You are here

Verifying and sharing wildlife records centrally

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 10:40
The Biological Records Centre (BRC) is carrying out trials of online verification of biological records, using the iRecord system as a test for online verification tools. This is a project for Natural England, with funding from the Defra Fund for Biodiversity Recording in the Voluntary Sector.
There are many potential benefits to be gained from having a more centralised data verification system that many data-capture tools can feed in to. Data then become available in one place for expert verifiers to check, and allows the data to be visible immediately to taxonomic recording schemes, local environmental records centres and other specific survey and monitoring projects. The centralised structure allows a range of online verification tools to be developed and maintained for the benefit of a wide community of experts, integrating the suite of data verification rules that have been developed by national experts for NBN Record Cleaner. A key benefit is the potential to make verified data available more efficiently via the NBN Gateway so that it can be used to support environmental decision-making, and to keep a visible ‘audit trail’ of the verification processes applied to each record.
The current trials are exploring the pros and cons of the centralised data warehouse approach, in order to develop a set of recommendations for the future development of online tools and data flow procedures. During the initial phase of work earlier this year BRC worked with verifiers from Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, the National Moth Recording Scheme and the Marine Biological Association to test online verification tools, compare online systems with their current approaches, and highlight areas for further investigation – these included questions around dataflow, editing of records, tracking of verification decisions.
The next phase of the project brings in two further partners, Thames Valley ERC and Worcestershire Biological Records Centre, who have provided trial datasets to be loaded in to the community warehouse for verification by local and national verifiers. Datasets from iSpot have also been contributed to test the suitability of this route for sharing data with schemes and centres.
BRC will shortly be circulating an online questionnaire to gain feedback from a wider range of people involved with verification of biological records – this will be announced via the iRecord forums and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, use of iRecord by data gatherers and recording scheme verifiers continues to grow. Recent additions to projects using iRecord include Moors for the Future with a comprehensive set of forms for bumblebee transect recording and reporting. Other projects whose online recording websites are being linked to iRecord for verification purposes include the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union, the iRecord Ladybird (and soon to be available iRecord Butterflies) mobile App, UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, British Phycological Society’s new OPAL-funded recording website, Nature Locator’s Sea Life Tracker app for recording invasive species and climate change indicators in the marine environment, plus schemes being trialled by Norfolk BIS and an online recording portal for environmental consultants which is currently being developed in partnership with CIEEM and ALERC.
Several improvements have been made to iRecord recently in response to feedback and suggestions by verifiers and recorders.  These include:
•    The ability for verifiers to view a recorder’s experience, i.e. how many records of a particular species and taxonomic group they have made and how many have been verified.
•    The ability for verifiers to give recorders ‘trusted’ status if they are confident of their expertise.
•    Integration of new verification rules for over 2,600 taxa from a range of invertebrate groups including bees, wasps, ants, riverflies, ladybirds, shield bugs and ground beetles.
•    The ability for recorders to change the determination of a record in response to feedback from a verifier (previously they had to delete and re-submit the record)
•    Messages from verifiers and automated notifications about records are now collated on their own page on the Explore menu, and recorders can now reply via iRecord to questions and comments made by verifiers.
•    ‘Dashboards’ have been added, which provide a visual summary of the proportion of each user’s records that have been verified over time.
A key improvement that will be introduced soon is the integration of the new version of the UK Species Inventory.  This will make it possible to give someone verification access to any level in the taxonomic hierarchy rather than the broad ‘taxon reporting groups’ used at present, e.g. it will be possible to assign someone as a verifier for Carabidae (ground beetles) rather than Coleoptera (all beetles). Several recorders have been in touch to ask why their records are not yet on the NBN Gateway even though they have been verified.  The Biological Records Centre is working with the relevant national recording schemes to mobilise the verified records, but in some cases this is waiting for the integration of the new UK Species Inventory to enable datasets to be split up taxonomically according to the coverage of each scheme. If you have further suggestions for improvement please post them in the iRecord forum or contact 
Written by Martin Harvey, on behalf of Biological Records Centre