Biological Recording Techniques Course

By John Partridge

We, Gary Farmer and John Partridge, recently attended a course entitled Biological Recording Techniques at Preston Montford Field Centre. This is the core module of the Post-Experience Certificate in Biological Recording and Species Identification. The course was attended by fourteen assorted individuals of widely differing ages and backgrounds, which made for a very interesting and informative week.

The topics covered included:

What can go into a single biological record?
What can we say about a site?
What’s in a species list?
Who owns records?
Some useful terms about databases
Some information on biological recording computer programs.
What sort of recording package to choose
What should a record centre do?
Atlases - Traditional Floras and mapping projects
Guidelines for recording arable species
Who’s who in biological recording

Two site surveys were also carried out during the course.

We gathered a lot of information that was useful to us personally, but also many ideas on how the record centre might (ideally) develop, and what we could do to improve the usefulness of the records coming in.

It was suggested that the ideal pattern for the flow of information is:

Recorder > County Recorder > Local Record Centre
National Society > National BRC

and if the information comes straight to the Local Record Centre, then it is passed to the County Recorder for that group for validation, before being accepted as a record.

This 'ideal' situation poses problems:

  1. are recorders going to be offended by being asked to have their records validated?
  2. are County Recorders willing to cope with the extra work load?
  3. what happens when we have no County Recorder for that group?
  4. some National Societies do not pass on their records to the National BRC, e.g. BTO because the form of survey records rarely fits the typical records centre formats.

It was suggested that we should think carefully about the purpose served by our recording, especially if we would like it to be of use to future generations of naturalists, so that it is should be detailed enough for comparisons to be made between now and then. In many cases this could be done by site lists, so long as the more interesting species are commented upon, and more detailed references are given as to their location. Doubt was thrown on the usefulness of keeping locations confidential, and cases were mentioned where this has been counter-productive, and resulted in loss of the species from a site. I would also comment that a good grid reference would help in those cases where a location name has changed, or the site has been obliterated by a housing estate, for example.

It was pointed out the new version of Recorder asks for the reference work that has been used to identify the species; this would solve some of the problems that we are having computerising the present records, where no reference to the name used can be found in the books at our disposal.

The other interesting point raised was that the Local Record Centres that are at present being funded can never generate enough income to be self-sustaining, so we may as well accept that now and leave the running of the Centres in the hands of local naturalists, and not charge for information given out to third parties, on the understanding that any records that they collect will be sent to the LRC.

This led to the thorny topic of who owns records, which was discussed without reaching a conclusion, but it seemed to be agreed that it was better not to accept records that were sent in with caveats as to whom they could be passed to. (This tied in with the idea that data that is not used is not worth collecting). Perhaps we should now be asking our recorders to give the LRC the power to use their records as is thought fit.

And in case you were wondering, we had very good en-suite accommodation, plenty of good food, and a bar to relax in when we had finished work - at 9-30 each night.

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