Saturday, 10 December 2016

Formatting data for submission to recording schemes

There are various ways of submitting data to recording schemes. The best one, as far as I am concerned, is the humble spreadsheet. For me it has the advantage that I can rapidly scan the data and get a feel for the skill of the recorder and where I should be making specific checks of determinations. When sent by e-mail I can usually respond within the day, which also helps to make sure that data are acknowledged (I do get swamped from time to time, but data submitted in the winter are usually dealt with quickly).

I thought it might be helpful to describe the fields and some of the do's and don't's. I produced a similar post in August 2016, ( but this one is geared more towards the recorder who wants to construct their own spreadsheet.

Species name. It is always helpful to let me know which guide you are using and which edition. The nomenclature and taxonomy continues to evolve, so, for example if you use edition one of Stubbs & Falk, there are a good many species that have been split subsequently (mainly Cheilosia and Platycheirus). If you are referring to the taxon post split, then it is helpful to annotate s.s. (sensu stricto - in the strict sense) e.g. Platycheirus scutatus s.s. If, as is sometimes the case, the split cannot be made (e.g. female Platycheirus scutatus and female Cheilosia albitarsis groups) then annotate sl. (sensu-lato - in the broad sense).

Date. The most convenient form is dd/mm/yyyy

Grid reference. I much prefer OS grid references because I cannot naturally associate lat long to locations. Also, there are several versions of lat long, so that can complicate matters (may be the only way when offshore). It is helpful to stick to the alpha-numeric format if possible because checking other formats takes time to convert to alpha numebric before checking can commence.

We all tend to move around when we record, so it is often spurious accuracy to go much beyond a six-figure grid reference. If recording from a garden, perhaps eight-figure is appropriate, and maybe tend figure is relevant if recording in the field using GPS to pinpoint each record. But if lumping records together then best to go down a notch or two.

We get a lot of grid reference problems owing to mis-reading of GPS and mis-translating GPS readings. So, a quick reminder of how to translate grid references from GPS or from mapping packages.

Your reading is, for example TQ2856568440 (a location on Mitcham Common, Surrey) the various scales would be:
Grid ref
(1 metre accuracy)
8 figure
(10 metre accuracy)
TQ2856 6844
the last figure has been eliminated from from the eastings and northings
6 figure
(100 metre accuracy)
TQ285 684
the last two figures have been eliminated from the eastings and northings
4 figure
(1km accuracy)
 TQ28 68
just the first two figures from the eastings and northings remain

I'm afraid we get rather a lot of grid references where the author simply knocks off the last two/four/six digits, which of course places the location way off its real position.

Location. It is always helpful to have a name for the locality that can be checked against a map or gazetteer. If a nature reserve then I tend to use the following conventions:

National Nature Reserve e.g. Castor Hanglands NNR
Wildlife Trust Reserve e.g. Ring Haw NR
RSPB reserve e.g. RSPB Rainham Marshes
Local Nature Reserve e.g. Bennetts Hole LNR
General landscape e.g. Mam Tor or 'near Castleton, Derbyshire'

Vice County. This gives a lot of problems unless you have access to detailed vice-county maps, but in general if you have the detail it is helpful - I tend to use the numeric rather than the name. There is a very handy website for checking vice-counties, provided by BSBI - it is at:

Recorder name. Your name. If you have web name then it would help to have both e.g. Fred Bloggs (Bloggy)

Determiner name. If you made the identification then this should be your name. If somebody else checked the ID or made the determination, then use their name. In the case of records from the UK Hoverflies Facebook page, it is best to stick with just three people (me, Ian Andrews and Joan Childs) but we will be developing an accreditation scheme to increase the team of mentors. In the case of larvae and puparia use either Geoff Wilkinson or Ellie Rotheray.

Stage. We need to be sure that they are either adult or juvenile. Most records will be adults so male or female is what is needed if you have determined this. There is no requirement to add the sex but if it is possible to create the data then why not do so? I try to squeeze every ounce out of the data as we don't know when it might be useful.

If you have separate counts of males and females then create a line for each gender. If you have amalgamated counts then simply enter 'adult'.

If you have larval or pupal records then record as larva or pupa as appropriate.

Source. Lots of people use UK Hoverflies Facebook page to help secure a firm name. Thus it is always helpful to include the URL for the post (not the page). This means that you need to make sure that your post is isolated from the running sequence of posts. There is no need to isolate down to individual photos - just simply to the overall post. In effect, the post becomes the 'voucher' specimen for the record. A similar approach can be taken with Flickr and iSpot.

Notes. In this section I record aspects of behaviour such as holding territory, courtship and mating. I also record flower visits.

When recording flower visits I like to have some certainty that the animal is actually taking nectar or pollen. Just resting on leaves or petals does not really work, so I use the term at x or at y such as at dandelion. Alternatively you might say 'nectaring on ivy' or 'sun-basking on sycamore leaves'.

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