A MAJOR £1.2 million biological recorders training project run by the Field Studies Council (FSC), which operates Nettlecombe Court field centre in West Somerset, has been hailed as a national success.

The scheme has boosted the number of UK biological recorders and is being looked on as a ‘blueprint’ for future initiatives to support conservation.

The BioLinks project helped to train more than 5,500 learners, giving them the necessary skills and knowledge to identify a range of invertebrates, including some of the UK’s most vulnerable groups, such as bees and beetles.

The training resulted in more than 35,000 additional invertebrate records being submitted to the national record database, a central system which stores information about wildlife sightings from across the UK.

BioLinks project manager Keiron Derek Brown said: “The success of this project is hugely significant, particularly at a time when there is so much concern for our declining UK species.

“Information on sightings submitted to the national database is used by researchers and wider organisations to influence conservation policy and land management schemes, so there is a pressing need to ensure people have the right skills to accurately record species as well as the knowledge to submit records.

“This project directly addressed that need by training thousands of individuals, those with little or no previous knowledge right through to professionals in the sector who were looking to upskill and apply their understanding of invertebrate ecology directly to the management of existing wildlife sites and nature reserves.

“Understanding what species live where can tell us so much about a particular habitat and environment and can help guide us on what we do next in terms of site management and protection of species.

“The more data we have, the more accurately we can determine whether a particular species is in decline.

“We really hope this project has ignited a life-long interest in invertebrate recording among individuals and those involved in the project will continue to use their skills to submit recordings to the national database.

“The project was only made possible with funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund so we are incredibly thankful that they chose to support this worthwhile initiative.”

Records of insect numbers have increased thanks to a Field Studies Council training project.
Records of insect numbers have increased thanks to a Field Studies Council training project. (Field Studies Council)

The primary aims of the five-year BioLinks project were to strengthen the UK’s biological recording network and develop a community of guardians to protect the nation’s biodiversity especially invertebrates.

National Lottery Heritage Fund England, Midlands, and East director Robyn Llewellyn said: “We are proud to have supported this valuable project in strengthening the biological recording community, widening networks, and creating opportunities for individuals.

“Thanks to National Lottery players we will continue to fund projects that support nature conservation and boost the quality and quantity of wildlife-rich habitats across the country.”

The project came to an end earlier this year but throughout its duration expert tutors at the FSC environmental education charity delivered training at more than 490 different events.

It also delivered 36 online training courses attended by more than 4,500 learners, hosted 85 webinars attended by more than 12,000 participants, and generated online-related resources which were viewed more than 70,000 times.

An independent evaluation of the project highlighted its success with those involved in the biological recording sector, suggesting the scheme should now become the ‘blueprint’ for future initiatives.

FSC wildlife biologist Olivia Watts said: “It is really important that we find ways to continue educating people with the right skills for identifying, recording, and submitting accessible and accurate data on UK species so that researchers and institutions can inform and influence future policy makers.

“One of the things we have done to ensure the legacy of the BioLinks project is to make many of the training plans and teaching resources openly accessible to other organisations looking to run similar initiatives, so they do not need to start from scratch.

“This kind of knowledge and information sharing is crucial.

Thousands more people know how to record insect sightings and numbers thanks to a Field Studies Council project.
Thousands more people know how to record insect sightings and numbers thanks to a Field Studies Council project. (Field Studies Council)

“We are also continuing to work directly with specific wildlife organisations to provide further training on biological recording and are currently assessing and planning what courses we might be able to deliver in future to support those who were involved in the project as well as others who are eager to learn.”

The FSC, which is celebrating its 80th year, is a national leader in environmental education and runs residential trips and specialist courses for all ages from primary school upwards.

It was instrumental in a long-running campaign to bring about a new Natural History GCSE qualification, which could be taught in schools by 2025.

Ms Watts said: “It is our mission at the Field Studies Council to engage as many people, young and old, in the natural world.

“We have biodiversity events which introduce children as young as five to nature and wildlife in the hope it will spark a curiosity in them to care for and protect our natural world.

“By capturing their imaginations at a young age, it is these children who will grow up to be our future invertebrate recorders.

“It is why teaching field skills such as species identification is important from a young age and why fieldwork in subjects such as biology, geography, and environmental science should all continue to feature in the national curriculum.”