The State of Nature report 2019 gives us a robust assessment of the UK’s wildlife and highlights its continued decline. This can only be done with vast amounts of data collected over decades, covering a huge geographic area. We are extremely fortunate in the UK to have a rich history of amateur, expert, naturalists who have been collecting data over centuries. These dedicated individuals give up their spare time to get out into nature, looking for wildlife, recording what they see, where and when they saw it and then sharing that information.
Just as important are the, largely volunteer, experts who verify species ID and the data aggregators, such as the national schemes and societies, such as Butterfly Conservation, British Trust for Ornithology and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, and the Local Environmental Record Centres (LERCs). These organisations ensure the quality of the data and are essential to providing confidence in the data obtained from the recorders and, therefore, the results of the analyses using these data. Without all of their input it would not be possible to produce reports such as the State of Nature 2019.
A lot of the data collected by these biological recorders is often on an ad hoc basis, in that they do not follow a strict protocol. Often, they will go to places that are easily accessible to them or where they know they can find specific species, which may cause bias in geographic or taxonomic coverage. Data that has not been collected in a systematic manner can make analyses more difficult. So, while much of the data has been available for years, some of it has not been included in previous reports. However, statistical analysis techniques are advancing, and new methods have been developed to enable the incorporation of these records. This has meant that this year’s report has been able to include more species than ever before and as analyses techniques continue to improve there is no reason not to assume that when the next State of Nature (or similar) report is produced, even more species will be included, providing an even more robust assessment.
The number of people recording wildlife data has swelled over the last 50 years and technological advances will only make it easier for people to record and share data. Furthermore, structured citizen science projects are growing in popularity and other projects are focussed on engaging more people with the wildlife around them and making nature more accessible. Plus, studies have shown that being outside in green spaces has a positive impact on our mental health. So, there are multiple reasons to get outside and multiple ways to get involved with recording wildlife so that even more species and records can be included in future reports.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those devoted people in their wellies and raincoats with their notebooks and mobile phone apps, without whom we would not know which species had declined or increased over decades. Without this, it would also make it difficult to know what practices were detrimental to the environment or whether conservation projects were working.
The data these dedicated recorders collect should not be underestimated. It plays a vital role in increasing knowledge about the UK’s wildlife, which is so important, not only for scientists, but for all of us.