Biological Recording – An Introduction

As followers of this blog will know, I am a keen biological recorder annually submitting thousands of records for thousands of species. I don’t really remember why or how I started but I am hoping to give you a quick overview of biological recording in this blog post to encourage you to all start submitting records. In my next blog post I hope to talk you through how to use iRecord to submit records.

What is Biological Recording?

Biological recording can be defined as the accurate identification and documenting of biodiversity. What that really means is recording which species are found where.

Why do it?

Submitting biological records can be a time consuming process, especially if you get a bit of a backlog like I sometimes do if I haven’t had a free rainy day to submit records. So why bother? Well firstly it is great fun! Secondly it is amazingly useful. Even records of common species matter and are extremely useful, arguably even more so than records of rarer species. Biological records allow us to build up a picture of the natural world around us. Providing answers to such questions as;

  1. Which species are found where?
  2. Which habitats are they found in?
  3. How will distributions change in the future?
  4. When do certain plant species flower, insects emerge etc?
  5. How is this changing year on year?
  6. How are populations changing?
  7. What species will colonise Britain next?

And many more…

What constitutes a record?

There are 4 main things to remember when submitting a record – Who, What, Where, When.

Who – The name of the recorder

What – Species name (preferably scientific rather than common name), ID resources can be found here and here

Where – Where was the individual seen, a grid reference is best.

When – The date the individual was seen

Additional information which is useful to record includes:

  • Details about the habitat
  • Details about how the individual was identified
  • Certainty of identification
  • Number seen
  • Gender
  • Life stage
  • Breeding / in flower ?
Where to submit these records and data flow

I think this is one of the biggest hold backs for the biological recording sector. The data flow of biological records is not entirely clear. You have your record, but where to submit it? You have two main choices, send to your local records centre or to a national scheme. Both pathways should eventually see your record on the National Biodiversity Network Gateway and then the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, two large repositories of biological data.  National recording schemes look at their specific sets of species and usually have more detailed knowledge that local records centres. They use this knowledge in order to interpret the data and map species in great detail. On the other hand local records centres have detailed local knowledge and it is this data that is used for local biodiversity action plans, planning applications etc. In my personal opinion, there isn’t enough collaboration between these two sets of people and I think it is vital that both sets of people get my data. I therefore put everything onto iRecord, where it is accessible to both local records centres and national schemes. iRecord is in its infancy though and a lot of people need to be convinced that it will work, I am convinced though. In the mean time I do download some of my records from iRecords as spreadsheets and send them to individual schemes or records centres. In my next blog post I hope to describe how to use iRecord.

I want to end on a quote that I was reminded of this week that sums up everything that I believe in with regards to environmental education.

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.” ― Bradley Miller

Myself showing Sue's son how to record wildlife. Photo: Sue Croxford

Myself showing Sue’s son how to record wildlife.
Photo: Sue Croxford


3 responses to “Biological Recording – An Introduction

  1. Really helpful and encouraging post Ryan. Knowing where to start and how to get organised are so important. Looking forward to your iRecord post.

  2. This is interesting, there are so many sites where you can submit records, so one catch-all site would be good.

  3. Pingback: Submitting Records on iRecord | Ryan Clark Ecology

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