The fourth instalment in a regular feature where we ask people in our area to talk a little about what motivates them to record wildlife and send their records to NESBReC. All photos by Alistair Watson.
Local Recorder Profile #4 by Alistair Watson
I studied Zoology at the University of Aberdeen and was extremely lucky to be supported by Project Scotland on a Trainee Habitat Surveyor/Biological Recorder placement at NESBReC in 2006.
Most of the records I submit to NESBReC are incidental observations I have during work time, time off or even whilst travelling. The majority of my recording is through structured recording schemes which are quite seasonal and require planning and sometimes landowner permissions given in advance.
I focus primarily on badgers, amphibians and water voles but have also submitted records of damselflies and dragonflies in recent years. Previously I focused on spiders and harvestmen, but now I tend to support others with them rather than proactively survey them myself.
Photo1: Badger hairs caught on barbed wire – survey field sign
I monitor numerous badger setts four times a year for the charity Scottish Badgers within 2.5 km of my home. I also survey and support other surveyors with badger surveys across Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire. Within 1 km from my home, I also monitor a pond containing palmate newt, common toad and common frog for the National Amphibian & Reptile Recording Scheme (and also take interest in that pond’s damselflies). I monitor two National Water Vole Monitoring Programme transects once a year, one near Oldmeldrum and the other at Forvie.
I am continuously refreshing and increasing my knowledge of wildlife and my confidence in my knowledge and understanding of species and habitats. This has been invaluable in supporting past employment roles in nature conservation and environmental planning, and my current role working in electricity infrastructure. The knowledge I have gained through learning about invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles from surveying was put to use in designing habitat enhancement features for those groups as components of a larger CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge award-winning scheme. Time spent walking, climbing and scrambling during recording outings and looking for and interpreting field signs and species identification is a great exercise for the body and the mind!
There are many species which don’t require further training or equipment to identify or record, yet are commonly seen but are under recorded, so they provide a starting point for a casual recorder to build their confidence. There are numerous Citizen Science recording schemes which are well supported by paper or electronic guidance (including online videos and manuals) and these can be very similar or often identical to the methods used by professional ecologists. I would encourage anybody to look for relevant recording schemes to try things out, engage with other interested people (possibly even receiving some free mentoring on the way!) and have something more to tell potential employers about. Engaging with NESBReC is also a great way of finding out about species identification training, survey opportunities and connecting with local contacts. NESBReC can also help you with the identification of any photos of species that you are unable to identify.
Whilst casual recording is great for personal development, structured recording schemes such as People’s Trust for Endangered Species ‘Living with Mammals’ survey or adopting a site for monitoring for another scheme (whether it be for squirrels, badgers, amphibians, reptiles, bees… etc.) are a great way to become very familiar with a small area of wildlife habitat from repeated visits, which can be useful in developing knowledge of different species associated with that type of habitat. Surveys for mammals rely on the ability to interpret field signs so through surveying for badgers I have learnt a lot about foxes, otters and pine martens in particular and learnt more about squirrels and deer field signs as incidental observations on my way.