Sampling and recording during the BFC survey of The Serpentine, 31st July 2021 (Jon Mortin)

How to record your wildlife observations

You can record your observations in many different ways for your own purposes or to share with friends, family or on social media. Whether you make a note in your notebook, take a photo, make an audio or video recording, or even do a quick sketch, you are making a record that you can keep or share. But you may well want to turn your records into a form that can be kept and shared as part of a larger scientific record or database, that can be used by yourself and others to help increase our understanding of the range, variety and abundance of wildlife in this area and beyond.

There are a number of online databases that provide the means to do this, which we briefly describe and provide links to below.  The recording system and database we work mainly with in BFC and use in this website is iNaturalistUK, which ties in with the worldwide iNaturalist and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

Making a wildlife record: the 4 Ws plus

Who? What? Where? When?

If you are making a record of the wildlife that you find on your walk or survey that you will want to put onto a database then you will need to include these 4 pieces of information.


Your name, as the person making the record (the ‘recorder’). You may also need the name of the person identifying the species (the ‘determiner’), if it is not you.


The name of the plant or animal that you have observed and are recording. Well-established common names for species are often sufficient, where they are available, but you may need to use the scientific name for many species or to avoid confusion.


You will need to record the location of your find, using one or both of the following:

  • the name of the location, perferably taken form a recognised source such as an OS map
  • the grid reference, usually with at least 6 figures, although 4 figures may be sufficient for mobile species such as birds. 

If you are recording a rare or endangered species, or a species which may attract potentially damaging interest, then you should only make publicly available, if at all, the approximate location of your find. The databases such as iNaturalist include the facility to ‘shield’ the location from too open scrutiny.


The date that you made the observation, preferably exact and in full, but in some cases a suitable date range may be appropriate. In some cases, the time of day may be useful too.

Additional information

Depending upon the type of survey you are doing, additional information may be useful, especially for rare or endangered species. This may include:

  • abundance or numbers
  • sex, life stage or maturity
  • dead or alive, and how it died
  • behaviour, e.g. nesting, feeding, displaying, etc
  • time of day and weather conditions
  • information about the habitat in which you found the species, e.g. growing on beech tree, growing on rotting log, nesting in hawthorn scrub, etc.

Wildlife record databases


iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society and is one of the world’s most popular nature apps. It helps you identify the plants and animals around you. It is a place that you can share what you see in nature, set up your own monitoring project and meet a growing community of nature recorders. It’s great for those just starting to learn about recording wildlife and is also used by experts.

This is the database that we use in the Buxton Field Club. We provide Labelled green Buttons with solid borders on various pages within the sections on The Records, The Living World and The Wildlife Places that will take you to up-to-date records of wildlife as recorded on the iNaturalist website for specific areas, such as the High Peak Borough Council District area, the ‘Buxton polygon’ area defined by the Buxton Biodiversity Recording Group, and selected wildlife sites within those areas. For these buttons to work properly you will need to be registered and logged into iNaturalist. 

Here are examples of those buttons:

Takes you to the up-to-date list of all observations within the High Peak area for the major categories of species of animals and plants. 

Takes you to the up-to-date searchable map and list of all observations within the ‘Buxton polygon’ area for the major categories of species of animals and plants. 

Instructional videos on using iNaturalist

There are a variety of useful videos on Youtube giving instructions on how to sign up to and use iNaturalist. Try this 15 minute one for a start, or else one of the others that are listed with it when you play it.

It is American (iNaturalist was started in the USA), but short and clear, and works for iNaturalistUK as well.

This is a useful short (1 min 24 sec) video on making observations using the iNaturalst mobile app.


iNaturalistUK is a partnership between the NBN Trust, the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Biological Records Centre (BRC).

If you sign up (for free) to the iNaturalistUK app you will become a member of the UK iNaturalist community, and your observation records will help provide quality data for use by scientists and researchers. Data on iNaturalistUK is regularly shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and is available for use National Recording Schemes and Local Environmental Record Centres (see below). 



This is an alternative, and is a BRC project that allows anyone, anywhere in the UK, to submit records of any species.

Records are checked by a panel of experts and made available to local record centres and national schemes and societies as well as contributing to the research of BRC. Mobile apps are available.

You can access it here.

This is a useful 11 min video on how to sign up to and use iRecord.


iSpot is a free community database run by the Open University aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature.  If you are new to recording, or you do not know a great deal about particular species but are enthusiastic about finding out more and need help identifying species, then iSpot is a good way to start. 

Once you’ve registered, you can add an observation to the website and suggest an identification yourself or see if anyone else can identify it for you.  You can also help others by adding an identification to an existing observation, which you may like to do as your knowledge grows. Your reputation on the site will grow as people agree with your identifications.

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

GBIF is an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth.

Biological Records Centre (BRC)

BRC was established in 1964, a nd has become a national focus in the UK for terrestrial and freshwater species recording. BRC works closely with the voluntary recording community, principally through support of national recording schemes and societies. BRC’s work is a major component of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) (see below). Their website is well worth a visit and includes a list of and links to the many specialised recording schemes there are in Britain for different orders and genera of wildlife.

National Biodiversity Network (NBN)

NBN is a collaborative partnership created to exchange biodiversity information.  The NBN Trust, the charity which oversees and facilitates the development of the Network, has over 200 members including many UK wildlife conservation organisations, government, country agencies, environmental agencies, local environmental records centres and many voluntary groups.

The NBN Atlas is a collaborative project that aggregates biodiversity data from multiple sources and makes it available and usable online. It is the UK’s largest collection of freely available UK biodiversity data. 

You can currently submit records of observations to the Atlas using either iRecord (the iRecord Casual Record Form) or iNaturalistUK, both of which are described below. 

NBN has an excellent overview, The Darwin Guide to Recording Wildlife, that is downloadable from its website, or else click on the button.

Local and national groups

The BRC list of recording schemes provides the details for a comprehensive range of national recording schemes from broad (domain, class) to narrower (order, family) ranges of interest.

Local and national surveys

There are many local and national recording schemes devoted to particular species or groups of species.

The Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC) provides a means of tracking down your local environmental records centres.

The Biological Records Centre (BRC) maintains a useful list of national recording schemes.