BRC Meeting January 2016

Biological Records Centre meeting on the challenge of recording and monitoring rare and restricted species

16th January 2016, CEH Wallingford, #BRCRareSpecies

BRC brought together a group of 75 specialists from recording schemes, government agencies and research organisations to review approaches to recording and monitoring rare and restricted species in the UK.   The day’s meeting reviewed existing monitoring approaches and discussed the potential of alternative survey designs and analysis of existing data.  During the lunch break there were demonstrations and discussion on recent developments in data verification and the integration of ecological trait and species interaction data.

Summary of presentations and discussions

David Roy opened the day, outline the structure of the meeting and welcoming attendees to the Centre for Ecology, Wallingford.

Helen Roy gave an update on recent developments within the Biological Records Centre, including a summary of opportunities for National Recording Schemes and Societies to collaborate on activities such as collation of datasets, development of online recording, analysis of trends in distributions.

The remainder of the presentations during the morning session focused on reviewing uses of recording and monitoring data for rare/restricted species and challenges to their recording.

Jon Webb, Senior Entomologist Natural England, gave a presentation on the Challenges of status reviews, experience from England. He discussed the status reviews that Natural England have commissioned in the past few years and the merits of such a process. Amongst other benefits, status reviews can identify new species that may require conservation action. They can also be used to assess species against IUCN Red list criteria. The average cost per species to carry out a review is between £50 and £100. To date there are 3,770 species reviewed, and by the end of 2017, it is hoped that there will be c. 7,000 in total.

Claire McSorley from Scottish Natural Heritage then presented, via webinar, on Priority species monitoring in Scotland, focusing mostly on two bryophyte species: Green Shield Moss Buxbaumia viridis (restricted to Scotland) and Petalwort Petalophyllum ralfsii (rare in Scotland). Claire’s talk looked at using information of habitats prioritize survey effort across Scotland. This method has had success with Petalwort being newly found on Uist in 2015. There are plans for this method to be applied for Green Shield Moss also, using data from the National Forest Inventory to pinpoint areas that might be suitable for this species. Claire summarized that the use of habitat data works well but only if the habitat data is of high quality and that it is important to be mindful of recorder effort, particularly where species’ seasonality affects the probability of detection.

The final talk before lunch was given by Darren Mann, Head of Life Collections at Oxford Museum of Natural History.  His entertaining talk on Scarabid Beetles described the successes (and difficulties) of recording scarabs using old localities as starting points. Whilst recording dung beetles, Darren highlighted how he, and his team of enthusiastic recorders, engage with landowners on the effects of treating their livestock heavily with insecticides. He also discussed the problems with some of the records on the NBN not being accurate for some species. He outlined plans for more targeted surveys for remaining gaps in distributions. Darren reiterated that there is often a lot of detective work involved in obtaining the necessary information from historic records to focus repeat surveys.

We then broke for lunch, where participants were invited to attend three different workshops

1. Invertebrate traits for site assessment – Pantheon (Hannah Dean with input from Jon Webb).

2. Recording species interactions (Michael Pocock)

3. Improving quality through verification (Martin Harvey)

The first talk of the afternoon session was by Nick Isaac on modelling trends from occurrence records: challenges of rarity & data. Nick reviewed recent progress in estimating trends from biological recording data. He illustrated how occupancy modelling has been shown to be the most robust approach to accounting for biases within biological recording data. Enhancing and expanding the use of biological records data for biodiversity indicators has been a major focus for BRC in the last two years.  This has enabled a more representative measure of trends in priority species and the development of an indicator of pollinating insects; both highlight declines over the past two decades.  Nick concluded by discussing the likely limit of what is possible from models to estimate trends from biological recording data, particularly for rare and restricted species.  As a rule of thumb, models have substantial uncertainty for any species for which there are 10 or fewer records per year.

Michael Pocock gave the final talk of the day to stimulate discussion on the potential for alternative approaches to monitoring rare and restricted species.  He summarized the key message from previous talks, reviewing the motivations for recording and what the resulting data is used for.  What drives recorder interest versus priorities for data use are not always the same; a challenge is finding common ground.  Individuals record wildlife because it is fun, engenders collaboration and can make a contribution to nature conservation.  Uses of recording data are increasingly focused on understanding change, including implications for ecosystem services.  Michael discussed the merits of different options for monitoring rare and restricted species, although in the context that we already know a lot about the distribution and trends in many species.   Accessible field guides or other developments (bat detector, cheaper moth traps) have been transformative in the growth of recording and monitoring for some groups.  Alternative approaches ideally need to accommodate monitoring of locations without previous records, yet characterized by factors likely to support the target species (based on environmental factors such as climate and habitat).  Species Distribution Models can help identify potentially suitable locations.  Such an approach could harness interest in ‘challenges’ to stimulate or re-focus recording effort.  Michael concluded his talk by asking the audience if there was interest in working collaboratively to establish a rolling programme of surveys for rare and restricted species, based on modelling of potential locations

The final session of the meeting was a lively discussion following Michael’s talk. 

We would like to thank all the speakers and attendees for contributing to an enjoyable and successful meeting.

Jodey Peyton, Bjorn Beckmann, David Roy

Picture of Bombus humilis (Martin Harvey), which has undergone a major decline in its distribution, foraging on red clover Trifolium pratense
Picture of Bombus humilis (Martin Harvey), which has undergone a major decline in its distribution, foraging on red clover Trifolium pratense