Dear Mr Archer,
Many thanks for your 2015 Ambridge records, which are of particular value from such underwatched farmland. I note that on Oct 26 you saw a Lapland Bunting at Brookfield Farm. This species is one of those on the Borsetshire rarities list, for which a written description is required. Therefore I have attached a rarity description form and would be grateful if you could fill it out and return it to me at your earliest convenience.
Timothy Decent-Chap (County Recorder)
Ah, the request for a description! The wording so polite, the grateful acknowledgement of your efforts so disarming. Naturally you complied immediately, filled out the description form and sent it in with sentiments only of willing cooperation. Or did you?
It is true to say that to some birders correspondence such as the above would be like the proverbial red rag. In fact they would fail to see the actual words, but only the imaginary subtext:
Dear Mr Stringer,
Lapland Bunting? Ha ha! Yeah, right... Go on, give us a laugh and fill in the description form so we can pass it round the Borsetshire Records Committee and make fun of your rubish speeling. Before REJECTING IT!!
No thanks at all.
Timothy Pedant-Nazi (County Bird Police)
So, which scenario do you identify with? Your answer likely depends at least in part upon your view of the whole records committee institution. You might feel that although imperfect it is a valid, indeed necessary arrangement, and gives a measure of integrity to local and national bird records. On the other hand you might feel that records committees are nothing more than writhing pits of prejudice and favouritism, populated only by oily, sneering buddy-buddies.
And how might you have come to adopt your particular view? Probably through your dealings with such bodies, and the positive or negative experiences gained thereby.
Scattered throughout the land there must be dozens of records committees presiding over their respective fiefdoms and sitting in judgement on our rarity descriptions. There are many questions we might ask. For example:
- What gives anyone the right to such authority?
- What motivates a person to assume such a responsibilty?
- Where do they learn how to fulfil it properly?
- Why was my record rejected?
I thought it might be interesting to explore the world of records committees a little bit. And amusing possibly. I am slightly qualified to do so, having submitted several rarity descriptions over the years, both at county and national level. Oh, and I have been on the other side of the fence also. Twice. But I'll save that for Part 2...