How on earth did that happen?
Well, when it comes to recruiting new members onto its records committee, Devon Birds (or the Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society as it was until very recently) has an actual, proper procedure, the nuts and bolts of which are even published right here on their website for the whole world to see. Talk about transparent.
Following a period of shrewd networking and intensive lobbying I was formally invited by the County Recorder to apply for a position on the Devon Birds Records Committee. To apply! With a CV, no less. Blimey, if there was more than one applicant there would even have to be a vote, which I might lose! What on earth motivated me to go through this potentially humiliating process? Naturally it was a self-sacrificing desire to serve my fellow Devon birders in whatever humble role they deemed me worthy. No ego involved at all. And so it was that my devoted followers elected me to membership of the DBRC.
My tenure coincided with the move from postal circulation to digital. With the former you would receive a fat envelope of descriptions, review each one, then write your decision and any comments on a separate sheet. The idea was that you shouldn't look at the decisions and comments of those committee members who had received the package before you, but of course you could do exactly that if so inclined. Digital circulation did away with such naughtiness! Periodically - maybe two or three times a year, and certainly not monthly as in London - the County Recorder would call a meeting. The descriptions discussed at the meeting would almost invariably be only those upon which there had not been unanimous agreement, and you were notified in advance which they were. Plenty of time to review those descriptions and do some research if needed. At the meeting would be just the five committee members and the County Recorder, who had no vote and acted only as chair.
I thought the system worked superbly. A real effort was made to recruit committee members who were experienced, were respected by their peers, and ideally from different parts of Devon. This resulted in a broad base of understanding of both the county's birds and its birders, and gave the committee a good level of maturity and integrity I think. And by limiting each member to five years it meant that fresh blood was introduced every 12 months; there was absolutely no room for some cliquey little gang of buddies to go on a power trip...
The job even came with a contract of sorts, unambiguously explaining what was expected of you. If you didn't measure up, well...you were out.
Record assessment is a subjective affair and therefore inherently imperfect. However, if you insist upon keeping a county or national database of birds, bees, butterflies - of anything - it is obviously going to need long-term credibility. Some kind of vetting process is a logical necessity in my view. But a truly successful vetting process needs to do more than just ensure that the database contains trustworthy, dependable records; it also needs to encourage a maximum number of submissions. To achieve these dual aims that vetting process must have two vital things:
- An efficient system of record assessment (obviously)
- As trusted and respected a records committee as is humanly possible
I enjoyed my time on the DBRC. Particularly the bit following the meetings, when we would all go down the pub for a bevvy and a have good laugh about the field sketch of a so-called Hoopoe that was clearly a parrot.
No, I'm kidding again. As in London, we never laughed.
Next up: Part 4. The Decision.