The call of the wildlife survey


I think it all started at school, when I loved geography projects involving going into the countryside and doing things like land use surveys, which entailed using maps and filling in forms.

Later in life, it evolved into keeping lists and records of wildlife encountered and the natural progression of all that was to become involved in numerous surveys for a variety of conservation organisations.

My first love is birds and most of my surveys involve recording them at different times of year, doing different things. The longest-running of these is the winter wildfowl counts which get me out once a month counting ducks, geese and so forth on three local lochs – I have been doing this for almost 20 years. It was through this that I learned how to identify duck species and I found it a great incentive to go out when the weather suggested a day at the fire.

These outings often resulted in exciting wildlife experiences I would otherwise have missed.

The one which I am involved with at present is the annual breeding bird survey. This employs a different set of skills including the recognition of bird song. I am allocated a 1km square near home and I visit this twice during the breeding season, at the crack of dawn, to note all the bird species either seen or heard singing. This really honed my song recognition ability – and what a great time of day to up and about.

I also do the annual RSPB garden bird survey which only involves an hour’s work a year, noting all the birds visiting my garden on a specified day. What could be easier?

Previously I have done nest-box surveys, mammal surveys, road-kill surveys and several botanical surveys.

My latest passion is the study of moths and, yes, you’ve guessed it, another survey has reared its head. It’s called the garden moth survey and means I have to set my light trap every Friday night, come rain or shine, for about nine months and record everything trapped. Many of these surveys can now be done online, which is much easier and less time-consuming.

The beauty of becoming involved with surveys is that it concentrates the mind and hones the skills in identification and is probably one of the best ways to get to know your subject, where you can expect to see it and when.

As you can see, there are so many to get involved with and I have only scratched the surface. If you would like to try one, get in touch with the appropriate organisation and find out more.

Keeping records for your own amusement is fun but including them as part of an official survey helps to conserve the creatures you are recording and your skills in recognition and knowledge will blossom.