ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Complete Guide to the Watsonian Vice County System

Updated on May 25, 2019
A map showing the Vice Counties of Great Britain excluding Orkney and Shetland
A map showing the Vice Counties of Great Britain excluding Orkney and Shetland | Source

What is the Watsonian Vice County System?

In basic terms the system is geographical division of the British used exclusively for the purpose of biological recording and data gathering. They were first introduced back in 1852 by the botanist Hewitt Cottrell Watson, who included them in the third volume of his Cybele Britannica, a comprehensive guide to British plants and their distribution. Watson based his vice counties on the historical counties of Britain, but subdivided the larger ones such as Yorkshire into smaller areas of roughly equal size. He also considered certain exclaves to be a part of the surrounding county. So, for example the town of Dudley in the Black Country, historically an exclave of Worcestershire is surrounded on all sides by Staffordshire. Watson dealt with this problem by chosing to ignore such anomalies and placed Dudley squarely within Vice County 39, otherwise known as Staffordshire.

Watson gave each of his 112 Vice Counties a name and number so as to make them easy to identify. For example Vice County or VC1 for short is otherwise known as 'West Cornwall with Scilly' , with the last county VC112 simply being known as 'Shetland'. The Watsonian system predates the now more popular National Grid-based reporting system, but still remains a very important way of collecting data, particularly regarding the distribution and abundance of certain flora and fauna across the country.

The Vice Counties of Great Britain

VC
Vice County
VC1
West Cornwall with Scilly
VC2
East Cornwall
VC3
South Devon
VC4
North Devon
VC5
South Somerset
VC6
North Somerset
VC7
North Wiltshire
VC8
South Wiltshire
VC9
Dorset
VC10
Isle of Wight
VC11
South Hampshire
VC12
North Hampshire
VC13
West Sussex
VC14
East Sussex
VC15
East Kent
VC16
West Kent
VC17
Surrey
VC18
South Essex
VC19
North Essex
VC20
Hertfordshire
VC21
Middlesex
VC22
Berkshire
VC23
Oxfordshire
VC24
Buckinghamshire
VC25
East Suffolk
VC26
West Suffolk
VC27
East Norfolk
VC28
West Norfolk
VC29
Cambridgeshire
VC30
Bedfordshire
VC31
Huntingdonshire
VC32
Northamptonshire
VC33
East Gloucestershire
VC34
West Gloucestershire
VC35
Monmouthshire
VC36
Herefordshire
VC37
Worcestershire
VC38
Warwickshire
VC39
Staffordshire
VC40
Shropshire
VC41
Glamorganshire
VC42
Breconshire
VC43
Radnorshire
VC44
Carmarthenshire
VC45
Pembrokeshire
VC46
Cardiganshire
VC47
Montgomeryshire
VC48
Merionethshire
VC49
Caernarvonshire
VC50
Denbighshire
VC51
Flintshire
VC52
Anglesey
VC53
South Lincolnshire
VC54
North Lincolnshire
VC55
Leicestershire with Rutland
VC56
Nottinghamshire
VC57
Derbyshire
VC58
Cheshire
VC59
South Lancashire
VC60
West Lancashire
VC61
South-east Yorkshire
VC62
North-east Yorkshire
VC63
South-west Yorkshire
VC64
Mid-west Yorkshire
VC65
North-west Yorkshire
VC66
County Durham
VC67
South Northumberland
VC68
North Northumberland
VC69
Westmorland with Furness
VC70
Cumberland
VC71
Isle of Man
VC72
Dumfriesshire
VC73
Kirkcudbrightshire
VC74
Wigtownshire
VC75
Ayrshire
VC76
Renfrewshire
VC77
Lanarkshire
VC78
Peebleshire
VC79
Selkirkshire
VC80
Roxburghshire
VC81
Berwickshire
VC82
East Lothian
VC83
Midlothian
VC84
West Lothian
VC85
Fifeshire
VC86
Stirlingshire
VC87
West Perthshire
VC88
Mid Perthshire
VC89
East Perthshire
VC90
Angus
VC91
Kincardineshire
VC92
South Aberdeenshire
VC93
North Aberdeenshire
VC94
Banffshire
VC95
Morayshire
VC96
East Invernesshire
VC97
West Invernesshire
VC98
Argyllshire
VC99
Dunbartonshire
VC100
Clyde Isles
VC101
Kintyre
VC102
South Ebudes
VC103
Mid Ebudes
VC104
North Ebudes
VC105
West Ross & Cromarty
VC106
East Ross & Cromarty
VC107
East Sutherland
VC108
West Sutherland
VC109
Caithness
VC110
Outer Hebrides
VC111
Orkney
VC112
Shetland

The Irish Vice Counties

Seven years after Watson introduced his Vice Counties to Britain, another botanist Charles Cardale Babington suggested extending the system to Ireland. However, it wouldn't be until 1901 that the system would be formally introduced to the Emerald Isle, by the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praegar. Like Britain, the Irish Vice Counties were based on the 32 historical counties, with the six largest ones being subdivided similar to Britain. For example County Cork was divided into three separate Vice Counties. In total Ireland has 40 Vice Counties, although they are identified as follows: H1- the H stands for Hibernia and the numbers denotes the county. So for example H1 is 'South Kerry' and H40 is 'Londonderry '

The Vice Counties of Ireland

VC
Vice County
H1
South Kerry
H2
North Kerry
H3
West Cork
H4
Mid-Cork
H5
East Cork
H6
Waterford
H7
South Tipperary
H8
Limerick
H9
Clare
H10
North Tipperary
H11
Kilkenny
H12
Wexford
H13
Carlow
H14
Laois
H15
South-east Galway
H16
West Galway
H17
North-east Galway
H18
Offaly
H19
Kildare
H20
Wicklow
H21
Dublin
H22
Meath
H23
Westmeath
H24
Longford
H25
Roscommon
H26
East Mayo
H27
West Mayo
H28
Sligo
H29
Leitrim
H30
Cavan
H31
Louth
H32
Monaghan
H33
Fermanagh
H34
East Donegal
H35
West Donegal
H36
Tyrone
H37
Armagh
H38
Down
H39
Antrim
H40
Londonderry

The Pros and Cons of the Watsonian Vice County System

There are a great many benefits to adopting the Watsonian system for your own recording purposes. Firstly unlike the administrative county boundaries, which have changed several times since their inception in 1888, the Watsonian boundaries have remained fixed since 1852. This means that you will never to have worry about for example losing a county rarity to another via the changing of a boundary. This is in stark contrast to many local bird clubs, who have chosen to follow the administrative boundaries laid down by politicians, although some including the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society have chosen VC55- "Leicestershire with Rutland" as their recording area. Moreover, by retaining ancient boundaries old and modern records can be compared easily, in order to determine the fortunes of a particular species, whether they have increased their range or numbers or declined.

One particular feature of the Vice County system that I like is how the boundaries seem to run along natural features such as rivers, streams, ditches and banks. For example, I live virtually on the border of VC37- 'Worcestershire and VC38- 'Warwickshire'. A perusal of online maps shows that both the historical and Vice county boundary runs along the course of a section of the River Cole. Every time I cross over a bridge situated near Stetchford, a little part of my brain informs me that I've either crossed into Warwickshire or Worcestershire, depending on which direction I'm travelling in.

The only cons of this system that come to mind are, firstly the lack of any boundaries on any modern OS maps. Ordinance survey maps are useful of course for showing county boundaries, but as expected they conform to the modern administrative boundaries. However, this problem can be easily overcome in the modern age by consulting Vice-County maps online. There is even a facility where you can punch in a National Grid reference number and it will tell you which Vice County you are in; its how I found out that I am in VC37- 'Worcestershire' (just!) Another con is attempting marry personal records with those laid down by the respective local bird club. For example, I belong to the West Midlands Bird Club, an excellent organisation that has been studying the birds of my home region for over 80 years. However, unlike other biological recording systems, they follow the administrative boundaries laid down by the government between 1888 and 1996. This can cause slight anomalies between personal and official records, so I have to be vigilant when submitting records. I shall outline a few examples below:

In June 2015, notable Midlands birder Alan Dean stumbled upon a very rare Melodious Warbler near a site known as Mercote Mill, between the villages of Berkswell and Hampton in Arden. Officially this was the first record for the 'West Midlands county', but the area comes under VC38- 'Warwickshire', so on that basis, many birders including myself duly added it our Warwickshire county list. However, when submitting the record officially, I made sure that it went to the West Midlands County Recorder. Other birds that have been found nearby that have caused similar issues include Hoopoe and Stone Curlew, both of which were found at the private Marsh Lane Nature Reserve.

More recently in December 2018, I connected with a beautiful Black-throated Diver that offered superb views at Arrow Valley Lake in Redditch. Officially the bird was recorded to be in Worcestershire in accordance with the modern county boundary. At the time I simply added the bird to my Worcestershire county list and thought nothing else of it. It was only when idly checking out an online map that I realised that Arrow Valley Lake in actual fact lay within VC38- 'Warwickshire', so the bird was quickly transferred to my Warwickshire list. However, again when submitting it officially it was passed onto the Worcestershire County Recorder.

More recently still, in March 2019, Roy Smith found a very rare apparently wild Ferruginous Duck at Alvecote Pools near Tamworth. In accordance with modern administrative boundaries, Alvecote straddles the border of Staffordshire and Warwickshire. The bird was on the Staffordshire side, so for many it was a very welcome addition to their Staffordshire lists. Once again I followed suit, but another look at an online map revealed that the historical boundary to be markedly different, and in actual fact the whole of the Alvecote site lies firmly in VC38- 'Warwickshire', so once more I transferred the bird from one list to another. Once again though, when submitting the record I ensured that it was sent to the Staffordshire County Recorder.

So there we have it. The Watsonian system may sound rather quirky or strange, but is very useful for gathering data. Moreover, as already stated myself and my fellow naturalists can continue to do so without fearing the whim of any individual politician or council.

A map showing detailed differences between VC57- Derbyshire and the modern administrative county of Derbyshire.
A map showing detailed differences between VC57- Derbyshire and the modern administrative county of Derbyshire.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 James Kenny

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • JKenny profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kenny 

      4 weeks ago from Birmingham, England

      Ah well disputes do crop up from time to time especially with birds as they can easily fly from one county to another. The Vice County system at least means that everyone knows where they are.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      I had never come across this system before. It makes sense to have a fixed organisation in place for gathering data. I wonder how many borderline sightings get attributed to the incorrect vice county.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)