Before I explain I should just highlight that anything I write here is purely my own views or opinions and I'm not purporting to represent the committee or any of the views of my peers. I hope however that this might prompt some discussion perhaps from other birders aware of similar issues and solutions across the UK. As it stands a questionnaire to gauge the views of the membership is in draft and the club committee will doubtless take appropriate action with those views forming the basis of it.
Until recently like many bird clubs or societies all of the record submissions were made by observers on cards. The club now has some 420,000 records stored, comprising c.4sq mt of space. The annual cost of storage is close to reaching £500.
The club produces a monthly bulletin and an annual report as well as having a website and more recently a sightings page. As I understand it in recent times no one has accessed the record cards for any purpose. Many of the views expressed at the AGM were that the cards should be retained, or at least that the value of the 'data' contained on the cards was viewed as important to many members. Meanwhile the size of the issue or at least the storage requirements continues to grow, albeit much more slowly since the introduction of electronic submission.
Is the data valuable? It certainly wasn't gathered using scientific methods, at best it may offer a historic perspective, if analysed, about species ocurrence, peak counts or frequency at particular locations. As far as given any indication of the status of common species it represents a very small sample of the county's birds over the last fifty odd years, randomly gathered by the peregrinations of the small band of individuals that formed and maintained the club.
The value though may well lie not in the data itself but what the records represent; the sum total of all the recording of all the birders that followed the same footpaths we do, created some of the sites we visit and observed as the landscape and the impact we have had upon it changed the birds we strive to watch, photograph and enjoy in a myriad of ways.
As always I have an opinion and I'll offer a possible solution, one that some will find unpalatable, though I hope that they will at least engage in the discussion rather than whisper in secret. I would urge the club members to consider allowing the committee to dispose of most of the cards, after a project, for which funding would need to be sort, to extract important data, species, sites, counts, dates etc.
During this I would also see that a number of the cards that highlight moments in the club's recording history and document some of the many fantastic events that members have recorded over the years were retained and either placed in the club archive or better still assembled with other archive material to form a permanent display that could be housed at one of the regions museums such as the
With the key data in electronic format, access and research would be made much easier and a public display would both promote the club and celebrate it's heritage, far better than a dusty storage room under lock and key in my humble opinion.
Edit: I've realised after Stewart and Brian's comments that I should have written 'extract all important data' above rather than making it sound as if some species would be ignored.