Making your own wildlife record
Note: this page will continue to be expanded and improved
A number of people and organisations have decided to make a record of their own wildlife environment. This page discusses a method for achieving good results. Anyone who starts a hedgerow project and lets me know will be added to our new webring - Nature Diaries. You can also apply to join at: http://A.webring.com/hub?ring=naturediaries
The three main steps in making your own 'hedgerow' project are:-
1) Planning, where the patch is chosen and the scope of the record is decided.
2) Capturing, when the data and images are taken.
3) Recording, which is where the information is formally documented in its final format.
Picking a patch
In order to achieve the best results, you need to pick a 'patch'. The record will then be traceable back to a particular geographic location. Keeping in mind that flora and fauna vary dramatically with environment, it is desirable to choose an area that contains a range of environments and micro-climates. This will yield more useful information and will provide continuing interest over time, since different environments are active or interesting at different times. Keep in mind the need for safety. Sometimes you may have to lie down to get the best picture. Doing this on a busy road is dangerous.
Decide what sections of wildlife the record will cover. You might decide to concentrate on plants: They move slowly and can be photographed at different stages in their development. Insects can be very interesting, but move very quickly and can be difficult to identify. An alternative strategy is to get what you can. This means that your record will still be valuable, whatever you manage to capture.
Get permission to do the work. Land is generally owned by someone. Make sure you have access to the locations you will use, and be sensitive to local requirements (e.g. are sheep lambing at that time?)
Knowing where to look
Hedge. The hedge has a number of places for plants and insects. The hedge itself will be host to birds' nests and to blossom or fruits. The verge will have grasses and taller plants that support insects and spiders. Insects often feed on flowers or rest on leaves. The base of the hedge can support fungi. Lichens grow on branches and trunks.
Stream. Running water has its own set of plants, both immersed and on the banks/fringes of the stream. The dark back walls of streams are also host to liverworts and ferns.
Woodland. Trees can provide shade and shelter. The leaf litter is often rich in fungi and there will be a completely different flora near the edge of the woods where there is more light. Mosses often grow on or between trees.
Verge. Whether the verge is cut or unmanaged, there will always be flowering plants in the grass. Different plants like to be near the front or back.
Bog/Marsh. Bog and marsh plants like to have their feet either completely or partially wet. Photography can be difficult in these areas, but the effort is worthwhile, because many species are quite exotic.
Field. Fields support a wide variety of flowering plants, bushes and fungi, depending on what kind of crops or animals live there.
Pond. Pond life is very diverse. Flowering plants and insects can develop freely. Look for dragonflies, frogs and numerous birds.
Maritime. Salt air attracts its own range of species. A unique range of plants, insects, birds and lichens can be found near estuaries and beaches.
Walls. Walls are good for mosses, lichens, ferns, snails and some flowering plants.
It also helps to know where species like to be. I discovered last year that Angelica is a magnet for insects. All I had to do was look for Angelica and I knew I'd get plenty of insects to photograph. When the Angelica was finished, Ivy blossom became their new target. Timing is also important. Once or twice last year I was told "you should have xxx by now" and on looking in the right place, sure enough there it was. Ergot comes to mind.
Getting the best from the camera (See also Photography tips)
Digital is the only way to go
Throw away pictures - there is no waste. If you don't like the shot, take another.
Instant, no waiting for prints back from the pharmacy.
Many images can be stored per card. Hundreds at a time.
Rechargeables only - ordinary batteries are useless (and too expensive)
1 spare set rechargeables at all times (I now take 2 spare sets)
Obviously (and luckily!) not everything will be ready to photograph on the same day. So when you are looking for subjects, take note of any plants that are in bud. You can then come back and take their photo when the flowers are open. I often plan my routes based on what I've seen earlier in the year (or, indeed, earlier in the week).
Identifications can be difficult. We all know a Dandelion and a daisy, but are you sure that particular Speedwell is Germander?
There are three main sources of identifications: Books, Experts and the Internet.
Most 'off the shelf' books are not much use. Only around 50% of the plants on my 2003 patch were in common books. In order to get exact identifications to species you will need specialist books. Unless you have access to local experts, then perhaps identification to genus (family) would be enough. Some insects are even more difficult to identify without laboratory tools. Ditto for fungi and lichens.
I have been lucky enough to have made contact with a number of experts. Some for plants, others for fungi and lichens, and a few for insects. If you can find a local expert, then recruit them into your initiative. Local knowledge is invaluable.
Google has 2 main forms of searching: Text and Image. I use both every day. Please be aware that Google has 'safesearch' settings that control the nature of results returned. Searching for e.g. Veronica will have differing results depending on settings.
Presentation & media
An obvious place for the results of your efforts is a website. Everyone else can see it, and it doesn't have to cost anything other that the cost of the phone call to put it up. The ISP that connects you to the internet will probably have free webspace waiting for you.