The importance of biodiversity recording

Biological recording is an important aspect of the activities of amateur and professional natural historians, enthusiasts and members of the general public. Biological recording is an integral part of conservation as records are used to determine the current distribution of a species within a given area, nationally or internationally. Everyone has their own way of recording their sightings whether it be the birds they see on a daily basis kept in a notebook, or the invertebrates seen in an allotment kept safely on a spreadsheet. All of this information is important and unfortunately, not all of it is submitted to the appropriate bodies so that it can be actioned on. I’ve been keeping herpetological records since I was about 11 years old (so roughly 13 years), these started out as rudimentary notes on sheets of paper before I learnt how to use Microsoft Excel and Access. Once I had the skills to use technology, the quality of my recording became more consistent and I occasionally went out with data capture sheets instead of just a blank notebook and a pen. Now when I complete a survey, I always carry a custom-made data capture sheet for that site and I’m always looking at ways to improve the setup that I use.

As a number of you may have already picked up on (if you didn’t know already) but I’m a herpetologist meaning I study amphibians and reptiles. I voluntarily monitor a dozen amphibian sites around Cambridge and a handful of reptile sites. I tend to make weekly visits to each of the sites (completing surveys at more than one site each day/nigh depending on the weather). All of the data I gather is then sent to the local biodiversity records centre which in my case is the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre (CPERC). After my records (and the records of everyone else whom submits records to CPERC or other records centres) are verified, they then join the conglomerate which is known as the National Biodiversity Network or NBN for short. The NBN is a collaborative partnership which was created to aid in the exchange of biodiversity information. Essentially it mediates the linking and pooling of biodiversity records from a number of organisations such as NGOs, voluntary groups and as already mentioned, environmental records centre.

So I’ve given you a quick overview of biodiversity recording, how the records get pooled and by whom. Now it is time to discuss why and how they are used – which is the exciting and important bit. Let me ask you this, if you weren’t monitoring a population of a hypothetical frog species how would you know if the population was declining or not? The answer is that you likely wouldn’t unless you were happen across a mass die-off one day whilst walking your dog along the banks of a breeding pond. Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate worldwide due to the actions of man, climate change and a number of other factors. Monitoring of the most mundane species such as common toads (Bufo bufo) and viviparous lizards (Lacerta vivipara) has shown declines across the UK in recent years. Whilst both species are still widespread, in some regions they are no longer common and because of this many people do not tend to refer to the viviparous lizard as the common lizard anymore, in the fear of spreading the misconception. The basis of recording is that you’re able to track population trends through time and space, then if so intervene to help the population recover. The records may also be used to help prevent the development of an area where a protected species where great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) are known to inhabit. In an ever changing world, biodiversity recording is something that is constantly needed. Thanks to apps such as iNaturalist and iRecord, amateurs and professionals alike are able to help make a difference when it comes to recording all kinds of biodiversity – not just amphibians and reptiles.

I would like to leave you with one last thing, if you have a stack of records from your local patch regarding any group of flora or fauna, please look into submitting them to your local records centre. You never know, your records may help to prevent the development of a patch of forest or greenbelt with which you spend your free time.

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Steve Allain

Steve Allain

Chairman at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group
Steve is a current Master's student at Imperial College London and zoology graduate from Anglia Ruskin University. He has a particular passion and focus on British amphibian and reptile species. He is the current chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian & Reptile Group (CPARG) and helps to organise and coordinate a number of amphibian and reptile surveys around the county, to map the distribution of herpetofauna within Cambridgeshire. Recently he has become interested in the amphibians of the tropics, especially South-East Asia after a trip to Borneo in 2015. Steve was an intern with the IUCN’s SSC Amphibian Red Listing Authority where he specialised in the red listing of South-East Asia’s amphibians. Steve is also a member of the SAVE THE FROGS! Task Force and a former blogger for The Wandering Herpetologist.
Steve Allain

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