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!