) http://www.iucn.org/
United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP – WCMC) http://www.unep-wcmc.org/
Wetlands International http://www.wetlands.org/
The UKBAP has spawned more than its fair share of jargon and acronyms. This section just gives definitions and explanations of some of those that are used most frequently.
Biodiversity (=biological + diversity) a term coined in the 1980s as a shorthand for the variety of all life on earth. Differs from species richness (i.e. the total number of species) in that biodiversity expressly includes the variety of life at all scales, progressing down from ecosystems, communities, species and populations, to the level of genetic variation present within species and their constituent populations.
CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity), also called the Earth Summit or the Rio Summit. Held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, and the origin of international efforts to conserve biodiversity.
Champion a sponsor for funding implementation work on a plan (examples for invertebrates include ICI for Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Large Blue butterflies, and Tog 24 for the Stag Beetle).
Contact point a statutory body acting as the initial point of contact for enquiring about progress or wishing to become involved with a plan’s steering group.
HAPS (Habitat Action Plans) have been published for 24 habitats (Anon, 1995 and subsequently). They include targets for management and restoration as well as implementation plans.
Lead partner a body of established conservation competence responsible for co-ordinating the implementation of an action plan (for a habitat or a species).
NBN (National Biodiversity Network) being developed by a consortium of partners (JNCC on behalf of CCW, EN and SNH; NERC (Natural Environment Research Council); the Natural History Museum; the Wildlife Trusts; RSPB). The aim is to establish a network of national and local organisations holding and managing biodiversity data, linked by computer networks using Internet technology.
SAPS (Species Action Plans) have been published for over 100 invertebrates (Anon, 1995 and Anon, 1999). They include targets for finding out more about these threatened species as well as plans for their conservation and recovery.
Timing: decide how much time you have available, particularly at those periods in the year when you need to do fieldwork and noting any deadlines for reporting on your project. Use a diary, wall planner or personal organiser to remind you when to set aside time for different activities through the year.
Some key points: start background studies (see section 3 below); have pre-season meetings (for example, with conservation staff or other investigators); obtain site permits (access permission for private land, permits for nature reserves) or species licences (needed for working on protected species); obtain necessary equipment; prepare a check list for each trip (including tasks to complete and equipment to take); plan carrying out fieldwork (see section 4 below); record basic activities and conditions (e.g. weather) for each visit; keep records (in date and/or subject order) for everything that you do; plan data aspects (see section 5 below); set aside time for reporting your findings (see section 6 below).
If you have found some references but have not made any personal contacts it can be worth writing to authors of recent papers, but please be patient, they may be very busy and therefore slow to reply. E-mail can be better than letters for some of us poor correspondents…
When conducting a literature search, it will save time later on if you keep a note of all the sources (papers and books) that you have consulted – whether or not they seemed useful at the time. Keeping a copy of just the abstract (or your own summary), filed by author/date (in hard copy or on word processor file) will be a good investment. For important references, keep complete copies and attach you comments or annotations as your experience increases.
Even if there has been little or nothing reported for the species that you are investigating, there may be parallels with other related insects. Sometimes insights into the ecology or behaviour of one group can be unexpectedly helpful for other groups. The availability of resources for each life stage is critical for all insects; because insects are frequently so specialised, these resources must available in the right condition if they are to be exploited. For example, host plants must be the right age, growing in the right conditions of sunshine/shade/water availability/vegetation structure, if they are to be suitable for a particular species. If there is nothing known from Britain try another country where the species may be commoner.
Be clear on the identification of insects, other invertebrates, and plants. When in doubt, take voucher material for checking afterwards (you must obtain a licence in advance for working on a legally protected species – these are listed on the JNCC WWW site). Take care to retain full data with each specimen or sample and ensure that it is preserved properly so that the taxonomic features are in good condition for examination and checking. Consult others with more experience of the group(s) concerned – it is far better to take time and trouble to be accurate with all identifications rather than risk making observations with multiple or unknown taxa. Deposit voucher specimens in a museum (and/or with other specialists) so that others can have access to your material in the future. If you are running traps or if you obtain other specimens which you cannot utilise, then find somebody else who can make use of the material. Send your records to the appropriate Local Records Centre and to the National Recording Scheme.
If you wish to apply for funding to work on a BAP project, the country conservation agencies may have funds for species that are rated as a national priority, while local BAPs may fund species of more local importance. The BENHS has a research fund which supports a range of projects, and travel costs may be available for work on heathland BAP species.
Basic equipment includes a field notebook (with waterproof cover) and pencils or pens; suitable clothing and footwear; field bag with tubes, pooters, nets, killing agent (ethyl acetate), forceps; quadrats, ruler and/or steel tape measure, traps (water traps, pitfall traps, Malaise traps) and the equipment to service them; marker pens (or correction fluid) for marking individual insects or their locations; plastic tags or labels for marking plants, burrows etc; plastic bags for taking samples of vegetation or substrates; camera(s) with appropriate films; a Swiss army knife with a good array of tools can be very handy.
Always write down your observations at the time – even the best memory is no substitute for doing this when you see it. Label tubes or samples when you collect them (numbered tubes can be used, cross referencing to a notebook, though this can lead to errors in the excitement of the moment). Some people find a cassette tape recorder useful for recording species or behaviour, but the tape will require transcribing later on.
When observing your species, try to define what features need to be measured (percentage area of bare ground, height of vegetation, stage of plant flowering or leaf growth etc) in order to describe the essential habitat precisely. Simple measurements, using a ruler, tape measure, quadrat, and establishing marker point for future reference (in even a small site it is hard to relocate pitfall traps or marked plants, for example) are good basic procedures. Fixed-point photography provides an excellent record of the appearance and vegetation structure of a site and it can be used to record small areas (such as a fixed-point quadrat) in detail. Detailed studies of oviposition behaviour can be vital for discovering what a species requires (mother does know best – usually!). Relating oviposition sites to precise microclimate or vegetation features is crucial.
If you can find your target species (which may be hard in itself!), then find a sensible way to count the numbers present, so that you can compare numbers over time in the same place or so that you can compare numbers at different places. Mark-recapture techniques can be used to obtain estimates of the total population present in an area, but these can be difficult, time-consuming, can damage individuals marked (even if the marking is done with great care), and may change behaviour of marked individuals (which may be more inclined to disperse after marking, for example). Transect counts along a defined route have been used to record number of butterflies for many years; this technique could be adapted for many other flying species. Timed counts, numbers per unit area (e.g. of bare ground), numbers per unit of plant material (per leaf, per flower, per stem etc) are other possibilities. Even simple counts, done in a repeatable way, give much more useful information than merely recording presence/absence, or using terms such as “few” or “many”.
Weather conditions can be measured with simple equipment when on site; long term records can be obtained using standard meteorological equipment (some small, automatic weather stations download data to a data logger and/or personal computer). Even a basic record of temperature, estimated wind speed and duration of sunshine will give some idea of what conditions were like on site. Using sensors to record microclimate will be of great value to many investigations. A light meter can be used to record light levels.
Recording soil type and substrate (such as species of dead wood) is important for many species. Water levels will be crucial for freshwater and water margin species and can be measured with marker poles (securely fixed) or dip wells.
Take the time to spend watching insects in detail; discovering what a species spends its time doing can give considerable understanding into what species they are associated with, or what habitat features they exploit.
Captive populations can be used to study individuals in more detail at home or in your garden; always ensure the welfare of any livestock and obtain the necessary permission for taking or returning any individuals from the wild.
Spreadsheets are a good way to store numerical (and some types of observational data) as data files on computer. Microsoft Excel and Quattro Pro are two of the leading brands. Modern versions have at least basic statistical functions, and advanced statistics packages can import standard spreadsheet files. A range of tabulating and graphical presentation tools will help with examining and analysing your data when using a spreadsheet. Always make a backup copy of the data and any analyses after each session working on your computer.
For recording species (for example from observations, from sweeping or trap samples etc.) keep lists on paper and use a database package such as Recorder to store and retrieve the records. Recorder 2000 will be available within the next year as a Windows package, which will ease reporting and data exchange compared with the previous and current ARev versions.
Spreadsheets can also be used to handle environmental data including weather data, vegetation height, area of bare ground, or numbers of individual host plants etc. Note: weather records may be available from a local enthusiast; data from meteorological stations can be expensive to buy, so if you need to have month to month or year to year weather records find out what is available at the start of your project.
When you have your data neatly organised, start exploring for patterns and significant relationships. This can be done simply using conventional scatter plots, numbers of your study species over time, numbers in relation to food or other resources etc. For many purposes, doing simple analyses with a calculator and graph paper will be sufficient. With larger data sets or many variables, using spreadsheets and a computer will speed up your progress and enable more sophisticated analyses to be tried.
Statisticians specialise in looking at data for significant patterns and relationships. They will also have insights into the best ways to structure the collection of data from observations or experiments so that these data can be analysed clearly and unambiguously. The only problem is that they are a scarce species of scientist, much in demand by other scientists for their advice. If you know one, then cultivate him or her and seek advice at the inception of your project, not half way through when your sampling or observational programme is set in stone! A good textbook can help, but unless you have some mathematical training it can be hard work getting started.
Be concise! A succinct report or paper that communicates the key points clearly is far better than an extensive ramble around the subject. If you have not found your target species say so directly.
Be scrupulously honest in reporting your findings, always distinguish between observations (or other factual evidence) and your suppositions, hypotheses and interpretations. It is amazing how many unreliable reports enter the published literature and are then repeated by subsequent authors as established facts! Do not be afraid to challenge accepted views if you have really good evidence for other interpretations, but do so in the frame of mind that yet other perspectives may offer even better explanations.
Use diagrams, charts, graphs and photographs to present complex information, always seeking to display the essential points clearly for others who will lack your first hand knowledge of the topic. Maps are essential tools but remember you cannot reproduce OS maps without permission. Take care with colour (which is best avoided if reports are to be photocopied).
Look at other examples of reports, papers and books for ideas on how to present your discoveries. Ask for comments and feedback on your drafts; do not be put off by constructive criticism – “there is nothing so good that it cannot be improved” is an excellent motto!
Good luck! Writing up projects and sharing your findings can be just as much fun as carrying out the investigations themselves and will improve your understanding. There is nothing like having to explain your ideas to somebody else to reveal the gaps in your understanding or to generate new perspectives.
Begon, M. and Mortimer, M. (1986) Population Ecology. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
Crawley, M.J. (1983) Herbivory. The dynamics of animal-plant interactions. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
Pollard, E. and Yates, T.J. (1993) Monitoring Butterflies for Ecology and Conservation. Chapman & Hall, London.
Southwood, T.R.E. (1976) Ecological Methods. Chapman & Hall, London.
Strong, D.R., Lawton, J.H. and Southwood, T.R.E. (1984) Insects on Plants: Community Patterns and Mechanisms. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
Unwin, D.M. and Corbet, S.A. (1991) Insects, plants and microclimate. Richmond Publishing Co., Slough.
Varley, G.C., Gradwell, G.R. and Hassell, M.P. (1973) Insect Population Ecology, An Analytical Approach. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
Peterborough PE1 1UA. Tel: 01733 455000
Dr Roger Key (Coleoptera, woodlands): roger_key
Dr David Sheppard (Lepidoptera, heathlands)
Dr Martin Drake (Diptera, wetlands): martin_drake
Joint Nature Conservation Committee,
Peterborough PE1 1JY. Tel: 01733 562626
Dr Ian McLean (general species issues): mclean_i
Ms Deborah Procter (invertebrate conservation): procte_d
Scottish Natural Heritage,
2-5 Anderson Place,
Edinburgh EH6 5NP. Tel: 0131 554 9797
Dr David Phillips (all invertebrate issues): david_phillips
12 June 1999