Species on the map: the basics of wildlife recording

In the first in a new series, Charlotte Rankin explores how you can make the most of your sightings through wildlife recording.

Across the UK, over 4.5 million wildlife records are generated each year by tens of thousands of volunteer recorders. These records underpin much of our understanding of the status of wildlife in the UK. The recording effort and expertise of volunteer wildlife recorders enables conservationists and researchers to monitor and protect wildlife.

Biological or wildlife recording is the process of documenting your wildlife observations. Quite simply, wildlife records pinpoint species to a specific location and point in time by a named recorder. Records inform species monitoring efforts, underpin conservation decisions and contribute to our understanding of the natural world. A biological record is generated once but used countless times.

There is a long tradition of biological recording in the UK. It dates back to the mid-1600s when John Ray – known as ‘the father of recording’ – catalogued and documented species observed during his travels around Britain. During the late 18th century and 19th century, natural history societies and naturalist field clubs formed. This brought together local naturalists to observe, study and record local wildlife.

Today, as many as 70,000 volunteers submit records each year. This may be through involvement in focused projects or through species recording schemes, local environmental record centres and online recording websites. The National Biodiversity Network Atlas is the UK’s largest collection of biodiversity data and to date, holds over 223 million wildlife records from across the UK. Wildlife recording has become an integral part of nature conservation.

Many will be aware of the impact of taking part in structured citizen science and monitoring schemes. But perhaps less known is the invaluable impact of general and less ‘structured’ recording via recording websites or direct record submission to national recording schemes and environmental records centres. Whether recording wildlife observations in the garden, on a walk or at a nature reserve, invaluable contributions can be made wherever you are and whatever time of year.

What makes up a wildlife record?

A wildlife record pinpoints a species to a specific location, date and recorder. When observing a species, think about the four basic components that make up this sighting: what, where, when and who.

The four essential components of a biological record

What: the name of the species you have observed and confidently identified.

Where: the specific location where you found the species. This comprises a location name and a grid reference that pinpoints your sighting to a specific area. The more specific you can be, the more useful the record. You do not need a GPS to generate a grid reference: there are now free phone Apps and Grab A Grid Reference is an excellent online tool.

When: the date (day, month and year) you observed the species.

Who: the full name of the person who observed the species. If someone helped you to identify the species, you can also add the determiner’s name.

When possible, it is also useful to provide an image with your record because this helps experts to confirm the species you have seen. Recording forms may also provide the option of including additional information such as stage of lifecycle, abundance and habitat the species was found in.

An example of a biological record: the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

Where should I send my wildlife records?

There are a number of ways to submit your wildlife records and it can be bewildering to know where to start. It is important to find what method works best for you and to understand where your records will go. Wildlife records can be sent directly to vice-county recorders, to national recording schemes, local environmental record centres or local recording groups. There are over 80 national species recording schemes in the UK. If you are interested in a specific group, you can find out the best route to submit records for that particular group.

Bee records submitted to iRecord for the North East Bee Hunt

iRecord, the online recording website and App, is increasingly used by volunteer recorders across the UK. Developed by the Biological Records Centre (BRC), the aim of iRecord is to make it easier for wildlife sightings to be collated, checked by experts and made available to support monitoring and conservation efforts. These records are made available to those who need them including National Recording Schemes, county recorders and Local Environmental Records Centres. Most records are also shared more widely to the National Biodiversity Network. The use of iRecord as a recording platform will be the focus of an up-coming blog post.

Charlotte Rankin
NHSN Conservation Officer

Charlotte’s role is focused on the development and delivery of NHSN citizen science in 2021. She assisted with the delivery of the North East Bee Hunt in 2020. Charlotte is a naturalist with a particular passion for insects (especially bees!) and botany.