Shetland Biological Records Centre
What is a Biological Record?
Put very simply, a
biological record is documentary evidence of wildlife. A good biological
record may be in any format (e.g. written, electronic, photographic), but
will contain all of the following four key components.
and most important of all, the species (or sometimes habitat) concerned
is identified correctly.
In many cases this is very straightforward, but in some cases, involving
rare species or ones that have closely similar relatives, the process is
more difficult. For difficult species, corroborative evidence may be
required to establish the validity of the record. This may be in the
form of a specimen (e.g. for plants), or a detailed written description,
outlining key identification features (e.g. for birds or cetaceans).
For many groups, such as birds and mammals, there is often a panel of
experts which will judge difficult records. The British Birds Rarities
Committee is one such panel, which operates at a national level for very
rare species of bird (mostly ones that have only been recorded in
Britain a few times). Often, a second tier of assessment exists at a
local level, for species which may be unusual in one particular region.
Hence the Shetland Bird Club Rarities Committee judges species which are
unusual in Shetland, some of which may be very common elsewhere in
Britain. For example, the Nuthatch is a widespread and familiar bird in
England, but there are no accepted records for Shetland, so any sighting
would require corroboration. Such extra detail may be in the form of a
written description, but of course it could also be in the form of
photographs or video/film footage, or even a specimen if the bird was
found dead. Of course, in the past the taking of ‘specimens’ was the
main way in which records were confirmed!
Second, the date of the record is crucial. Recording dates
allows patterns of occurrence to be assessed, and population trends
through time (i.e. whether a species is increasing, stable or declining)
to be established.
Third, the location of the record. An accurate description of
where the record was made is of enormous value. A written description
will usually suffice, but the best was to describe locations is by using
a grid reference, which can be gained easily from an Ordnance Survey
map. For most biological records a six-figure grid reference is
perfectly adequate. This pinpoints a location to the nearest 100m. In
some cases, for example the precise location of a rare plant, for which
only a few individuals survive, an eight-figure grid reference (giving
location to the nearest 10m) is more appropriate. Modern technology, in
the form of hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) recorders, looks
likely to revolutionise the accuracy with which naturalists can record
their sightings. This technology is particularly useful when faced with
a wide expanse of featureless habitat – such as a large area of
moorland. It is even more useful at sea, for example when recording
whales and dolphins.
Fourth, and finally, the name of the observer is an important
piece of documentary evidence. Allied to this, the name of the expert
or the authority which has determined a difficult record (see above) is
summary then, a biological record is documentary evidence of wildlife, at
a certain place and time, made by a known observer. So if you’re sending
in records, remember: what, where, when and by whom.
In addition to the four
basics listed above, additional or ‘background’ information can be very
useful, in particular counts of a species, any interesting behaviour
(perhaps whether other species are associating with the organism
concerned) or details of the habitat where the species is encountered.
Often, a list of other species present can give vital clues to a record
above right - Paddyfield Warbler - Roger Riddington
What sort of
records does SBRC collect?
Records at the Centre
come from many sources, from specialist surveys by professional
biologists, to keen amateur naturalists, to interested members of the
public. ALL records are important. To encourage more
widespread record submission, SBRC co-ordinates surveys to find out more
about Shetland’s wildlife. These cover both common species, some of which
we know relatively little about, and rarer species. If you would like to
help with these surveys, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I get access to information at
Information held by SBRC
is available to anyone with a legitimate need, or interest in natural
history. Personal visits to the Centre are welcome, though appointments
are advised. Requests for sensitive or confidential data will be referred
to SBRC’s Steering Committee, which is composed of members of funding
partners and local recording groups.