Rebooted – rediscovering wildlife recording #3

Written by Lisa Chilton, NBN Trust Chief Executive Officer

As early springtime teased us with its capricious twists and turns, its warm sunshine and stinging hail, I supplemented my DIY induction to wildlife recording with some much-needed tuition. The Field Studies Council’s ‘Discovering iRecord’ course is an enjoyable and educational online offering, focusing on one of the UK’s most popular and trusted recording tools.

iRecord is a free digital platform developed and managed by the Biological Records Centre. Like iNaturalistUK (see previous blog post), the website and app provide forms for recording and sharing your wildlife encounters. The information you collect can then be used for conservation and research. Unlike the US-created iNaturalist, however, iRecord is a homegrown tool, built with and for the UK’s recording community. Behind the scenes, it’s supported by an incredible team of more than 700 volunteer verifiers who check the records for accuracy. These specialists – experts in species identification – are amongst the true unsung heroes of nature conservation. Their extraordinary skill and dedication ensure the quality and dependability of the data on which vital decisions are made.

I was a complete newcomer to iRecord so the FSC course, presented over four weeks by tutor and earthworm aficionado Keiron Brown, was an excellent introduction. After a grounding in the basics of biological recording (the ‘Who, What, Where and When’ that are essential to every record), our first assignment was to record our sightings from a 30-minute birdwatch in a garden or park and enter them on iRecord.  Once again, it was very satisfying to get the results online, with the added advantage (over iNaturalistUK) that you don’t need a photo, though of course it helps improve the record if you do include pictures. The key difference from iNaturalistUK, though, is that iRecord is geared towards recording wildlife that you can identify yourself, or at least when you can get close to an identification. The verifiers are there to check records rather than suggest an ID from scratch, so the onus is on you to try to identify each species – whether from books, online guides such as iSpot, or with help from more experienced naturalists. I’m confident identifying my garden birds, but that won’t be the case for many other groups – at least until I up my identification skills.

Next up was a welcome reminder of how to calculate grid references from maps (with a little help from Steve Backshall), plus some really handy online tools: CucaeraGrid Reference Finder and Grab a Grid Reference. We then learned about where verified data from iRecord goes. To our very own NBN Atlas, of course, and to the national recording schemes and societies (such as Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation), and to Local Environmental Records Centres (such as the Merseyside Biobank and the West Wales Biodiversity information Centre). Shared this way, your and my data can do its bit for nature.

Our next assignment was a worm hunt, and we were each challenged to submit an incorrect record, prompting a verifier (Kieron) to contact us and politely re-identify our worms. This was a useful way to overcome any concerns we might have had about being corrected by the experts.  It’s likely to be the first of many such conversations.

After looking at how to access data on iRecord, the course ended with an assignment to participate in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Cellar Slug Survey. The fate of the Green Cellar Slug, a non-native species which has spread across the UK since its first sighting in the 1970s, is in stark contrast with that of its native cousin the Yellow Cellar Slug, which is in steep decline. The RHS invited the public to look for both species and submit their records, to build a better understanding of what’s going on. The survey has now finished but records are still being accepted and are shared with the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Disappointingly, despite multiple night-time forays in my garden – even resorting to going out barefoot after my family helpfully suggested it as a sure-fire way to get up close and personal with a slug – I drew a blank. No cellar slugs. Luckily, despite my failure, Keiron passed me and I graduated as a newbie iRecorder.

I should point out that it’s not in any way essential to do a course. iRecord is fairly straightforward to use, and there’s an online user guide as well as helpful videos. For me though, the course was the prompt I needed to take the plunge and give iRecord a go.

And my verdict? As a trusted tool for the recording community, with observations from more than 200,000 users, iRecord is well worth signing up to. Though, at first glance, it looks more technical than iNaturalistUK, it’s easy to use and has a clear, logical format. As I progress further into recording, I can see myself picking and choosing – using iNaturalistUK for a quick ID when I don’t know what I’ve seen, or to take part in iNaturalist-based projects such as the City Nature Challenge, but using iRecord when I’m more confident in my identification. Incidentally, it’s important not to submit the same record on both iNaturalistUK and iRecord, as this will lead to duplication when the records are aggregated.  I’m also planning to try out iSpot, the Open University’s recording tool. And to decide which of the FSC’s many wildlife identification courses I’m going to treat myself to next! More on both of those another time.

Regardless of how I submit my records though, the important thing is that I continue. I’m thoroughly enjoying my New Year’s resolution and the ‘feel good factor’ of recording the wildlife I see. I’m not necessarily spending more time in nature but, when I do, I’m looking more closely and observing more keenly, excited to be helping nature one record at a time.


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