What is a biological record?

The FSC BioLinks project provides training to develop the skills of existing biological recorders and to create new recorders. We're doing this to build and strengthen the biological recording community…but what is a biological record?

John Ray (1628-1705) (C) Sheila Terry

A very brief history

There has been a long tradition of biological recording in the United Kingdom dating back to John Ray, the "Father of Natural History" (pictured), who began recording in the mid-1600s.  Recording wildlife became a popular pastime during Victorian times and, as a result, natural history societies began popping up all over the country. As time and technology progressed, the activity of biological recording has adapted, there are many recording schemes, methods and organisations and recording has become an integral part of science, conservation and policy making.  

The basics

A biological record is essentially a point on a map showing you that a certain species/organism was found at that location by someone on a certain date. If you see an organism you know how to identify in your garden, whilst out walking, or anywhere, you can create a biological record. Some people are active recorders recording on a weekly or even daily basis, some just send in casual records when they're out and about. However, before making a record, you must have these four key components covered:  The basics of a biological record

Who: the name of the recorder/determiner (person who identified the organism)

What: the name of the organism (i.e. species/genus/family) that you saw

Where: the location where you saw the organism

When: the date you saw the organism

Combining these four pieces of data produces a biological record.

Data Quality

The species on our planet differ greatly, some are fixed to a location, others are able to travel great distances. some are long lived abd present year-round, whilst others have relatively short life syscles or are inactive at certain periods of time. For a record to be useful, it's important to provide the highest resolution of information appropriate for that organism/species. Saying you saw a bee in a 10km by 10km square during 2019 isn't that useful, saying you saw a common carder bee in a 8 figure grid square on the 15th of April 2019 is useful.

Low resolution biological record vs a high resolution biological record

Who: provide the full name of the recorder/determiner (whoever identifies the species). This allows for any queries about the record to be directed to the correct person.

What: the more specific the taxonomic classification, the better.  However, only classify organisms to a level you're confident with. Take photos if you're not sure which species it is, then you can ask for help online/from other recorders.

Where: provide the most accurate geographic resolution you can. Using the UK Ordnance Survey system, an 8 figure grid reference details that the species was seen within a 10m by 10m square. Whereas, a 4 figure grid reference details that the organism was seen in a 1km by 1 km square - which is not so useful if it's unlikely to move very far. 

When: providing the actual date is much more useful than just the year. 

Additional recording information

You may be asked to include additional information when submitting records, these include habitat, abundance and life stage of the organism. Different recording schemes/methods will ask for different information depending on the ecology of the organism or the objectives of the scheme. 

 

How to submit records

There are many different recording pathways, societies, and schemes. If you’re new to recording, we think the easiest way to start is by uploading your records to iRecord. As your skills develop, you’ll most likely find out about the relevant recording societies/schemes. There’s also an iRecord app, so you can record on the go. Remember to take photos too as this will help the person verifying (checking) your records. 

Why should you record?

Effective nature conservation decisions depend on the availability of good quality biological records. A biological record is a point on a map showing that a particular species was found at a particular location at a particular time, so these points can help to monitor species. 

Distribution maps from the NBN Atlas

 If a rare species is recorded in an area, then that area will (hopefully) receive some sort of protection to prevent any sort of disturbance occurring there. The records of a particular species can also be compared to other locations, other species and times to monitor how their abundance and distributions are changing. For example:

  • Are they increasing in numbers or decreasing? 
  • Are they colonising new areas or disappearing from others? 
  • Perhaps they used to be common but now they’re not? (Note: it’s important to record common species too because they might not be common elsewhere or for much longer).


More records means more accurate species distribution maps. Your records will help build up a better picture of what’s happening to that particular species so then conservation efforts can be prioritised to focus on the species and habitats under threat.  

Summary

A biological record is essentially a point on a map showing you that a certain species was found in that location by someone on a certain date.  The higher the resolution, i.e. the more specific the information you can provide, the better. You can create a biological record for any species you come across, if you see something in your garden, you can record it. Some people are active recorders doing it on a weekly or even daily basis, some just send in casual records when they're out and about. All of these records add up to create distribution maps which help to monitor species and inform scientists, conservationists and policy makers. 

By Keiron Brown (FSC BioLinks Project Manager) and Holly Dillon (FSC BioLinks Project Assistant).