If you are interested in wildlife and have a general love of nature, you may want to do something to help conserve it. One really important activity you could take part in is to record and share details of the wildlife that you see. You’d be joining thousands of volunteers across the UK, who are gathering essential information to help protect and restore nature.

Every decision that’s made about the environment – whether it’s where to create a new nature reserve, or where to build a new supermarket – depends on accessible wildlife information. By taking part in wildlife recording, you can help ensure that these important decisions are based on the best and most up-to-date information.

Recording wildlife – how to get involved

If you would like to become actively involved in recording wildlife, either in your own garden or when you are out and about, there are many ways in which you can join in.

If you are new to recording, you may not be very confident about identifying different species, but don’t let that put you off – enthusiasm for finding out more is a great way to start. There’s a huge and welcoming community of experienced wildlife enthusiasts out there, so help is readily available. Before you know it, you’ll be hooked on recording wildlife, and knowledgeable enough to help others who are just starting out!

Getting started

The starting point is to go out and see some wildlife! To record what you have seen you’ll need to know what species you have found, plus where and when you saw it, and say who you are. There is lots of help available, and websites and apps can help with all steps in the process.

Ready to record?

In the UK there are a number of tools available to record wildlife. Two of the most popular for recording across all wildlife groups are iNaturalistUK and iRecord. These two sites work in different ways, but records added to either system are available to National Recording Schemes, Local Environmental Record Centres and can be shared with the NBN Atlas, the UK’s largest collection of biodiversity data.

iNaturalistUK

If you are looking for an easy-to-use website and app, which gives help with identification and allows you to upload your photo and sighting information in the same place, then iNaturalistUK is a good option.

One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the wildlife you see around you. It’s a place where you can share information on the wild species and meet a growing community of wildlife recorders. You can also create your own wildlife projects to bring together wildlife observations that interest you. It’s great for those just starting to record wildlife as it’s simple to use and helps you identify what you’ve seen. It’s also widely used in BioBlitzes (for example the international City Nature Challenge) and other special projects.

iNaturalistUK is the UK portal of iNaturalist. Data you submit to iNaturalistUK will also be shared with iRecord (see below), so that it can be checked by verifiers (where available) and shared via that route with recording schemes, records centres and the NBN Atlas, wherever feasible. All observations from iNaturalist around the world are also regularly shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and data is transferred from iNaturalist UK as part of this.

The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Trust is the co-ordinator of iNaturalistUK, with the support of the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Biological Records Centre (BRC). iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

Go to iNaturalistUK

Read the iNaturalistUK Q&As on the NBN Trust website

iRecord

The iRecord website and app is part of a system that brings wildlife records from many sources into one place where the records can be checked, and then shared with National Recording Schemes, Local Environmental Record Centres and the NBN Atlas.

You can register quickly and for free and once you’ve registered you can add your own wildlife records, including associated photos, for others to see. You can also see what has been recorded by others. Wherever possible, your records will be checked by volunteer verifiers working on behalf of the national recording schemes, and you can receive notifications that your records have been checked and accepted.

iRecord’s main purpose is to provide a system for storing records, and it works best if you have already identified the species you are recording. Verifiers can often provide help with confirming or correcting identifications, but the system isn’t designed to do the identification for you. It will help the verifiers if you can provide a photo of what you have seen, especially for anything unusual. If you are a regular recorder you can add or upload records without photos as well.

Wildlife sightings added to iRecord are available to view on the website as well as being shared with recording schemes and records centres. Via the NBN Atlas, the records are made available to a wider audience for uses including research and conservation. You can also set up your own iRecord projects (known as “Activities”) within the website, to group together sets of records for particular species or places.

iRecord puts you directly in touch with expert verifiers for the national recording schemes and allows you to compile and share your complete list of records.

iRecord is operated by the Biological Records Centre (BRC) as part of the work of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), and benefits greatly from input from expert volunteers affiliated to National Recording Schemes and Societies and from links with Local Environmental Records Centres.

Go to iRecord

Help with identification

We want to encourage as many people as possible to record wildlife, but if you haven’t done this before, you may not know what some species are and may need some help with identifying them. If so, iSpot is a good place to begin.

iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify UK wildlife.  It allows newcomers to share their interest with a friendly community, take a look at the latest spots, add their own observations, join a discussion, get help or assist others in identifying what they have seen.

To add an observation to iSpot and request help with identification, all you need to do is register on the website and then upload the information about what you’ve seen, where you saw it and when you saw it. This should ideally be accompanied by a digital photograph of the species, so that others can comment on what you’ve seen and make suggestions as to what it is. You can suggest an identification on your own sighting as well as help others by adding an identification to an existing observation.  You may like to do this as your knowledge grows and your reputation on the site will also grow as people agree with your identifications.

Go to the iSpot website

Local and national wildlife recording

Wherever you are in the UK, there are likely to be recording groups in your area, for example local bird groups or local bat groups.  People involved in these groups include experts in identifying particular species or providing advice in relation to the species.  These groups often feed the information they collect into Local Environmental Record Centres or National Recording Schemes so that the data can be used in many ways for different projects. The data may also be shared with the NBN Atlas (either directly or via one of the routes mentioned above).

Local and national surveys

Across the UK there are many surveys taking place which relate to particular groups of wildlife species.  Some of these are high-profile monitoring schemes such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, but others may relate to lesser-known species. Whatever the survey relates to, people are encouraged to send in their wildlife sightings to add to an overall dataset which will help build a picture of how well the species is faring in the UK.

There is a database of current surveys and schemes on the NBN Trust website, which allows you to search for surveys or to search by species name to see if a recording scheme or survey exists. Whilst not exhaustive, this gives a good indication of the wealth of surveys available and the importance of recording wildlife.

Go to the database of wildlife surveys and recording schemes

Quick reference guide

The following Q&As are intended as a quick guide to help you determine which app or website may be best for you. However, we suggest you try each of them for yourself and see which you like and which suits you best. This is therefore not intended to be a definitive recommendation of which system to use.

As you become more experienced you may wish to contribute to a particular national or local survey. We would then recommend that you seek advice from the relevant wildlife recording scheme or local environmental records centre as they may have their own preferences for how they would like wildlife records to be logged, in order to feed into their own systems.

Q. I have found a species that I can’t identify, what should I do?

A. Log it on iSpot

Q. I would just like an identification of a species rather than making a record.

A. Log it on iSpot

Q. I want a simple way to record a species, but I don’t know what the species is.

A. Log it on iNaturalistUK

Q. I want to record a species, I think I know what it is and I want it to appear on a map.

A. Log it on iRecord or iNaturalistUK

Q. I am an experienced recorder who regularly contributes records that won’t always be accompanied by photographs.

A. Log it on iRecord (or upload to iRecord from a spreadsheet).

Further help

All the systems mentioned above have their own help sections. As they are all community based, you will also find that help is available online from other users.

Useful links

NBN Atlas

iRecord

iNaturalistUK

iSpot

Association of Local Environmental Records Centres

List of national recording schemes

Database of wildlife surveys and recording schemes