Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Vice county recorders

Whenever the debate about local recording comes up, the usual answer is that there are VC recorders who should be the links between LERCS and local recorders. Or that the VC recorders can take on verification of records. It makes me wonder whether there is really any understanding of what goes on in many taxonomic groups? Yes, BSBI have VC recorders, so do Butterfly Conservation and perhaps also the National Moth Recording Scheme and possibly British Dragonfly Society. Some Societies such as the YNU and LNU have recorders but in many places there is no Naturalists Union - those societies died years ago in many parts of the country. I know at least one VC moth recorder who has extracted himself and there is no replacement.

So, to explain the situation for Diptera, which is probably pretty similar for BWARS. We have a small network of active hoverfly recorders - until 2011 50% of the data was supplied by just 20 people. Today the proportions are a little better and maybe about 50 people fulfil this role. BUT, for example, in 2017 I generated over 5,000 records - nearly 10% of the total data for the year! Hoverflies are the flagship family of Diptera and so if we have between 20 and 50 really active recorders you can bet it is down below 10 for anything beyond the most popular families!

So, with about 50 really active recorders that does not even equate to one per Vice-County! maybe one to every two VCs. But then there are several clumpings of activity - for example, four of the major contributors to the HRS live within a 30 mile radius of Peterborough, there were three in Dorset (two have effectively retired this year), two in Devon ... There is not an even spread. Of those, the majority have other interests in Diptera and although they are very productive they also contribute to many other Recording Schemes. So, the reality is that there is neither the spread of capacity, nor the numbers who are willing to get involved at a VC level. And as one very capable recorder said to me when I tried to get him to become part of the HRS team 'I like the fieldwork but don't want to become an administrator'.

So, as my offering for today, I think it is time that the shakers and movers in biological recording stopped assuming that there are networks of recorders for all taxa. Most schemes are pretty well 'one-man-bands' or at best a few enthusiasts with a small circle of semi-active contributors. For example, this year, apart from hoverflies, I have collected data for fungus gnats and craneflies - but only by collecting specimens for the Scheme Organiser to ID.  Probably no more than five people in the UK are capable of doing fungus gnats with any competency and most of those will seek advice from the scheme organiser. Craneflies have a few more capable people but I would doubt more than 20 (if that). I also hold on to Pipunculids for David Gibbs, but not that many as they are a pain because the head falls off so easily and makes curation difficult.

There are other popular groups that do have a wider following - I do Sciomyzids, Scathophagids and Larger Brachycera as a matter of course plus a few (not more than a couple of hundred) Tachinids, Dolis and Empids and a scattering of Lauxaniids, Heleomyzids and Sepsids. There are a few other families that I'm building up collections to do in due course but they won't add up to much. And I am one of the more active recorders - most people don't do anything along my lines (I also collect a few beetles for schemes too and have just offered the weevil Scheme my assistance when on safari). Who is going to do the liaison for the several dozens of VCs that I have visited this year? I'll probably have to do it myself because there is nobody!

So, time to start to realise that recording beyond the popular taxa is not awash with VC recorders - it is a very thin spread of people who do the best they can and are finding it increasingly difficult to keep on top of the administrative workload. I know I never expected to find myself giving so many hours to running the HRS and had I known then what I know now I might have opted to keep quiet and do my own thing! Too late now tho'!

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