Data sharing

Where does the record go?

Many recorders are motivated to record wildlife because they want to ensure that records are available to decision makers, planning authorities, scientists, recording schemes and societies. One of the benefits of iRecord over written records and some other computerised recording systems is in relation to where your records go after you submit them.

Records on paper need considerable effort to get them into a form where they can be utilised. Even records in spreadsheets take considerable effort to import them into the databases used to collate records, since species names and other terms all need to be matched with the correct equivalents in the database. This might sound trivial but don’t forget that many species names are not unique; a redshank is a plant or a bird for example. A combination of the effort required to process records and the lack of awareness of the importance of collating records means that many records remain exactly where they started out - on paper or on a spreadsheet. This is even true of many records collected from that most modern of recording phenomena, the bioblitz; the effort required to mobilise the data is often considered not worth it. Of course that’s not to say that we shouldn’t hold events purely with the aim of public engagement, but with iRecord we hope to make mobilising records much easier so there are no good reasons not to.

Using the taxonomy of the UK Species Inventory (UKSI), iRecord helps you to match species names correctly at the point of data entry by showing you the common name, scientific name and species group when you pick a name, so issues with matching names are no longer a factor. The record is immediately in digital form with correctly input grid references picked from a map, no ambiguity in the way dates are written and so forth. Therefore fully utilising the records which are input into iRecord becomes much simpler. Creating an accurate record right from the outset is only part of the story, so lets take a look at what else happens next behind the scenes.

The Database

All records added to iRecord go straight into a database hosted by the Biological Records Centre known as the community warehouse. This name reflects the fact that the database is shared with a community of other online recording websites built with the Indicia system. The records are held securely and are regularly backed up.

Records are immediately available

All non-sensitive records added to iRecord are immediately available for browsing on the Explore pages of the website. Local environmental records centres (LERCs) have instant access to records, to ensure that they are not overlooked in the local planning process while they are waiting for verification. Of course, a record needs to be verified before it is used as evidence for decision making, but instant access to unverified records can help ensure that important species and habitats are not harmed due to lack of awareness of their presence.

To find out if and how regularly your LERC is accessing record from iRecord, you may wish to contact them. You can search for your LERC on the Association of Environmental Record Centre's LERC finder. There is more information for LERCs here.

Automated checks

Records added to the database are subjected to a number of automated checks. For example, if a record is outside the expected distribution of the species or at an unexpected time of year, then a flag is added to the record marking it as such. These flags shouldn’t be considered as an indication of a “bad” record though - a record which is outside the known distribution is exactly the sort of record which can show the movement of a population if enough evidence is available to verify the record.

The rules used for the automated checks are based on criteria originally developed by the national recording schemes for the NBN Record Cleaner software, which was designed to highlight records that fall outside normal patterns of distribution or time periods. As new records are verified within iRecord, the system ‘learns’ so that if a new species gets verified several times from a new area, it no longer triggers an ‘out-of-range’ warning.

Read more about automatic record checks within iRecord.

Expert Verification

The next, critical step in the journey of the record is a review by an expert. Only expert verified records can be used as evidence in planning enquiries, species atlases etc. That doesn’t mean a record that cannot be verified is not useful; even if it only gives guidance for further professional surveying - every record is valuable.

Experts have access to a list of the records pending verification, which is filtered to their region and taxonomic speciality as appropriate. They also have tools to quickly verify records (for example you can verify en masse all records of common, easily identified bird species by trusted recorders). Photos uploaded with records are often a great help in verifying records of some species groups but in many cases the expert needs to contact the recorder to check further details or to ask if a specimen is available. iRecord’s verification system includes tools to make all these tasks as simple as possible for the expert so that they can concentrate on the important task of checking through the records.

Read more about verification and record checks.

Records are passed to the NBN Atlas

The NBN Atlas is the UK’s portal for exploring biodiversity data, a node of the Global Biodiversity Information Framework (GBIF). Verified records from iRecord may be shared via the NBN Atlas. The decision to do so lies with individual national recording schemes, although most do upload data. From there, the records are made available to a number of other websites via NBN web services, and to an international audience via GBIF.

Read more about data sharing with the NBN Atlas.