Data is King

As a shooter, you may have been asked to provide data or respond to a BASC survey in the past – but why is data collection important and how does it relate to shooting? BASC’s assistant research officer Kiri Thompson explains…

Why is data so important

The main reason for gathering information relating to the environment is so that informed decisions can be made on how best to help and manage it. 

Decision making when the environment and animals are involved can often be emotionally motivated. Having good, reliable data ensures a true picture can be formed and evidence-based decisions can be made.

Another key reason for collecting data is so that we can monitor the health of the environment and UK species. 

In 2019, 41 per cent of UK species were reported as declining and in 2020 it was reported that the UK failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets. Most human activities affect nature in some way and monitoring allows us to glean a better idea of the impact we are having.

Impacts aren’t always negative, though; collecting data can also reveal positive changes in species abundance. For instance, volunteers recorded seven species of moth new to Cheshire in 2020. And just think of all the biodiversity success stories on shoots up and down the country…

Record keeping and data collection is particularly important for the shooting community. It allows for full accountability, as we can set voluntary restraints when our sport could reasonably have a negative impact, giving species a chance to recover. 

Examples might be the severe weather restraint system we have in place to protect waterfowl, or limiting/cancelling grouse shooting due to a poor breeding year. Of course, there are other reasons to collect environmental data.

Many people who volunteer their time to participate in data collection will get some form of benefit from doing so – whether that be better connections with nature, places and people, or a chance to gain new skills. 

    Methods and techniques

    Data collection methods usually take two forms – those which focus on quantitative research (numbers and statistics) and those which focus on qualitative research (descriptions, attitudes and feelings). Both methods are equally important as they can tell us a lot about the environment and different people’s opinions and experiences.

    At BASC we focus on collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. Our research team is responsible for providing the association with an extensive evidence base which can be used in lobbying, policy development and advisory work.

    Much of this evidence is gathered through member surveys. A notable example from the past few years is our general licences survey which, back in 2019, received over 26,944 responses. The information gathered was essential in fighting the judicial review. 

    Crucially – and more positively – simple data and consistent records help us to highlight the benefits of shooting and associated management practices for a wide range of wildlife species.

    How to record species where you shoot

    But what about on your shoot or the piece of land where you might have permission to shoot? How can you monitor and record different species in a consistent and reliable manner?

    The best way to survey what species are on a shoot is simply to walk around it and record what you see. Many organisations such as the BTO and the GWCT use this method. Bear in mind that some species are more active at certain times of the day so going out at different times such as dawn or dusk may give better results.

    Some species can be difficult to spot, however, especially if they are nocturnal. Look for additional signs such as burrows, bird calls, tracks, unfinished meals, fur, and droppings.

    Camera traps can be another useful method for recording more elusive or nocturnal species. These can be purchased online for as little as £30. However, be prepared to be persistent and patient when using this survey method as it might take a few tries before you capture activity on camera.

    If you are hoping to record particular species, then you may need to set up specific recording methods. For instance, a great way of surveying what butterflies and moths are present on the land is to use a moth trap. 

    Surveying reptiles can be made easier by creating basking spots out of materials such as roofing felt, corrugated iron and old carpet. These spots can then be checked for signs of activity. If your shoot has a pond, pond dipping can be used to find out what species may be there.

    Once you have a good idea of what species are on your shoot, you will want to make sure that information is not lost and can be easily accessed in future years. 

    Too many times we ‘know’ what is going on, but we can’t prove it without the records. 

    A good way of keeping this information safe and accessible is by using BASC’s Green Shoots Mapping tool. Keeping a computerised record of species seen can help to track changes in biodiversity on your shoot and identify how further biodiversity might be encouraged.

    Projects and studies

    Data collection is central to a number of projects, studies and initiatives we are currently running or feeding into at BASC.

    The wildfowlers among us will know of the importance of recording and submitting bag returns each year. This data is not only key for wildfowling licences being granted but also gives us a unique insight into wildfowling and the effect it is having.

    Another research project we run is the duck and goose wing survey which asks shooters to collect duck, goose and wader wings over the shooting season and send them in to BASC head office. We are then able to age and sex the different wings. This provides us with invaluable information on the age and gender ratios of our wild duck populations. Over time, and when joined with wing survey data from across Europe, this can also help us demonstrate that we take a sustainable portion of the population and identify where potential issues may arise.

    As a member of the Waterfowlers’ Network, more recently we have been encouraging members to participate in the duck nest monitoring project. The aim of this is to encourage shooters to install duck nest tubes on their land and record their experiences. We are still gathering responses from this first year but initial feedback looks positive with more than 100 tubes reported so far.

    Green Shoots Mapping

    BASC’s Green Shoots Mapping tool is used to record bag data, but it is available to anyone who is a member of BASC to record details about their land and species shot or sighted. Contributing to Green Shoots Mapping helps BASC to show the government, the media and the public that shooting makes a huge contribution to conservation and a healthy environment.

    As a user of Green Shoots Mapping you can:

    • map where you go shooting against Ordnance Survey or aerial background mapping;
    • provide records of wildlife and habitats, both on and off your shooting areas on a regular basis;
    • create annotated maps of your shoots showing features such as boundaries, flight lines, drives, pens, high seats, etc. – or safe routes/meeting points on/the hill or saltmarsh, etc.;
    • record your shooting trips and then make reports from those entries or just download them to a spreadsheet.

    How you can help

    • If you receive a survey invite from us, please take the time to complete it. We also sometimes advertise public surveys on social media or through BASC Live.
    • If you have installed duck nest tubes on your land, fill in the Waterfowlers’ Network’s online data recording form. We will also be asking members to install duck nest tubes and record results early next year, so if you would like to get involved, head over to the project web page to find out more.
    • Send in wings from ducks, geese, and waders that you have shot. For more details, please see BASC’s website.
    • If a duck you have shot has ‘rice breast’ (Sarcocystosis) then please report it here.
    • Use BASC’s Green Shoots Mapping tool to record details of the species you see and/or shoot.
    • Help with the detection of avian influenza by monitoring and reporting sighting of abnormal behaviour or findings of dead birds. Further information can be found here.
    • Consider participating in data recording schemes run by other organisations such as the BTO’s Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), or the GWCT’s Big Farmland Bird Count. Participating in these schemes gives conservationists a better picture of what is happening in the UK and ensures that the shooting community is fairly represented.

    Being part of the solution

    Ultimately, data collection is crucial for shooting and conservation if we want the sport we love to continue. 

    In recent years, we have seen shooting come under frequent pressure and this is likely to continue. The environment has become a greater concern to members of the public and the government, with climate change and events like the G7 summit and COP26 climate change conference being mentioned in the news on a regular basis. 

    The shooting community needs to be prepared to meet these threats and be part of the solution if we are to survive and pass down the sport to future generations.

    This article was originally published in the September/October issue of Shooting and Conservation magazine.

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