Saturday, 14 January 2012

A major threat to biological recording

If there is one thing which underpins all wildlife conservation work it is biological records. Data on what species live where allows us to understand wildlife better and to plan how best to conserve it. Without biological records we are simply groping in the dark.

A major weakness of professional ecology in the UK (and to some extent amateur natural history) are field skills: the ability to accurately identify species and habitats in the field and record their presence. Universities are churning out ecology graduates who in many cases have spent only a week or two in the field during 3 or 4 years of study. The result is a glut of graduates, but a shortage of graduates who are able to do fieldwork without extensive further training.

Many people turn to postgraduate study in order to address this and by far the best course has for a number of years been the University Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and MSc courses in Biological Recording run by Dr Sarah Whilde's team from the University of Birmingham, based at the Gateway Centre in Shrewsbury.

Unlike most other courses, these are ideal for those who already work full time and offer enormous choice of species groups to work with. Individual modules are run intensively over 3-5 days at Field Studies Council centres around the country by expert specialists. I was fortunate to study the MSc course and gained enormous benefit as well as great deal of pleasure.

Now these successful courses are under threat. The University of Birmingham took the astonishing decision to close the centre. This is not for financial reasons, in fact they admit that the courses make a strong financial contribution to the university. They wish to close them simply because they do not fit with current research goals at the university. Quite apart from the barking mad concept of a publicly-funded body throwing away a good source of income, the closure of these courses would be enormously damaging to the quality of ecological surveying and biological recording in this country.

After massive pressure the university have conceded that they will attempt to move the courses to another university, but they have made no promises.

Please take a moment to sign the on-line petition against this move and help persuade the university that these courses are too important to conservation and to wildlife education for them to be threatened in this way.

Biological recording petition