FSC BioLinks – Structured ID training for biological recording volunteers

This post is greater than 6 months old - links may be broken or out of date. Proceed with caution!

Logo: FSC Biolinks

Biological recording is the scientific study of the distribution of living organisms. It involves the collection of biological records that describe the presence, abundance and ecological associations of wildlife. These records provide the evidence that underpins our understanding of nature and are important for evidence-based conservation.

Fly fieldwork 6 (young adult) © Keiron Derek Brown
Fly fieldwork 6 (young adult) © Keiron Derek Brown

In the UK, biological records come from a wide variety of sources such as citizen science, dedicated recording volunteers, professional ecological surveyors and research projects. These records are collated into larger datasets through organisations such as Local Environmental Record Centres and National Recording Schemes & Societies, and may be publicly available for use through the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Tens of thousands of volunteer recorders contribute biological records each year[1]. This may be through involvement in focused monitoring projects (such as the RHS Cellar Slug Hunt), taxon-specific recording schemes (such as the Spider Recording Scheme) or recording in general (such as submitting ad hoc records through iRecord and BirdTrack).

Identifying bees © Keiron Derek Brown
Identifying bees © Keiron Derek Brown

In 2011, CIEEM reported that the UK has specialist skills gaps and skill shortages in species identification (especially of invertebrates, fish and lower plants) balanced against the specialist requirements for these taxa[2]. As one of the largest natural history training providers in the UK, the Field Studies Council has been working on addressing these skills gaps through a number of projects that aim to upskill volunteer recorders, including the current FSC BioLinks project.

The FSC BioLinks project highlighted a number of species groups that are data deficient and difficult to-identify[3], and produced a strategy for developing volunteers with the skills necessary to address these knowledge gaps[4].

Over the past 2 years the project has delivered over 240 training courses and events for new and existing biological recorders in South East England and the West Midlands. Each of the events is part of a structured development programme aimed to build knowledge, skill, motivation and confidence in biological recorders (Figure 1 illustrates the ID training pathway developed for soil invertebrates). Another 3 years of training are planned in order to tackle the skill shortages in invertebrate ID skills.

Soil Invertebrate ID Training Pathway (FSC)
Soil Invertebrate ID Training Pathway (FSC)

Figure 1: The Soil Invertebrate ID Training Pathway created by the FSC BioLinks project.

This structured training programme provides the participating volunteers with a range of benefits relevant to their professional development, including:

  • Improved knowledge of the biology and ecology of under-studied invertebrate groups.
  • Skills and experience in species identification of difficult-to-identify invertebrate groups.
  • Monitoring and surveying skills of under-studied invertebrate groups.
  • Understanding the importance of biological recording and confidence in record submission.
Worm search © Olga Vinduskova
Worm search © Olga Vinduskova

In return, FSC BioLinks project volunteers have began to give back to the biological recording community through the generation of new biological records and supporting local natural history groups and initiatives. At the beginning of 2019 London Natural History Society gained 6 new county recorders for a range of invertebrate groups. These county recorders have taken on the role of championing their chosen taxa and supporting others within London to go out and record these under-recorded groups. Typical responsibilities include organising field meetings to sites across London to record their groups, collating species records for their chosen group and submitting these to the relevant recording scheme and supporting other volunteer recorders with their identifications. Of the 6 new county recorders in London for 2019, three were volunteers trained on their respective group (true flies, centipedes and harvestmen) through the FSC BioLinks training programme.

Biological recording provides people with a flexible method of volunteering for the biodiversity sector. The work that is undertaken can be done so around work and family commitments, with volunteers able to organise their field recording at times convenient to them and the management/submission of the records undertaken at home. Biological recording also gives volunteers a range of transferable skills relevant to the conservation sector, such as seeking permissions from landowners, managing data and undertaking field work.

Getting involved with biological recording is also very easy, due to the huge range of local natural history groups and national recording schemes that are active in the UK. So why not think about using your spare time to contribute to the growing number of biological records that help us produce the State of Nature report?

Logo: FSC

To find out more about the FSC BioLinks training opportunities for 2020 check out the project website:

To find out more about recording schemes dedicated to specific taxonomic groups check out the Biological Records Centre website:

Keiron Brown

Logo: Heritage Fund

FSC BioLinks Project Manager


[1] Hayhow DB et al. (2019) The State of Nature 2019. The State of Nature partnership.

[2] IEEM (2011). Closing the Gap: Rebuilding ecological skills in the 21st Century. Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, Chichester.

[3] Brown KD (2017) FSC BioLinks Consultation Report. Field Studies Council.

[4] Brown KD (2018) FSC BioLinks Development Plan For Training Provision. Field Studies Council.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Conservation Volunteers on 10 February 2020. Read the full issue here

More from Field Studies Council

More on:

Built by Jack Barber in Whitby, North Yorkshire. Visit Herbal Apothecary for herbal practitioner supplies, Sweet Cecily's for natural skincare, BeeVital for propolis health supplements and Future Health Store for whole foods, health supplements, natural & ethical gifts.