Who’s who of biological recording

Britain is very lucky to have a rich history in biological recording. Natural history was a popular pastime in Victorian Britain and our taxonomists were (and still are) responsible for the description and recording of species across the world. As a result of this history, the UK has a well developed network of organisations involved in biological recording. Getting your head around what these organisations do and how they can help you as a biological recorder  can be confusing so I’ve tried to clarify the roles of some of the organisations involved. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is useful. Where I have explained a type of organisation I have provided examples.

BRC__OFFICIAL_logoBiological Records Centre (BRC)
This is a publicly funded organisation that works closely with the biological recording community, particularly the recording schemes and societies. This work includes the production of resources (such as recording scheme websites, mobile phone apps, atlases and guidance documents), the undertaking of research to better understand how to improve or interpret biological recording and collation of datasets on behalf of recording schemes and societies.

nbnNational Biodiversity Network (NBN)
The NBN is a network consisting of non-governmental organisations and government agencies involved or invested in biological recording. In addition to managing the taxonomic species dictionary for the UK and producing guidance for the biological recording community, the NBN manages the NBN Gateway. The NBN Gateway is a portal through which biological records can be accessed by users. Ideally, this is where all biological records should end up. Records are submitted to the NBN Gateway by organisations that collate records (e.g. Local Environmental Records Centres, National Recording Schemes and Conservation NGOs). In Scotland, the NBN Gateway is currently being replaced by the Atlas of Living Scotland (also managed by the NBN), with hopes to role out the same across the other UK countries.

imageNational Forum for Biological Recording (NFBR)
The NFBR acts as the independent voice of biological recording in the UK. Their Facebook group provides a great forum for sharing news and events. One of the highlights of the biological recording calendar is the annual NFBR conference, where speakers from numerous organisations speak about a topic related to the theme for that year. This year’s theme is National Recording Schemes – celebrating the past, looking to the future.

ALERC logo white PNG 10cmLocal Environmental Records Centres (LERCs)

LERCs are organisations that collate and manage biological records for a defined geographic area (for example the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre collates biological records for the county of Cumbria). Biological recorders may send biological records (of any species)  to LERCs to be added to their database for the area they cover. LERCs are able to interpret the local importance of biological records (for example the location of European Protected Species records in relation to planning proposals) and may have contacts for species experts for some groups. An Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC) was formed in 2009 and many LERCs are now members. The ALERC website has an interactive map where you can find the LERC for any area in the UK: www.alerc.org.uk/find-an-lerc-map.html

National Recording Schemes (NRSs)
National recording schemes collate species records for a defined group of organisms and provide guidance on the recording of the species they cover. Records of the species covered by a NRS can be submitted to the scheme by a biological recorder for inclusion in the NRS database. The size of the species group these schemes cover can range from relatively few species (such as the Earthworm Society of Britain) to larger species groups (Such as the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society) or even a a very large and diverse group of species (such as the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland). These organisations have the expertise to verify records for the species they cover. A list of national recording schemes can be found on the BRC website: www.brc.ac.uk/recording-schemes

Conservation NGOs
Although the focus of conservation NGOs is (obviously) conservation, these organisations may also be involved in biological recording as understanding population trends is pivotal to the conservation work they undertake. Conservation NGOs can be be national (such as the British Trust for Ornithology) or local (such as the many UK Wildlife Trusts) and may specialise on a group of species (for example Buglife) or a habitat (for example The Woodland Trust). Conservation NGOs may work with local recording groups (like the network of Amphibian & Reptile Groups of the UK working with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust), run national monitoring programmes (such as the Bat Conservation Trust National Bat Monitoring Programme) or encourage citizen science based surveys (like the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch) – all of which produce biological records.

FSC logotype 1 rgb cropField Studies Council (FSC)
The FSC is an environmental education charity with centres across the UK. Their work also includes producing invaluable resources for the biological recording community (such as atlases and identification keys) and running natural history courses covering a wide range of subjects and species. They have achieved funding for several biological recording focussed projects over the last 10 years. This includes the current Tomorrow’s Biodiversity project that has devised a range of tools for biological recorders and run regular courses and events.

Other Organisations
Local groups are also of huge importance to the biological recording community and these can consist of general natural history groups (such as the Paisley Natural History Society) or groups that cover certain species (such as the Hertfordshire Moth Group). Some organisations that may also be worth a look are the British Entomological & Natural History Society and the Amateur Entomologists Society. Many more organisations are involved in biological recording in the UK and it is not possible to include them all in this article. A database of nature groups can be found on the Natural History Museum website: www.nhm.ac.uk/take-part/nature-groups-near-you

25 January 2016


What is a biological record?

Recording wildlife became a popular pastime during Victorian times and, as a result, natural history societies began popping up around the country. As time and technology progressed, the activity of biological recording has adapted and there are now many recording schemes, methods of record submission and types of organisation. However, the first question that any biological recorder needs answered is what constitutes a biological record?

The Basics

In order for any biological record to be accepted it must have four basic components:

biological recordWho – The name of the recorder or determiner.

What – The name of the organism or group of organisms that you are recording.

Where – The location where the organism was observed.

When – The date the organism was observed.

Combining these four pieces of data produces a record of the presence of an organism at a specified time and place by a named individual, also known as a biological record.

Data Quality

The data quality of a biological record can be improved by ensuring the basic components are recorded at higher resolutions: the more specific the information, the higher the record quality. Examples for each of the basic components are given below

Who – Provide the full name of the recorder and/or determiner, as opposed to an organisation or institution name. This allows for any queries regarding the record to be directed to the correct individual.

What – The more specific the taxonomic classification, the better. For example, a record of a red squirrel is of higher quality than a record of a mammal. However, biological recorders should only classify organisms to a level they are confident is accurate.

Where – Provide the highest accurate geographic resolution you can. Using the UK Ordnance Survey system an 8 figure grid reference details that the organism occurred within a 10 m by 10 m square, whereas a 4 figure grid reference would only detail that the organism occurred within a 1 km by 1 km square.

When – As with location information, the finer the resolution the higher the data quality. Providing a specific date is more desirable than just the year of the record.


Additional Biological Record Information

The organisms on our planet differ greatly, some are fixed to a location while others are able to travel great distances. Some organisms are long lived and present year-round, while others have relatively short life cycles or inactive periods that render them difficult to record at certain types of year.

Different recording schemes will ask for different additional information to be included within the biological record dependent upon the ecology of the organism or the objectives of the scheme. Additional information also improves the data quality of the biological record and provides information that may help answer questions belonging to the fifth, and most important, component: why.

Example additional information fields could include habitat, abundance and life stage of the organism. These may or may not be compulsary information fields for acceptance of the biological record to a specific survey or recording scheme.

In summary, a biological record is a summary of four simple data components. Its data quality, and subsequent uses, can be improved by ensuring these components are recorded at the highest accurate resolution and by the addition of any other relevant information to the record.

Keiron Derek Brown

2nd January 2016