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Recording Nature

tyne valley express painted lady butterfly

One of the greatest pleasures of the natural world is that there is always so much to find out; it’s also one of the biggest frustrations.  For those starting out the mountain can seem enormous as you try to get to grips with the difference between a small tortoiseshell and painted lady butterfly, or between a chaffinch and bullfinch.  For those with many years behind them the mountain is no less tall as the horrible realisation strikes that there is more than one dandelion or that there is a whole group of insects that you’ve never even heard of. 

For some the compulsion to identify and name everything is strong, others are content to just enjoy the variety of life out there.  I sometimes envy that second group.  If you are a namer then it can be so easy to put the beauty and awe of the natural world behind the compulsion to work out what on earth you are looking at.  And yet that compulsion drives you into new areas, sometimes unfathomable depths of knowledge and wonder; the trick is to know your limits and resurface before it’s too late. 

So this summer’s quest, for me, has been to seek things out, to use evening dog walks or days out in the countryside to see what I can find, to identify what I can and to record some of what I see.  The records are not just kept in some dusty notebook, or whatever the computer version might be, but are compiled to be sent to local species recorders and our local biological recording centre, ERIC North East. 

So why are records of wildlife so important?  The simple answer is that if you don’t know what you’ve got, you can’t look after it: if you can’t see what you’re losing you can’t protect it.  A good example of this would be the water vole.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me they used to see them all the time, but now they are almost gone from our region. No-one was watching as they slowly disappeared.  Projects like Restoring Ratty are now putting time and energy into reintroducing this once common creature to our region. 

For those of us in conservation it’s a confusing time.  On one hand nature recovery strategies are being proposed while on the other planning rules are being relaxed giving less protection to already vulnerable wildlife.  If we are armed with information on what lives where then we at least have the evidence to try to stand up for wildlife and fight for its survival. 

So if you are recording wildlife, or could do so, then please send those records you have to ERIC.  But there are a few tips to recording. 

  • Only record what you are pretty sure is accurate
  • Don’t record everything all the time, you’ll lose the will to continue
  • Check what information is needed before you start and how to keep the records (what, where, when and who)
  • Remember the common, not just the rare
  • Enjoy it!

And on the subject of enjoying it my method is to do it as part of a walk or as a break from something else, I record only certain things each time so that I am not spending hours sorting it all out later, and I take photos.  Photographs can be great to help with identification but can also help you appreciate what you are looking at – and will even help you discover new things.  You don’t even need expensive kit to make a start, a modern mobile phone camera can do so much. 

In a tentative dabble into social media I share a small selection of wildlife images, mostly from the local area, on Instagram.  Have a look if you are interested.  It’s just me sharing some pictures of species large and small, but mostly small, to show what amazing things we have living locally.  Find them @duncanwildlife. 

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