5. The Assessment of Records

5.1    Introduction

5.1.1 The Assessment Cycle

Submissions come in to the BBRC at all times of year, with some arriving within days of the sighting whilst others may be well over a year before the finder/observer records the details and forwards them to their County Recorder or direct to the BBRC. Therefore although there is a broad annual cycle that covers receipt of submission, assessment by the BBRC and then publication in the Annual Report it is not always possible for a sighting in one year to be published in the next Annual Report.

However in broad terms the assessment of records for a year commences late summer of the following year, following completion of the previous year’s report, though a few records of special importance (such as claims of new species for Britain) may be circulated earlier. Autumn records are mostly circulated during November to January. Late submissions and re-circulations are circulated as they arise. Records received after March of the following year are less likely to be dealt with in time for inclusion in the next Annual Report.

5.1.2 Approximate time to complete an Assessment

With the latest electronic methods of both submittal and assessment by BBRC, a record should be assessed within 3-4 months of its receipt, depending on the current work load which varies considerably throughout the year. However records involving contentious matters requiring extensive enquiries, reference to other authorities etc., may take a year or more to be processed.

5.2    Submission of Records

5.2.1 Introduction

Finders & identifiers of rare birds are encouraged to submit records as soon as possible after the observation. We prefer a submission to come from the finder, but will also accept submissions from identifiers where the original finder did not identify the bird. If neither the finder nor identifier send in a description then we will accept submissions from other observers: we suggest a period of 6 months after the sighting should be allowed before this is done.

Note that BBRC do NOT accept submissions where the bird is not named to a species or taxa, and we do not help with the identification process of species already on the British List. However for certain taxa where identification criteria are still being developed, we may Hold the record until such time as identification can be made. (5.2.3 below)

5.2.2 Submission Forms & procedures

It greatly helps the Committee if records are submitted using a BBRC form (available from www.bbrc.org.uk or via the Secretary), or using the on-line procedure “Submit a Sighting” on the web-site. Using our standard BBRC form, or the standard on-line procedure, ensures that the Committee knows all the circumstances of the sighting.

If photographs, videos or sound recordings are available these will be invaluable to assist the assessment task, and should be submitted in their original format, and at their highest quality level. Sketches (no matter how poor artistically) are often more precise than words and can also prove very valuable. We also encourage the submission of scanned copies of original field notes. It greatly assists the Committee if supporting documentation, such as photographs and scans of field notes, are submitted as separate documents and not embedded in the report form.

Note that a selection of sketches and photographs taken from submissions is published in our Annual Report (see Section 6.1)

If the bird has been trapped then the BTO ringing form, complete with biometrics and the ring number, should be sent direct to BBRC with a copy to BTO Ringing Unit, in accordance with the procedure described in Ringers’ Manual (2001) 101-103 and Ringers’ Bulletins 11(1), 12(4) and 12(6).

For known difficult species & sub-species (see Appendix IV) any feathers or faecal samples can also be sent, so they can be analysed for DNA. In such cases ringers should always abide by BTO codes of practice.

5.2.3 Held records

Where a potential new taxon for the British List is found or suspected then it may be that the criteria for field identification are not fully known. We encourage the submission of such records but may well hold them until identification is possible. These Held records will be published in an Appendix of the Annual Report.

5.2.4 Liaison with County recorders

Records should be sent to the Secretary, preferably via the appropriate County or regional recorder. The Secretary will provide acknowledgement of receipt by e-mail, giving the details of the record as it will appear in our Annual Report. Observers and recorders are asked to notify the Secretary as soon as possible of any errors or amendments that are required to these details.

Those submissions done via the on-line procedure will have an acknowledgement automatically sent to the submitter with a copy sent to the appropriate County Recorder.

The appointment of one member of each County or regional records committee to liaise with the BBRC is recommended to improve communications. A full list of the County Recorders who act as primary liaison with the committee appears on the BBRC website.

5.2.5 Confidentiality

As stated immediately above all submissions are acknowledged to the appropriate County Recorder(s). This acknowledgement gives the facts about the submission (such as species, location, dates etc.) but does not include any descriptive material. However if a Recorder then asks for the full submission we will forward it to them UNLESS the submitter has specifically stated, at the time of submitting, that they do not want the descriptive material shared with the County organisation and/or Recorder involved.

Apart from sharing data with the County Recorder as stated immediately above, we also send any information on potential or actual breeding to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel. Otherwise all information received by BBRC is treated as confidential.

If there is good reason for confidentiality over the site and/or observers names, this should be stated when the record is submitted. This information will then not be published in the Annual Report or in other documents published by BBRC.

5.3    Assessment Procedure

5.3.1 Introduction

Records are circulated in two different ways – known as Motorway & Full circulation.

Motorway: Records for species which have occurred more than 100 times since 1950, or for those occurring between 10 & 100 times and which include a good photograph, are considered by a group of five members of the committee. The committee is geographically split roughly into 5 North & 5 South members and these are informally called the North & South Motorway teams. Recording areas are also split North to South (roughly following a line from the Mersey to the Humber) with North records going to the northern team, and South to southern team.

Note: Any member can ask that a Motorway vote is changed to a Full Circulation.

Full Circulation: All other records, and all re-circulations go to all 10 voting members.

5.3.2 Voting method

All submissions are loaded onto a private internet forum which only BBRC members can access. Along with the submission a voting page is created which summarises the record and allows Voting Members to record their vote, along with any comments or extra information they wish to show other members.

Members can vote Accept or Not Proven. A member may comment on a record, but not vote, if they are awaiting the input of voters with more experience or knowledge of the species, sub-species, geographical area or other factors pertinent to the assessment process. However, they must make a decision as soon as these comments and votes are available. If the early voters did not accept the record, but the later voters do, they should inform all voting members, the Secretary and the Chairman to ensure that earlier voters are encouraged to revisit their decision. The same applies when a member has put in an important piece of information that may influence the voting of earlier voters.

If further information is required before a member can vote (e.g. further information on the record, the species, an observer reference or an expert opinion), they must identify this in the comments or discussion section and notify the Secretary. The Secretary should then determine how this information should be obtained, in consultation with the Chairman if necessary. The record can either be retained in circulation if it is perceived that the information can be obtained relatively quickly, or it can be pended if the information will take longer to establish. A lead individual for collecting the information should be agreed, along with an achievable timetable, so that this information can be relayed back to observers or recorders following any specific enquiries regarding the record.

5.3.3 Voting Accept or Not Proven

Except in the case of records that can be Held (see Section 5.2.3) all voting members (5 or 10 according to Motorway or Full circulation procedure) must eventually vote in one of two ways: Accept or Not Proven.

At an individual level, an Accept vote implies a very high (though not always total) confidence in the mind of the voter that the record was as claimed. Voters try to apply their individual judgement and level of confidence when making their decision. This is usually a subjective judgement and will be influenced by many factors, including the quality of views, the light conditions, the apparent care with which the bird has been observed, the species involved, the experience of the observer and many other factors. Consistency with previous decisions will also be considered and is very important to ensure the long-term value of the BBRC database. Confidence may not be absolutely total, but needs to be very high for an Accept vote to be given.

At an individual level, a Not Proven vote means that the voter has less than the very high level of confidence required for an accept vote. This means that a Voting Member can feel that the record was probably as claimed, but that it simply does not meet the personal level of confidence they apply. It explicitly does NOT imply that the voter believes the observer to be either incompetent or dishonest in any way, but in many cases just that there is a risk of a genuine error having occurred because not quite enough evidence could be assimilated by the observer(s) in the time available. Experienced and highly competent observers will often submit records on much lower levels of evidence than less experienced observers, but these are sometimes not accepted because the confidence felt by the observer in the field may not be matched by the detached assessment of the voters.

5.4    The Voting Decision

5.4.1 Finalising the votes

A record (Motorway or Full circulation) is accepted on first circulation if all members vote in its favour. If one or two members have voted Not Proven, the Secretary will ask all those who voted to re-visit the record and confirm or modify their votes, to see if unanimity can be reached.

If the voting is still not unanimous but there is a strong majority in favour of acceptance (typically 4 out of 5 for Motorway circulations and 8 or 9 on Full circulations) then the Secretary will start a recirculation which always goes to all members.

On completion all submissions, member’s voting comments and all relevant correspondence are retained permanently on file whether or not the record is accepted. All comments and the votes of individual members are strictly confidential.

5.4.2 Recirculation Procedure

Prior to a recirculation the Secretary will ask the Chairman to review the record and voting. If appropriate the Chairman may prepare a synopsis of the record and voting comments. Acknowledged experts on the species or sub-species concerned, could also be asked for advice. The Chairman can also give their own opinion on the acceptability of the record.

Once this synopsis is complete the record starts a recirculation, with previous notes, comments and the Chairman’s synopsis all being presented.

On completion of this recirculation a record is accepted if 9 or 10 members vote for acceptance. All other outcomes are Not Proven.

5.4.3 Advising the outcome

All decisions are published in the BBRC Annual Report in British Birds and it should be noted that this is the official record. However accepted decisions are also broadcast by social media (such as Twitter) at the time the decision is completed, although this does not contain the full details (such as all dates, observer names, whether photographed etc.). These details are only given in the official Annual Report in British Birds.

The reasons for Not Proven decisions will be communicated by the Chairman directly to the observer and will not be published elsewhere.

It should be noted that a Not Proven outcome rarely implies that a record is not as claimed, but just that the evidence presented falls short of being enough to ensure members are confident that the record was as claimed (see Section 5.3.3). Also as can be seen in Section 5.4.2 a Not Proven outcome can occur, even where a majority of members accept the record, though this is uncommon.

5.5    Reconsideration of earlier records

5.5.1 Reviewing an individual record

If there is new evidence the Committee will reconsider any record on request. Such requests are usually from the observer or the county recorder, but occasionally they are the result of third party input. In all cases some fundamental requirements have to be met before such records can be re-circulated, and these are given in Appendix V.

All requests will be considered by the Secretary and Chairman to ascertain their validity, and we will then confirm whether the review will go ahead. It should be noted that reviews may well require considerable input from the county committees and/ or observers involved.

If a review is initiated by a County Recorder we expect that the County Committee will have contacted the original observer(s) to advise them that a review is being asked for.

These reviews will always be to all 10 Voting Members. Overturning a previously accepted and published record is regarded as a serious matter and requires at least six Not Proven votes.

5.5.2 Reviewing species

Occasionally new research, particularly that which pertains to identification, is published which could affect the validity of historical records. In such cases the BBRC will initiate a review of the species, either of all records, or only of those records which are affected by the new research. (see Appendix V) Note such reviews can either be looking at Accepted records to see if still acceptable, and/or for Not Proven records to see if they may now be acceptable.

When such a review is undertaken, an announcement will be made by BBRC to birding information services, to alert County Recorders that some records may now be under review.

5.6    Withdrawal of Accepted records (or of a record In Circulation)

Any observer has the right to withdraw a submitted record, at any time, by communicating this wish to the Secretary of BBRC. The observer is under no obligation to explain why, although such explanations would be welcomed. The Secretary should endeavour to ascertain whether or not there was any question of the record having not been properly assessed at the time.

In the case of a record in which more than one observer was involved, care must be taken to ensure that the withdrawal is supported by all parties involved. If only the one observer wishes to withdraw, further investigation may be necessary by the Secretary. If the matter cannot be readily resolved, BBRC will publish that the withdrawer no longer supports the record and BBRC reserves the right to re-assess the record. If the committee determines that the record remains acceptable, a suitable comment would be published in the Annual Report.

5.7    Records of Species new to Britain

Records of species/ sub-species new to Britain have to meet a higher level of documentation than for records of species/sub-species already on the British List. These more stringent criteria are set out in Appendix III.

If accepted by BBRC the submission will then be sent to BOURC, where they are subsequently retained on file. The BOURC considers formal admission of species to the British List (or upgrading from one category to another). Publication of such records is subject to acceptance by both committees. If the BOURC accepts the identification, it then decides whether the species should be added to the British List and, if so, in which category. Species occurring in an apparently wild state are admitted to category A, even those which have been ship-assisted as long as there is no evidence that they have been otherwise assisted by man [e.g. fed or been temporarily captive]. Where there is reasonable doubt that the species has ever occurred in a wild state or where the record relates to a tide‑line corpse, the species is admitted to category D. If captive origin is highly probable, the species is placed in Category E.

The BOURC also considers the transfer of species from category D to A or E (or vice versa) as and when fresh evidence warrants such a review. All records of Category D species are forwarded to BOURC for their files as requested, following assessment of identification by BBRC. BOURC subsequently retain these records on file. Full details of species categories and other items relating to the BOURC can be found via the BOURC website http://www.bou.org.uk/index.htm.

5.8    Rarities of possibly captive origin

The Committee publishes all accepted records of rare species in categories A and D and some records of birds of special relevance or interest in category E or where the identification was proven but the origin is considered suspect. The possibility of captive origin may be assessed by a vote: if six or more members consider that a particular rare bird has probably or certainly escaped from captivity, it is not included in the main list or the species totals, but is nevertheless always mentioned in the appendices of the report and, if appropriate, will include a species comment.

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