Data Chit-Chat May 2022

article written by Ellen Lee, Data Manager

This chit-chat, I thought that I’d talk a little bit about TVERC’s data management volunteers. Way back when in that golden past (i.e. before the pandemic!), our data management volunteers used to come and work in the office. This was nice as it meant that it was easy for me to show them what to do, it was sociable, and if they ran into difficulties it was easy to help as I was on the spot.

Our data management volunteers mainly validate data sets containing species records. This involves looking through data sent to us and extracting species records. This can be a simple task if the data is supplied as a spreadsheet (for example). Alternatively, it might involve reading an ecological report and winkling out the very valuable records or perhaps looking at emails and (if they are lucky) photos or videos. They then convert the records into a standard format, chosen to make it easy (or perhaps less difficult!) to import the records into the TVERC database. Finally, they check that the grid references and locations provided are consistent. Over the years, their hard work meant that we have been able to tackle more data, to proactively source more data and to reduce the time lag between receiving a data set and it entering our database to 2 to 3 months.

As in so many spheres of life, the pandemic suddenly changed things. Some of our regular volunteers decided to take a break or to concentrate on other things. Those that decided to keep going had to adapt to doing their volunteering from home and we all had to get used to the new technology (primarily Microsoft Teams) which allowed us all to keep in touch and to exchange computer files. Because we suddenly had fewer data volunteers, we started to acquire a big backlog of data requiring validating.

So, it was time to try and work out how we could recruit and train some new volunteers remotely. I thought this might be difficult because, as any of our current five data management volunteers can confirm, validating is a tricky business, especially when dealing with ecological reports. it’s particularly important that we deal consistently with records of species of importance for planning decisions. We need to ensure that we capture records in a way that depends on their significance to planning decisions. For example, we need to make sure that bat roosts and flyover records are clearly recorded as such and that roost records are located accurately on the correct building or tree, if at all possible. Badger, great crested newt, water vole, dormouse and barn owl roost records also need to be dealt with carefully This allows both commercial and local authority ecologists to judge the significance of a record accurately.

We started by recruiting a couple of new volunteers and I put together some training material that we went through together online. Luckily, they both picked it up quickly. The main difference I’ve found with starting volunteers remotely is that it’s much more important to keep up to date with the work they send back, especially at the beginning so that any problems that arise can be dealt with straight away. So now I have a team of five volunteers tackling our species validation tasks. To give you an idea of just what a fantastic job they do, here’s some statistics from the last full financial year (2021-2022):

Number of data sets validated = 379
Number of individual records validated = 42,959

Finally, there’s another data management task that I haven’t yet mentioned and that’s sourcing ecological reports from local authority planning portals. These reports are written by professional ecologists and submitted to local authorities as part of a planning application. Not all applications require ecological reports. It’s mainly the larger development proposals and those that involve demolishing a building or carrying out work on a roof. We receive some such reports from ecologists direct or from local authorities. However, since 2015 the majority have come via TVERC volunteers checking planning portals. I’d like to mention one volunteer in particular; Tina Claridge who has recently decided to retire from her voluntary work with TVERC. Tina started volunteering with us in February 2013 and initially worked validating data sets. However, in April 2015 she was the first TVERC volunteer to start checking planning portals for us. She was uniquely qualified to work out the best way of approaching the task because she had worked for West Oxfordshire DC as a planner! She started by checking the West Oxford planning portal, but somehow over the years it all escalated! When she scraped her last planning portal this April, she was also checking Oxford City, Reading and Bracknell BC portals! Over the years she sourced an amazing 1055 ecological reports which so far (we haven’t processed them all yet) have contributed 21,673 records to the TVERC database. These are not any old records either, but predominately those of bats and other protected species. So, a huge thankyou to Tina from all of us in TVERC and enjoy your second retirement!

In case you are looking for a new volunteering challenge and feel inspire to tread in her footsteps, we are looking for more volunteers to check Oxford City, Reading, Bracknell and perhaps others too, so please get in touch if you’re interested (

Posted: May 23, 2022