Biological recording has long involved some process of checking or verifying the correctness of an occurrence by the community or scheme interested in the records. There are several ways in which this is done within the NPMS and the first step on this journey is with you, the recorder!
When you record a plant species, as well as direct recognition of what you see, you may also consider things such as the habitat, region, or altitude of the location, and how likely a certain species is to be there based on this information. You might consult botanical keys, local Floras, and possibly other botanists through various forums, to confirm your record where you are not sure.
We all make mistakes though, whatever our level of expertise, and verification provides an efficient means of identifying and, where-ever possible, correcting them. Some checks are automated within the digital recording systems we use; the NPMS app, for example, helps ensure that the location and date is automatically in the correct format, and a pre-defined species list reduces the likelihood of transcription errors. The NPMS also uses automatic checks based on the known range, identification difficulty and length of time since a species has been recorded previously, to flag records that could contain errors. Ultimately though, verification still relies on a human to make a judgement on whether a record is correct or not. This is carried out by expert botanists, usually associated with the BSBI, with good knowledge of the flora of the area, county, or region from where the record originated.
NPMS records are collected and stored in the same data management system as iRecord, a free online biological recording website and app which accepts records of any and is used by many different recording schemes. The NPMS uses the inbuilt verification interface of iRecord (as do many other recording websites), to enable botanical experts to access and verify your NPMS records. This is why, if you have an account in iRecord, you may have noticed your NPMS records appear there too!
This system allows verifiers to add a comment or question about your record, to which you can then reply if required (see below). This can be an excellent opportunity to receive feedback on identification of records submitted and can provide a learning opportunity for inexperienced surveyors keen to improve their identification skills, so please make the most of them!
For more detail about the NPMS verification process, and how it is implemented within the iRecord platform read the full NPMS guidance on verification Here.
To help with the verification process you can...
- Ask for help if you are unsure of an identification. NPMS staff will be happy to check photographs for you and there may be local botanists, including BSBI vice-county recorders (see the BSBI’s local botany page), who would be happy to help, especially if the species is potentially rare or new to the area.
- Add photos to your records whenever possible. This is easy to do either via the NPMS website or smartphone app. Try to ensure that the images are in focus and provide close-ups of features that are important for identification such as leaves and flowers. For some great advice see the Botanical photography for beginners webinar available HERE.
- Include information in the comments field about why you decided on a particular ID, especially for records that are unusual or rare.
- Check verifier comments/questions on your records and edit records where required (if you are an iRecord user you can also respond to comments on iRecord, and may also receive comments via email, depending on your notification settings there).
- If you would be interested in becoming a verifier for NPMS data in iRecord, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a call to discuss this.
Sam Amy, Botanical Data Assistant, UKCEH