In 2016 the Field Studies Council (FSC) were awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a project to address the lack of people able to identify and record difficult species groups, with a focus on the West Midlands and South East regions of England.
We spent nearly a year consulting with a wide range of professionals and volunteers involved in the natural history sector and developed a project that we hoped our funders would deem worthy for the £1.2 million we were asking for. The consultation findings told us where we should deliver our proposed training courses and events, the importance of digital advancements, to focus on invertebrates and that the training should be structured to provide opportunities to both those new to species identification and recording and those already active within the biological recording community.
However, something else soon become very clear. Professionals and volunteers alike expressed their concerns that not enough young people were joining the ranks of biological recorders and it is widely recognised that a generational skills gap is developing in field and identification skills, largely due to changes in the way biology and ecology is taught at all levels of the education system.
We wanted to make sure that young people had a voice and invited A Focus On Nature to attend one of the consultation workshops. Megan Shersby and Ryan Clark kindly obliged and the results were very interesting. It became quite clear that many young people do care about nature, very much so. And they also identified very clear barriers to young people becoming integrated into the natural history community. What’s more, Megan and Ryan offered fantastic ideas for solving these issues that could be incorporated into the FSC BioLinks project.
Interestingly, the points made by AFON were not always aligned with barriers and solutions regarding young people suggested by consultees outside the young adult demographic (18-25 year olds). For example, social media was dismissed by some older consultees as pointless and a price tag of £50 for a training course was deemed affordable. Whereas young adults told us that social media was an essential means of communicating with them and anything over £10 would need to be weighed up financially.
This highlighted to us that young adults needed to be a key focus of FSC BioLinks and need to be involved in determining how we reach 18-25 year olds. It also told us that providing opportunities for young adults is not enough, we need to find ways to ensure that they become fully integrated into their local biological recording communities and build relationships between the younger and older generations. A further consultation was undertaken with AFON and we submitted our project plan to the Heritage Lottery Fund with our fingers crossed!
In June 2017 we received a phone call confirming that our grant application was successful and the project was launched at the beginning of 2018. We didn’t forget the lessons we learned from our younger consultees:
- We capped all of our day courses at £5 and have heavily subsidised our residential courses, and tried to reduce costs to project participants by including free copies of identification resources with courses where we could afford it.
- We have embraced social media and set up Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Furthermore, we’ve committed to avoiding a tokenistic approach and we’ll develop a social media strategy that will evolve as the project develops. We’ll also host a blog on our website, and guest blog wherever we can. If you use social media, you won’t be able to miss us!
- We’ve structured our training in a way that allows participants to monitor their development, and we will provide evidence of training through attendance certificates for all of our training courses. See the FSC BioLinks Development Plan For Training Provision
- Young Adults’ participation was incorporated into our project targets. We will approach this strategically and evaluate how we are doing regularly. We’ve invited AFON to input into our strategy and we’ll be approaching other young naturalist enterprises, such as New Nature.
- We’ll allow participants to use the facilities, such as microscopes, at our training facilities on designated days.
- We plan to offer some additional opportunities specifically for young biological recorders. This is still in development so watch this space…