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Annual event records 1000th species at Smithills

The third annual Smithills bioblitz and wildlife festival has helped find our 1000th species at the Smithills Estate. Members of the public were invited to start Springwatch week early by coming to celebrate and enjoy local wildlife, and help us to record the species present on the day. There were live animals to handle, pond dipping sessions, face painting and storytelling from Bolton Museum.

A great turnout

Other activities included a wild foraging walk with Dave Winnard from Discover the Wild, who also had a foraged stall for people to taste local wild-sourced produce. Stuart Fraser, our head conservation volunteer also led birdsong walks through the wood.

Pond dipping is always a popular activity at the annual bioblitz (Photo: Heather B Studios)
Pond dipping is always a popular activity at the annual bioblitz (Photo: Heather B Studios)

Held each May at Barrow Bridge, the bioblitz is one of our largest events at Smithills. A quick but focused survey of all living species in the area, we collaborate with many other local organisations including the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Lancashire Badger Group, Bolton Conservation Volunteers and Heather B Photography Studio.

Engaging families from all backgrounds is one of our key aims at Smithills - and one which helped secure our £1.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year - so it was great to see so many people enjoying nature together on the day.

Another key area for Smithills and the HLF grant is to record the diversity of nature at the site and the annual bioblitz event is a great way to do this. Early results show that during this year’s bioblitz we hit a new milestone of 1000 species at Smithills.

There was lots to do at this year's event (Photo: Heather B Studios)
There was lots to do at this year's event (Photo: Heather B Studios)

Number 1000

The species that pushed us into four figures was the green hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi). Often found around bilberry which is present on the estate, our team has been searching for this small green butterfly for three years but after two wet summers, they were nowhere to be seen.

Jess Britch, a Smithills ranger, butterfly enthusiast and organiser of the Bioblitz said:

"Once the record came in, I asked the recorder to give me the exact grid reference - I had to go see it for myself! We've been looking for this species at Smithills for three years. It turns out they weren't where we thought they would be at all. I lay in the mud for 20 minutes to get a good photo. Even after a 12 hour public event, it was more than worth it to find this special butterfly - highlight of the day!"

The elusive green hairstreak butterfly has finally been spotted at Smithills (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)
The elusive green hairstreak butterfly has finally been spotted at Smithills (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)

Green is the new blue

The green hairstreak is one of the only green butterflies that can be found in the UK - the other common one is the female brimstone. The green hairstreak is small and delicate in appearance, often found around the bilberry plant.

This species is also special to find at Smithills because it is the first member of the butterfly family Lycaenidae we have recorded. This family is normally associated with the blues – often small and fast light blue butterflies, but not exclusively so - the 1001st species to be recorded at Smithills was the small copper, a bright orange butterfly which is also in the Lycaenidae family.

We also recorded the small copper butterfly for the first time at Smithills (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)
We also recorded the small copper butterfly for the first time at Smithills (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)

The small copper can be identified from its bright orange wings, brown outer edges and dark spots on the upper wing. Both coppers and hairstreaks are classified within the Lycaenidae family but have never been recorded at Smithills by the Woodland Trust. In previous years, wet summers may have prevented these flying jewels from being spotted, but thanks to the past few weeks of sunshine, various insects and flowers are blooming into life.

We’re still collecting and analysing results from the bioblitz event, so stay tuned to find out how high our species list will go.

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The Smithills Project is match-funded with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The funding is helping our five-year project to plant thousands more trees, add new interpretation to the site, manage the countryside and engage with the local community. 

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We’re committed to the long term restoration of Smithills. As this project is match-funded, we need your help to match what the Heritage Lottery Fund has provided. If you can help, please donate to our Smithills appeal, or call us on 0330 333 3300 quoting the code A17NP4GEN - this will make sure your generous donation goes directly to helping the Smithills Estate.