Why do the BRC do what they do?

9th October 2018 | Richard Burness

We probably all know what the Berkshire Records Committee (the BRC) does but do we know why they do it?

The BRC remit is set out in their constitution, and their performance is managed and evaluated by the NDOC and the BOC. To reiterate, they are charged with reviewing and adjudicating records of rare or scarce birds reported in the county. They do this initially to ensure the scientific integrity of the county archive. This is an admirable aim in itself, but only part of the story. Most people's contact with the recording process begins and ends with the submission of their records. However, the data doesn't just sit in the database doing nothing. It's put to work. There are products that are routinely developed directly from the database and customers who receive our data, some by a negotiated pre-arrangement and others as a response to a specific enquiry.

The one obvious product that everyone sees is The Birds of Berkshire Annual Report. The validation procedures that we go through ensure that the records in each year's dataset are as accurate as possible for when we come to compile the systematic list. There are other products with which you may not be so familiar. On behalf of NDOC/BOC a data exchange agreement has been negotiated with the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC). This runs to some ten pages with forty-three clauses plus appendices, but, boils down to both parties agreeing to exchange only the highest quality data to the highest resolution. Other outputs include the annual submissions to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (to be used in the development of national conservation strategy) and the Scarce Birds in Britain annual report.

Important elements of the County Recorder's role are the need to liaise with national bodies, such as the BTO, and with other recorders, and to respond to public enquiries and supply data on request. In May of this year the BOC received a request for data from a company making the initial Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitat Regulation Assessment on behalf of the Heathrow Airport expansion project. Their suggested area of impact within Berkshire encompassed QMR, Wraysbury GPs and Horton GPs. This is a serious enquiry, not to be treated lightly. Its serious for them as they are in the vanguard of a multi-billion-pound project. It's serious for us because the impact area includes some of our most important wetlands. In these circumstances the data provided must be of the highest quality. It is to provide all these customers with Quality Assurance of data that the BRC puts so much effort into the validation of each individual record.

However, the BRC are facing an increasing number of records that are submitted without the level of supporting evidence required (a description for Category 2 species, a short note for Category 3 species). We received well over 800 unsupported Category 3 reports in 2016 alone. The time and effort spent trying to validate these records is delaying the production of some of the database products. In the attempt to be as inclusive as possible the BRC will continue to accept multi-observer records and those submitted with a reasonable quality photograph (in the absence of any other evidence). However, from 1st January 2017, any individual Category 2 and Category 3 record submitted without the appropriate level of support will have to be flagged as "not proven" in the database and excluded from any outgoing data provision (including the annual report). This is unfortunate. The BRC hopes that observers will respond by providing us with as much information as possible when they report a rare or scarce bird in the future. It is in all our interests to do so.

The BRC members were selected for their expertise and are all local birders with whom you will be familiar. They are available to proffer advice and answer any queries you may have.

Richard Burness,
Chairman of the Berkshire Records Committee.