Carry out a wildlife survey in your community

Undertaking a wildlife survey can provide opportunities to discover and enjoy what wildlife is present in your community, and help identify priorities for its protection and enhancement.

The main purpose of a wildlife survey is to collect detailed information on the wildlife and wildlife habitats in a specified site (and usually in the surrounding area), so that nature conservation features such as hedgerows and ponds can be constructed, promoted and protected.

It is easier to enhance any existing features than to create them from scratch. It is also a chance to enjoy and discover what is valuable in your area.

Your actions will ultimately help create more sustainable community.

Plan your survey

Before embarking on a survey, decide which elements you intend to record in the survey, and over what area. This might include current land uses, landscape features (such as river), wildlife, habitats (such as woodland) or buildings.

It is also worth remembering that many local groups such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, the Wildlife Trust and various adult education centres may offer training in recording the natural environment. Why not contact these organisations to see if they could offer advice or help to carry out your survey.

You might also want to think about how you will record your survey. Some people prefer to record information using forms, but many people may prefer to make notes out in the field. Try to find a format that suits most people.

Think about the information you will be collecting. The information you collect could be used to produce an action plan for protecting and managing sites of interest or to develop a practical conservation project. It could also be used to stimulate other projects such as safeguarding or restoring a heritage feature, informing planning decisions, or increasing interest and awareness.

Obtain maps and undertake basic desktop research

You may find it helpful to map and plot various items of information relevant to the survey. For example, current land use, landscape features, wildlife habitats or buildings.

Ordnance Survey Explorer maps show footpaths and ancient monuments. Ordnance Survey Maps are Crown Copyright, so do not copy them without permission. The Ordnance Survey website provides helpful information about the maps that are available.

Visit Ordnance Survey’s website for further information. The best scale to record a site survey is usually 1:1250 or more but 1:2500 may also be feasible.

Before you start your survey, examine maps of the site to determine its size and topography (the shape of the land). Knowledge of the former use of the site is also important, as building foundations, underground services, past deposits of waste and effluents can all create problems with ground preparation, drainage and planting. Your local authority ecologist or archaeologist may have records or could direct you to other organisations that hold this information, such as the Wildlife Trust. If information already exists, you may need to bring it up to date or fill in any gaps. Your local library or museum may also have historical data on the area and may be able to suggest other sources of information such as local history societies. Old maps can be especially useful in showing former land uses.

Desktop research, that is research carried out in libraries and other local establishments and on the internet, can contribute greatly to a local wildlife survey.

Some ideas for desk surveys include:

  • Collecting cuttings from local newspapers or details of favourite views and features;
  • Keeping diaries of an aspect of the project;
  • Collecting old photographs which show how the landscape or area looked in the past; and
  • Undertake an oral history, by writing or recording reminiscences of local people on tape.

Contact landowners

Before commencing a surveys, you must gain permission from the landowner(s) to carry out your survey even if the land is owned by the local authority. To find this information check the Land Registry Office in your area.

You could also try talking to the owner(s) about their future plans for the site and whether your future surveys and plans are in line with their plans.

Create a map of your survey site

Using the information you have collected already, create a basic map identifying key habitats, features, landscapes, buildings and potential hazards.

This map will be used by volunteers when they are out surveying, so remember to make it easy to use and understand.

Plan and undertake species surveys

To carry out a survey you will need volunteers, wildlife guides, maps, a first aid kit, compasses, recording sheets or note books and sketch pads, pencils, refreshments and waterproofs (in case it rains).

Timing : Carry out your survey between March and September. Most surveys are best completed between spring and autumn, as this is when plants are in flower and habitats at their most active. However visits throughout the year will provide an idea of how the landscape and the wildlife changes throughout the seasons.

Some surveys may require fitting to the special features of a site, for example, a good wintering site for birds may have a totally different range of spring and summer breeding species.

A survey need not be restricted to a single year. In fact, repeat surveys and monitoring provide a greater understanding of the changes in the wildlife and landscape of an area over time.

Pre-survey preparation : If you have a volunteer team helping, you will need to check health and safety and access issues. Take sensible precautions, protect yourself against risks and diseases and make sure that volunteers have up-to-date Tetanus protection – Tetanus affects your nerves, and can be fatal. Try to survey in pairs or groups, and if you go out alone, tell someone when you will be back.

Site Survey Checklist : This basic checklist should help you to identify the key elements of any site being surveyed.When out on your site look for what species are present. Initially a written list of plants (including trees) and animals, including birds, will be enough. It is very important to have good field guides to use.

  • Record what habitats are present: Wetland – Ponds, marsh, steams and ditches? Hedgerows? Woodland, trees and scrub? Meadows and grasslands? Bare ground or rock? Links to the wider countryside (this will often be easier to assess once you have collated all your information from desktop and field work)?
  • Record what landscape features are present: Walls, fences and gates? Buildings? Paths and steps?
  • Record what restrictions are present: Land drains? Overhead power lines? Electricity cables? Gas pipes?
  • Record any problems: Vandalism? Litter? Pollution? Broken fences, walls or buildings? Slippery, unstable or muddy paths? Erosion? Overgrown or neglected features? (pond, meadow, and so on) Invading plants?

This list is for guidance purposes only. Do not forget to include any other features you find which are not mentioned here.Consider also repeating the survey in future years. This will provide evidence of any changes over time.

Underground Features : When carrying out survey work beware of the possibility of finding gas pipes, electricity and telephone cables, sewerage and water supply pipes, other pipelines and even wells. Information about all of these should be available from the local planning authority’s utilities map(s) – check this before you start any work.

Using photographs : Besides recording information on a map, photographs can be taken as a record of the landscape and survey area. Note the precise point from where the photograph was taken, the direction, date and subject (so that someone could return to the spot in the future). Do this as soon as possible – it is otherwise easy to forget this important information!

Collate and share information

As soon as you get home transfer your field data to a neat map and notebook or recording sheet. It’s easy to forget shorthand annotations that meant something on the day, but later become unclear.

Remember to write up information in a way that suits everyone involved in the survey, and to report the findings, where appropriate, to the group, the wider community and other relevant organisations.

Any records produced as part of a larger community surveys should be copied to your local record centre (or Wildlife Trust), especially if you think you have found something of interest. Do not forget to provide a copy to the landowner and local authority ecologist.

Use your data to create a new wildlife project

Through your survey you may have identified key species or habitats in need of protection or enhancement. As a result of your survey you may choose to act upon the findings and to implement a new project.

Some suggested projects could include:

  • Creating a green space in your community.
  • Create and retain local woodland.
  • Encourage wildlife in you local area.