The vice-Counties of Wales

The large expanses of moorland and woodland in Wales, with low levels of human habitation and plenty of small mammals, are home to most of the UK’s raptor species, the most obvious exceptions being the two eagles (though Golden Eagle bred in Snowdonia until the mid 17th century). The wet climate and the conversion of many moors to coniferous forestry in the 20th century meant that management for grouse-shooting did not take hold in Wales to the extent of farther north in Britain, so illegal killing of raptors has not been on the scale of the Pennines, Scottish Borders or Highlands during the past century. This has enabled the recovery of many species, although there have been recent worrying incidents involving the killing of Buzzards and Hen Harriers.

Prior to 1974, Welsh local authorities had been based on historic counties, some of which pre-date the Edwardian conquest of 1282. These historic counties form the basis of the Watsonian vice counties, introduced by Hewett Cottrell Watson for plant-recording in 1852. Most biological recording systems use this system; it has the benefit of retaining its geographic credibility irrespective of political changes to local government. Significantly, the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) has adopted this system for managing all (130 million) wildlife records available through the NBN Atlas. The Watsonian vice-counties are individually numbered, the Welsh ones being 35 (Monmouthshire) and 41 (Glamorganshire) to 52 (Anglesey). WOS and local bird groups use this system with some variations, the most significant being the division of Glamorganshire into Gower and East Glamorgan. There are also differences in the boundaries of Gwent, Brecknockshire, Carmarthenshire, Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire. Most county bird recorders pass their current and historic data to the relevant Local Records Centre, ensuring that it is available for use to deliver conservation action. Annual reports are produced for most vice-counties, and additionally for the Bird Observatories on Skokholm and Bardsey. Each page in the counties section provides a general guide to the overlap between the unitary authorities and the vice-county, but if you’re in doubt, please contact the nearest county recorder. Use the drop down menu under Counties at the top of the page to find out more about key birding sites in each vice-county, details of the county recorder, local bird report(s) and BTO and RSPB contacts.