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You may find this information helpful when researching the area prior to your visit

Shetland Biological Records Centre (SBRC) was established in 1998, with the aim of creating a system that can efficiently collate and distribute information about all aspects of Shetland’s wildlife, and promote the best possible use of those data. The project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Shetland Amenity Trust, the Shetland Enterprise Company and Shetland Islands Council, together with matching funds from the European Regional Development Fund (Objective 1). The Centre is managed by Shetland Amenity Trust, and is located within the Lerwick offices of the Trust.

The key objectives of SBRC are:

to gather all available information on Shetland's natural history (including habitats, wildlife sites, and as many species of animals and plants as possible), and collect new information to fill gaps in existing knowledge

to provide information for conservation, planning, business, research, education and the general public

to promote and support systematic biological recording within Shetland.

To help conserve Shetland's environment, and raise awareness of its biodiversity, by providing up-to-date and accurate information

If you would like to be involved with recording Shetland’s wildlife, if you have an interesting observation to report, or would like to know more, either about Shetland’s wildlife or about the Records Centre, email sbrc@zetnet.co.uk.

What is a Biological Record?

Put very simply, a biological record is documentary evidence of wildlife. A good biological record may be in any format (e.g. written, electronic, photographic), but will contain all of the following four key components.

First, and most important of all, the species concerned is identified correctly.

In many cases this is very straightforward, but in some cases, involving rare species or ones that have closely similar relatives, the process is more difficult. For difficult species, corroborative evidence may be required to establish the validity of the record. This may be in the form of a specimen (e.g. for plants), or a detailed written description, outlining key identification features (e.g. for birds or cetaceans). For many groups, such as birds and mammals, there is often a panel of experts which will judge difficult records. The British Birds Rarities Committee is one such panel, which operates at a national level for very rare species of bird (mostly ones that have only been recorded in Britain a few times). Often, a second tier of assessment exists at a local level, for species which may be unusual in one particular region. Hence the Shetland Bird Club Rarities Committee judges species which are unusual in Shetland, some of which may be very common elsewhere in Britain. For example, the Nuthatch is a widespread and familiar bird in England, but there are no accepted records for Shetland, so any sighting would require corroboration. Such extra detail may be in the form of a written description, but of course it could also be in the form of photographs or video/film footage, or even a specimen if the bird was found dead. Of course, in the past the taking of ‘specimens’ was the main way in which records were confirmed!

Second, the date of the record is crucial. Recording dates allows patterns of occurrence to be assessed, and population trends through time (i.e. whether a species is increasing, stable or declining) to be established.

Third, the location of the record. An accurate description of where the record was made is of enormous value. A written description will usually suffice, but the best was to describe locations is by using a grid reference, which can be gained easily from an Ordnance Survey map. For most biological records a six-figure grid reference is perfectly adequate. This pinpoints a location to the nearest 100m. In some cases, for example the precise location of a rare plant, for which only a few individuals survive, an eight-figure grid reference (giving location to the nearest 10m) is more appropriate. Modern technology, in the form of hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) recorders, looks likely to revolutionise the accuracy with which naturalists can record their sightings. This technology is particularly useful when faced with a wide expanse of featureless habitat – such as a large area of moorland. It is even more useful at sea, for example when recording whales and dolphins.