How to keep a wildlife record

Jess Price from the Sussex Wildlife Trust explains why it's a good idea to keep record of the wildlife you see. 

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The weather has not been wonderfully warm in recent weeks, but wildlife has continued to battle through and show us our first glimpses of spring. Already in Sussex, brimstone, comma, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies have been spotted flitting around in the spring sunshine.

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You may think it is still pretty cold for such a delicate insect to be out and about, but these species of butterfly all have something in common – they overwinter as adults. This means that as soon as the weather warms up just a little, butterflies can emerge and start foraging and breeding.

It is important that you keep an eye out for butterflies each year, as they can be important indicator of the health of the natural environment. This is because they are very sensitive to small changes in climate and habitat. Unfortunately, few people tend to keep a note of what wildlife they see and fewer still submit those records to be added to the information already held on the UK’s wildlife.

It is vital for conservation that we know about local wildlife so that we can keep in touch with how individual species and their habitats are faring. The information provided by wildlife records help conservationists decide how land should be managed and how species are being affected by human activities. Without local information we simply would not know what wildlife there is and what is special about each place.

Common everyday species records are just as important as very rare or unusual sightings as they help us understand how wildlife is being affected in the long term. For example, in Brighton I still see hundreds of starlings, but in reality their numbers have plummeted in the UK by over 60% in just 30 years. The only reason we know about this decline is due to people keeping records of starling numbers every year for decades.

Why not become a wildlife recorder and help add to what we already know? You just need to remember to keep note of what you see in your garden, local park or just from your kitchen window.

To make a record useable is must contain four simple things:

What: What have you seen and how many? You need to be certain of your identification so if you’re not sure take some photographs and ask for some expert advice.

Who: It is always important to provide the details of who took the record so that the record centres can get in touch with the recorder to verify details.

When: Be specific of the date to make the record valid i.e. you need to note down the day, month and year. Unfortunately just submitting ‘the beginning of March’ for example is not detailed enough.

Where: Give as much detail as possible so the record can be accurately located. Usually a 6 figure grid reference or more is best, but you could also include descriptions of locations and post codes.

Where should I send my records?

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Most counties have a local biological records centre that collates and manages the biodiversity information for that area. You can find out about your local recording centre here. Additionally, many national and local conservation groups run monitoring schemes such as the BTO’s big bird count and Butterfly Conservation’s big butterfly count. You can find out more about getting involved in surveys and recording on the Biological Record Centre’s website.