The importance of biological records…

Here Gavin talks about the role of Local Records Centres and the importance of sending them information.

One of my final jobs of 2018 was to send off our list of ecological records to the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre. It isn’t one of the most sought-after jobs in ecology; I didn’t need to fight anyone in the office for the privilege of populating the spreadsheet, but it is an important one.

The UK has a network of Local Records Centres collecting data from ecologists, volunteers and interested members of the public who see and record the natural world and the species living in it for many different reasons.  The Records Centre collates and stores the data which can then be accessed for a number of uses.

In the early stages of a project, ecologists undertake a preliminary ecological appraisal and part of this is often a request for relevant species records from the local records centre. The information they provide can help to design our survey effort and we, in turn, will add our survey results back into the loop.

Perhaps more importantly, Record Centre data can help national and local government comply with European and national wildlife legislation by providing up to date and reliable information on legally protected, rare or threatened species and habitats.

When providing records of a sighting to your local Records Centre, it is important to provide certain information. They need to know what, when, where and who. The first three apply to the sighting itself and the who is information about you so that they can get in touch if they need more information. The data is received and verified by local experts, often volunteers themselves. If you were to report a blackbird in your garden, it’s unlikely they would need not get back to you. If you reported a Red Kite on Dartmoor, they might have some questions and a local expert may get involved to help verify the sighting.

As well as the four w’s above, it can sometimes be prudent to gather as much evidence as possible. I learned this lesson not long after moving to Devon early in 2014. In the preceding few years I had been improving my ecological identification skills through training and volunteering and one of the species I had focused on was the water vole. After a season of surveying with abundant water voles and signs, I felt quite confident at identifying habitat and confirming the existence of the creature, as is often the case through its droppings, but also by other signs.

Not long after the move I was volunteering at Buckland Abbey, assisting the Rangers with some woodland thinning near to the River Tavy. During a lunch time stroll my newly trained eye spied some perfect water vole habitat by the water and a few minutes later I had found some water vole poo, long and greenish, and tell-tale blades of grass chewed at an angle. No surprise there, I thought, and went back to my coffee and chocolate hobnobs. Who was I to know that water voles were believed to be locally absent and that I should have collected samples as evidence to suggest otherwise?

I would like to think that nowadays I am much better informed as to the abundance of particular species in my part of the UK and it is partly thanks to the UK’s networks of local Records Centres that the data for the spatial distribution of species is out there.

Please click here to find your local Records Centre and report your findings.


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