In order to protect vulnerable species of plants and animals, conservationists need to know what is present, where it is, how many of each species there are, when they are around, and whether this has changed year on year. This information can help build a picture of which species are thriving and which are being depleted, and under what conditions. Conservationists can then determine from emerging patterns what is going wrong in an area and how to help species to recover.
Recording the natural world is also beneficial for the people taking part as identifying species can provide mental stimulation; getting outdoors and searching for species can improve physical health; and taking part in group surveys can help to build relationships and tackle social isolation. By taking part in surveys you can also feel part of a longstanding tradition within the UK going back to the 18thC of exploring and recording the natural world.
The information included within a record varies depending on what kind of survey you are completing. In general, records consist of what species was observed by a person, at a location, on a given date. Some surveys ask you to look out for specific species, whereas others may ask you to check out certain locations. Some organisations may ask for written information and others may ask for images. One thing to be mindful of is to avoid sharing locations of sensitive species or breeding areas. Natural Resources Wales publish a list of sensitive features and guidance on how these records should be managed.
There are many organisations collecting records and running surveys that recruit for volunteers or ask for occasional support. There are some things that you may wish to consider before getting started like how much time you want to spend recording and whether you want to record all kinds of wildlife or focus on a specific group. Some surveys are available all year round and others may be during specific seasons or months where species are most active. For instance, swift surveys happen in late Spring / Summer when they migrate to the UK whereas mushrooms are generally best observed in late Summer / Autumn. Some surveying may require going out with a trained specialist, particularly for protected species, whereas other species can be found with minimal preparation in your garden or local park. It is worth considering whether you would prefer going out with a group or doing a survey as an individual as this can affect which campaigns you take part in.
Most recording these days can be submitted through a website or mobile app, but some organisations will still accept handwritten records. Many groups are also on social media so if you are unsure what you have recorded you can ask other recorders; these groups vary from novices to specialists so you may wish to do a bit of digging to find one that fits your knowledge level (i.e. some groups use scientific names of species which can be somewhat intimidating if you are new to recording). Rest assured however that there are many ways to get involved with recording, whatever time, interest or level of experience you have.
If you want to get involved in surveying wildlife, plants, and habitats check out the campaigns and organisations detailed in this resource.
You could start by focusing on types of plants or animals you are particularly fond of or when during the year you are most likely to have time to search for and record wildlife. There are also mobile apps and resources you can download to help you identify and record species more easily than ever before.
For more nature based activities, check out our 'Invest in Nature - Resources'.