Keiron Brown manages the FSC BioLinks project for the Field Studies Council and in his spare time is an active member of the London Natural History Society and the Earthworm Society of Britain. His passion for invertebrate recording started at university and continued through 7 years of volunteering at the Natural History Museum.
Putting invertebrates on the map
Invertebrates are animals with no backbone. This grouping differentiates them from mammals and the other vertebrate groups, but it does little to convey the disproportionately huge amount of diversity within this non-taxonomic grouping – invertebrates account for the vast majority of animals on Earth, estimated to be >95%. Many of these animals are also relatively small (even microscopic) compared to their vertebrate counterparts. This can make them difficult to identify to species level (compare that to identifying a fox or a robin!) and it is therefore unsurprising that invertebrates, with the possible exception of butterflies and moths, tend to be under-recorded.
Recording wildlife has long been a British tradition, and really took off as a pastime (and science) in the Victorian era. This included building specimen collections of all sorts of organisms, ranging from plants to birds and mammals to insect collections. These collections still inform what we know today, though the ethics of collecting specimens have come a long way since then. Many insects and other invertebrates require examination with a microscope in order to identify the species that they belong to, creating a number of barriers to invertebrate recording reaching the same popularity levels as vertebrate recording, including:
The moral dilemma of killing invertebrates to identify them
Access to microscopes and other specialist equipment
Access to training and mentors for developing invertebrate ID skills
Access to ID resources – these can be prohibitively expensive, highly technical or not exist!
Collecting some types of invertebrates is necessary in order to identify a species and make a biological record. These specimens can then also be used for other scientific purposes (such as museum collections) or educational purposes (such as ID training courses). A Code of Conduct for Collecting Insects and Other Invertebrates is available to view on the British entomological & Natural History Society website and explains when it is appropriate to ethically collect invertebrates: http://www.benhs.org.uk/resources/collecting/
FSC BioLinks Project training programme
FSC BioLinks is a 5-year (currently at the beginning of year 3) Field Studies Council project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that is trying to break down these barriers in London by training new volunteers in invertebrate species identification and recording. The Royal Parks charity is supporting the FSC BioLinks project by providing FSC with building space to help deliver this innovative project at the Stockyard Centre in Bushy Park, one of London’s eight Royal Parks.
FSC London: Bushy Park, located in South West London, is the main training hub for the project and hosts a range of courses covering 8 broad focus species groups:
Slugs and snails
Bees, wasps and ants
‘Learn To Love’ training courses are aimed at giving absolute beginners an introduction into the ecology and behaviour of a group. ‘Field ID’ courses introduce small numbers of the more distinctive members of a group, with an emphasis on live identification in the field using field guides. ‘Microscope ID’ courses take the ID up a notch and train participants to use identification keys to identify those species that require observation under a microscope. These courses are all designed to complement one another and fit into a structured training programme for each of the focus species groups, such as the Soil Invertebrate ID Training Plan below.
More than just training…
Creating new invertebrate recorders is not just about training though! In addition to the training courses the project also hosts the following events/workshops:
Field Recorder Days are recording events at sites across London, including Bushy Park, where project volunteers record invertebrates alongside local recorders to help inform how these sites are managed for invertebrates.
Bushy Park Invertebrate Volunteer ID Days are open days where the training centre’s microscopes, equipment and literature library are accessible to local recorders and project volunteers. Participants are welcome to bring their own material to work on or can work on various volunteer tasks provided through the project.
London Recorders Day is an annual celebration of the biological recording across London held at the Natural history Museum, with guest talks from a range of volunteers and professionals.
Recording invertebrates at Bushy Park
The various Field Recorder Days and Field ID courses have not only provided training for volunteers, but have resulted in some interesting finds that are used by The Royal Parks’ Ecology, Mission: Invertebrate, and Park Management teams to help enhance and conserve invertebrate habitats in the parks. All data records also go into The Royal Parks and national record archives.
Here are some of the invertebrate highlights that the BioLinks recorders have found in Bushy Park:
Fannia gotlandica is a Nationally Scarce species of fly associated with dead wood. It was found by Martin Harvey when sweeping among dead wood and ivy.
Pollenia vagabunda is an uncommon cluster-fly that is classed as Data Deficient in the Red List but is possibly increasing as there have been more records recently, including during Bushy Park Fly Week and several other sites in London.
The hoverfly, Xanthogramma stackelbergi, was split from the widespread X. pedissequum fairly recently. Martin Harvey found it during Bushy Park Fly Week.
The Tortoise Bug, Eurygaster maura, was recorded during the Bushy Park Field Recorder Day 2019 by Stuart Cole. This scarce species is confined to southern England.
How to get involved
The BioLinks training programme has been temporarily suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It is due to resume from August 2020 pending further guidance on social distancing measures from the UK government.
In the interim, a number of virtual learning experiences are available from the project: https://www.fscbiodiversity.uk/VirtualMeetups
You can also sign up the FSC BioLinks newsletter: https://www.fscbiodiversity.uk/subscribe-our-fsc-biolinks-newsletter
The Field Studies Council is one of The Royal Parks’ learning partners and supports the delivery of The Royal Parks’ Mission: Invertebrate project in Bushy Park, Greenwich Park and Regent's Park.
Keiron Brown, FSC BioLinks Project Manager