Spotted! New atlas reveals trends in British ladybird species

Published: 13 June 2011 at 11:00

Anglia Ruskin scientist launches book at BBC Gardeners’ World Live event

The first atlas of Britain and Ireland’s ladybirds, which is the result of a six-year research project by the UK Ladybird Survey, is being launched today [Wednesday 15 June].

The new publication maps all 47 species of ladybirds in Britain and Ireland, building on thousands of observations from volunteers.  The earliest record in the atlas is that of the rare 13-spot ladybird, recorded near Oxford in 1819.  The most commonly recorded species, with 27,000 records, is the 7-spot ladybird, closely followed by the newly-arrived harlequin ladybird with over 25,000 records.

Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland’ has been written by Dr Peter Brown from Anglia Ruskin University, Dr Helen Roy from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Dr Remy Poland from Clifton College and wildlife enthusiast and ladybird recorder Robert Frost.

Dr Brown, from the Department of Life Sciences at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“Ladybirds have captured the imagination of people for centuries.  When the online UK Ladybird Survey was launched in 2005 we could never have imagined that tens of thousands of people would contribute records. 

“This staggering response has enabled us to assess changes to the distribution of ladybirds over time.  In addition, recorders’ meticulous observations provide inspiration for new research directions.  We hope that people will continue to contribute to this long-term study.” 

Within ‘Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland’ there is a detailed analysis of ladybird observations from the last 20 years.  The results show that 10 ladybird species have significantly declined in this period, whilst five have increased.  Distribution maps are provided for each species together with information about recording techniques, species identification, ladybird parasites, historical aspects, and 194 colour photographs.

Declining species include the 14-spot and 10-spot ladybirds, which are principally greenfly (aphid) feeding ladybirds coveted by gardeners.  Species doing well, and expanding their geographical range, include the pine ladybird and the mildew-feeding orange ladybird.  Previously the orange ladybird was a rare species but it has thrived in recent years, partly by adapting to life on different types of tree.

The book is being officially launched today [Wednesday] at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live exhibition in Birmingham, which is a major annual event run in association with The Royal Horticultural Society. 

Following on from last year’s BBC Springwatch-linked Breathing Places activities, for which the UK Ladybird Survey was the main wildlife survey, the UKLS team have been invited by the BBC to line up alongside Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and other experts to help explain the importance of having ladybirds in the garden. 

Dr Peter Brown added:

“Ladybirds are wonderful natural pest controllers and BBC Gardeners’ World Live will be a great opportunity to talk to gardeners about the benefits of wildlife gardening. 

“Apart from the 7-spot ladybird that everyone is familiar with, you can find several other ladybird species in most gardens if you look hard enough!  So we will be talking to gardeners about how to encourage ladybirds and other insects into their gardens, as a viable alternative to chemical sprays.”

BBC Gardeners’ World Live follows several other high-profile exhibitions for the UKLS in recent years, notably the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2009 and the Moscow Science Festival in 2010.  Running from 15-19 June at Birmingham’s NEC, BBC Gardeners’ World Live is expected to attract over 100,000 visitors.