What is Biological Recording?

Biological recording is the act of documenting sightings of a species. The documented sightings are then sent to be verified by an expert in the field and, once verified, they are stored in a location, such as a records centre database. It is after these steps that a sighting becomes a record.

An essential component of the ecological science of an area or species, biological recording is experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the effort of conservationists emphasising its importance and eagerness of individuals to participate!

There are a number of key reasons why we record, these are as follows:

  • To know what is there
  • To inform effective management of species
  • To know if there are any special protected species in a specific area
  • To help inform development affecting species that may require mitigation measures
  • To monitor population changes
  • To improve knowledge and understanding of a species
  • Statutory requirements to record certain species

Documenting a sighting

Most of us who are out and about in the countryside or parklands can participate in recording quite easily. There are only 4 essential and equally important criteria that need to be met in order to have a sighting successfully stored as a record. These are:

Who?     Name and a contact point for the recorder (email/telephone)

We need to know who the recorder is for two purposes. Firstly so you can be contacted in the event of more information being need for verification (e.g. a photograph). Secondly to speed up the verification process, because if you are either an expert or known to be building up your skills and ability to identify species then your sightings are more likely to be readily accepted into the database.

What?     Name of what you have seen. Common name is good, but scientific (Latin) name is perfect!

Usually species level identification is preferred, but Family or Genus level is sometimes acceptable.

Where?     6 figure grid reference for the location of the sighting is ideal. GPS location is also good.

Noting where the species was spotted will help experts who verify your sightings to be able to go and spot the species for themselves, to help confirm your sighting and convert it into a record. Depending on the species (e.g. plant, insect, bird) it is important to record to appropriate scale, for example 8/10 figure grid references for plants/bird nests whereas 4/6 figures for birds/animals & insects.

Beware of potential for migratory species too, they may just be passing through an area so it may be important in this instance to have a more specific location.

When?    Time of day (more necessary for fauna) and date.

For essentially the same reason above. Lots of species are ‘creatures of habit’ and may well turn up at a similar time on a different day. This helps experts to be able to verify your sighting.

It is worth remembering that unless your sighting is verified it can’t become a record! For this reason it is important to ensure you note down Who, What, Where, When, if you make a sighting!

A recording form for your sightings can be downloaded here either as a PDF to be manually filled in  or as an interactive excel spreadsheet.

If possible take photos, as these can help considerably when it comes to identification, especially if a species is uncommon or rare in the area.

Handy Tools

If you see something and you are unsure what it is, but have either a photo or a description, then use an identification platform such as iSpot to see if it can be identified by others. You can find more about iSpot here.

Grab-a-grid is very useful to produce location for ‘Where?’.

There are plenty of identification guides or online resources to help you identify what you have seen. For useful guides go to the Identification Guides page.

The level of accuracy, of the information that you can provide will vary from species to species. It is also recognised that you will sometimes see something out and about on your travels but not have the ways or means to be able to record it there and then. In an ideal world your name, species, 6 figure grid ref, and time and date is what you need. However, understandably, there may be small inaccuracies if you are noting a sighting later on.

For example, you see a fox in a bit of scrub along a road verge. You return home a couple of hours later to record the sighting but can’t precisely remember the time you saw it or where exactly it was along a road (but you know what road it was). In this case your best estimation is far more useful than not providing any information at all.

Recording the easily identified commoner species is a good starting point as these are often dismissed as being unimportant and as a result rarely get sent in as records. Here is a list of suggested species:

Birds Mammals
Barn owl Mole
Blackbird Badger
Blue tit Bat
Bullfinch Fox
Buzzard Grey squirrel
Carrion crow Hare
Chaffinch Hedgehog
Coal tit Muntjac deer
Collared dove Rabbit
Cuckoo Roe deer
Dunnnock Reptiles
Goldfinch Common frog
Great crested grebe Grass snake
Great spotted woodpecker Slow worm
Great tit Smooth newt
Green woodpecker Toad
Greenfinch Insects
House martin Brimstone
House sparrow Holly blue
Kestrel Honey bee
Kingfisher Orange tip
Kite Peacock
Lapwing Red admiral
Magpie Ruby-tailed bumblebee
Mallard Small tortoiseshell
Mute swan Plants
Robin Daisy
Skylark Bee orchid
Songthrush Bluebell
Sparrowhawk Common knapweed
Starling Common spotted orchid
Swallow Cowslip
Swift Dandelion
Tawny owl Field scabious
Wood pigeon Oxeye daisy
Wren Primrose
Yellowhammer Red campion

What happens next?
Once you have documented all the relevant information about your sighting (who, what, where, when), you are ready to submit it.

There are three possible ways to submit your sighting for verification and inclusion in the records data base.  They are summarized in the recording flows diagram below.

You can:

  1. Send your sighting directly to the County recorder for the species concerned. Click here to download a list of County recorders. Or you can …
  2. Send your sighting to a specific recording scheme (e.g. Orthoptera & Allied Insects recording scheme) for verification. After verification, send your record on to the local environmental records centre (BMERC is our county records centre). Or you can …
  3. Use iRecord to store your sightings and share them with a verifier. iRecord is an online recording system developed by the Biological Recording Centre. Apps are available for different species groups. Check that the relevant County Recorder is using iRecord.

County Recorders and specific recording schemes will check all records submitted to ensure that accuracy is maintained, and may sometimes contact you to ask for further details about a particular sighting. However, remember that County Recorders will probably pass on your sighting to the local environmental records centre, whereas a recording scheme may not. So after having your sighting verified by a scheme then you should send it on to the local environmental records centre to ensure they get the record in a timely fashion.

In each case, once verified, records are sent to the local environmental records office. To find out more about the work of BMERC see BMERC website.

Click on the diagram below to download the diagram.

Recording Process Flows

Recording Process Flows

Recording Process Flows