The vice-counties
of Wales

If you’re visiting Wales or have moved here recently, you may be struggling to get to grips with the county boundaries. The image shows the vice-counties used for bird recording in Wales and you can click on this map to see more detailed boundary maps for each vice-county.

Since 1996, there have been 22 unitary authorities, areas of local government that are responsible for delivering services, including biodiversity and the environment.  Between 1974 and 1996, there were eight ‘counties’ and numerous districts, most of which have now been consigned to history.

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 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 and details of the county recorder, local bird report(s) and BTO and RSPB contacts.

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