Maintaining the British List
SINCE 1879 THE BOU HAS MAINTAINED A LIST OF BIRDS THAT HAVE BEEN RECORDED IN BRITAIN (AND FORMERLY FOR IRELAND).
Records of birds new to Britain are passed to the British Ornithologists' Union's Records Committee (BOURC) by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) after that committee has examined them. The BOURC Secretary prepares a file summarising each record. The file contains original descriptions and supporting documentation, including BBRC comments, correspondence from independent specialists, an analysis of the captive status of the species and its escape likelihood, and extracts from books and journals referring to migration and vagrancy patterns. Records are now circulated electronically and require unanimous agreement on identification and a two-thirds majority on categorisation. All files are archived for future reference.
The Committee also studies taxonomic advances and initiates research into this field. In October 2002, the Committee's Taxonomic Sub-committee published a paper in Ibis setting outlining the basis on which they will base their taxonomic decisions (Guidelines for assigning species rank. Helbig et al. Ibis(2002) 144: 518-525).
Information on feral populations is monitored, and reviews are undertaken of older records. Anyone can ask for old or rejected records to be reviewed by the BOURC if they provide fresh evidence to justify re-examination.
This is time-consuming work, particularly when it involves detailed research or discussions with experts who are often based abroad.
The ‘Official’ British List
The following organisations have indicated their support for the work undertaken by the BOU and its Records Committee in maintaining a list of birds recorded in Britain. They have indicated that the decisions on both status and taxonomy reached by BOURC are accepted by them as comprising the ‘official’ British List.
- British Trust for Ornithology
- Countryside Council for Wales
- Natural England
- Joint Nature Conservation Committee
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Scottish Natural Heritage
- Scottish Ornithologists’ Club
- Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
- The Wildlife Trusts
Publication of BOURC decisions
The BOURC publishes regular reports in Ibis, the BOU's scientific journal. As few birders regularly see Ibis, information is press-released to the main birding magazines, who also receive pre-publication copies of the Ibis reports. The magazines use some of this information as the basis for news items or articles, but much of the BOURC's work goes unreported. BOURC members occasionally write longer papers on species reviews and decisions for publication in birding magazines. Decisions are notified to appropriate recorders and/or the original observers.
The role of the British Birds Rarities Committee
The BOURC works closely with the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC). BBRC’s function is to collect, investigate and apply uniform standards to claimed records of rare birds in England, Scotland and Wales, and 'at sea' within the British Economic Zone, which now extends to 200 nautical miles (370 km). The BBRC publishes an annual report in British Birds which includes the essential details of the rarities seen in Britain in the previous year. The BBRC also assesses records from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, at the request of the birdwatchers and ornithologists there.
BOURC and BBRC - why two committees?
For records relating to new species for Britain (a 'first'), the BOURC looks at identification, taxonomy and the origin of the bird. Detailed investigations into racial and species identification, escape likelihood and vagrancy potential are undertaken to determine the validity of the record before admission to the British List.
The BOURC alone decides which species are to be admitted to the British List and how they are to be categorised. The BOURC also considers records of all major rarities, particularly those prior to 1958 (when BBRC was founded), monitors introduced populations for possible admittance to or deletion from the list, and reviews taxonomy and nomenclature in general. For 'first' records, the BBRC is concerned solely with identification. However, the BBRC also assesses large numbers of subsequent records of major rarities after 1958. The workload of both Committees is substantial, and complementary.
The BOURC maintains the British List on behalf of the BOU, legislators and the international birdwatching and ornithological communities.
In 1997, the BOURC worked in liaison with the government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and others to revise the categories used in the British List to give them more relevance to conservationists and policy makers. The main revision included the sub-division of Category C (birds introduced by man) which was further updated in 2005.
Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands
The BOU maintains the British List – the official list of birds recorded from England, Scotland and Wales.
The Isle of Man has its own list which is maintained by the Manx Ornithological Society (MOS). The Isle of Man follow BOU and occasionally seek our advice on matters relating to their list. Some Isle of Man items are occasionally covered in BOURC reports and papers.
Ireland is covered by two recording authorities. The Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Association (NIBA) maintains the list for Northern Ireland and the Irish Rare Birds Committee (IRBC) maintains the list for he Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands are not covered in any reports or lists produced by the BOURC.
The BOURC Commitment
The BOURC commits to undertake:
- To maintain the scientific accuracy and integrity of the BOU list of British birds by admitting only those species and subspecies that have been identified beyond reasonable doubt, and whose origin is considered to be in accordance with the relevant BOURC categories.
- To ensure that all the evidence for identification and the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of potential new species or subspecies is examined thoroughly, fairly and objectively, calling upon external expert opinion where appropriate.
- To ensure that any new evidence which is submitted, or which comes to light, that might affect the identification or categorisation of any existing record is reviewed thoroughly, fairly and objectively.
- To ensure that all records are dealt with as speedily as practicable, but not so that this in any way prejudices the need for thorough and comprehensive examination of the evidence.
- To attempt to answer any questions about its decisions fully and fairly, stating the reasons for these decisions.
- So far as is practicable, to consult with the observers where new evidence suggests that a record might no longer be acceptable. The views of the observers will be taken into consideration in any final decision.