The Dorset Records Panel (DRP) is responsible for the assessment of all records of rare & scarce bird taxa in Dorset. All relevant data will be forwarded to either the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) or to British Birds (BB) for inclusion in the annual Scarce Migrant Report published in that journal.
The Panel is made up of 5 Voting Members, (including a Chairman), a Secretary and an Archivist (both non-voting).
Any potential Voting Member of the Panel should have a widely acknowledged expertise in identification, proven reliability in the field, and a track record of high quality submissions of descriptions of scarce and rare birds to both the county records committees and the BBRC.
DRP may nominate its own candidate to fill any vacancy but will also invite further nominations, with a closing date. If there is more than one candidate, the successful candidate will be chosen via election by the Panel.
Roles and Responsibilities
The Chairman will have the casting vote in matters of policy and procedure. The Chairman should have up-to-date expertise in bird identification and record assessment as well as excellent communication skills. The Chairman will ensure that DRP policy is applied and adhered to by the Panel. The Chairman will select the Secretary on behalf of the Panel.
The Secretary will liaise with observers to obtain further information where necessary. The Secretary will provide statistics and data for the annual Dorset Bird Report (DBR) and forward all relevant records for inclusion in the annual Scarce Migrant Report in BB. The Secretary will not vote on record assessments. The Secretary should have excellent communication & organisational skills with a good knowledge of rare & scarce birds in the county.
The Archivist will maintain the central repository of paper and electronic rarity records.
Length of Service
All Voting Members will be offered the opportunity to serve on the Panel for a minimum of five years and a maximum of ten years. Upon reaching the maximum tenure, the member will be expected to retire. However, in exceptional circumstances, a retiring member may be co-opted to fill a temporary vacancy. A retiring member shall not be considered for re-election for at least one year following their retirement.
The maximum term of office for the Chairman will be 10 years. On or before reaching their retirement year the current Chairman will consult with Voting Members to assist in the selection of a new Chairman. Ideally the candidates will be serving or past members of the DRP. Votes will be submitted electronically to the Secretary who will act as returning officer. In the event of a tie in votes between 2 or more candidates, the outgoing Chairman will have the casting vote.
There is no maximum term of office for the roles of Secretary and Archivist.
Initial terms of office will commence with the adoption by the Panel of this Constitution.
Working Arrangements – Annual General Meeting
The Panel will hold an AGM, normally in the late winter/early spring and meet on an ad hoc basis when necessary. Topics covered at the AGM are likely to include proposals for changes to the Constitution, record handling & assessment, adding or removing taxa from those requiring a description and any other business as may be determined by the Chairman. Attendance at the AGM will be limited to Panel members. In exceptional circumstances, and where there is a clearly defined and specific reason, additional non-voting attendees may attend by invitation of the Chairman. The quorum at this meeting is 5 Voting Panel members. A majority of at least two-thirds of those voting will be required for any change to the Constitution (the Secretary can vote). The Chairman will have the casting vote.
Working Arrangements – Taxa Considered by the Panel
A full list of the taxa considered by the Panel is published on the DBC website. Any changes to the taxa considered by the DRP will be announced in the Dorset Birds Newsletter, via the DBC website and other social media outlets. They will normally come into effect on January 1st of the following year, but can be backdated to the start of the current year. The DRP follows “The British List”, pre-2013 changes, as published by the BOU.
Working Arrangements – Submission of Records
The Panel will not accept submissions where the bird is not named to a species or taxa, and will not help with the identification process. If no formal submission has been made prior to the production of that year’s DBR then the County Recorder will source photographs in order for a submission to be made and if accepted, the record will be accredited in the DBR as “per DBC, photo”. It greatly helps the Panel if descriptions are submitted using one of the DRP forms available here: http://www.dorsetbirds.org.uk/dorset-bird-list and then sent to email@example.com.
Submissions come in to the Panel at all times of year, with some arriving on the day of the sighting whilst for other records, there may be a period of well over a year before the finder submits the details to the County Recorder or direct to the BBRC. Finders and identifiers of rare/scarce birds are encouraged to submit records as soon as possible after the observation. The Panel prefers a submission to come from the finder, but will also accept submissions from identifiers where the original finder did not identify the bird. If neither the finder nor identifier sends in a description then the Panel will accept submissions from other observers. The Panel request that any photographs, videos or sound recordings are submitted in their original format, and at their highest quality level as separate email attachments. It is particularly important that the colour balance of digital images is not altered. The Panel also encourages the submission of scanned copies of original field notes and sketches. If the bird has been trapped then the BTO ringing form, complete with biometrics and the ring number, should be sent to the DRP.
For submissions without a photograph, the Panel will expect an independent set of notes from the finder (preferably with sketches, of whatever quality) and sight of their original field notes. The overall experience and past track record of the observers will be a factor in the assessment of the record even when the Panel is dealing with obvious species.
For records where there is only a single observer (or a very closely attached group of observers – e.g. a birder and a relatively non-birding spouse) then even when supported by a photo, the previous track record of the observer will be taken into account. In at least one photo, some recognisable feature of the landscape should be visible and in any series of photos, there should be evidence that they were taken in a continuous sequence
For fly-over records, the bird must be heard to call a minimum of three times and be seen to be the correct size, shape and preferably genus. For nocturnal recordings a detailed explanation as to how all other potential confusion species have been ruled out must be supplied along with sonograms.
Working Arrangements – Consideration of Records
A record will be assessed within 2-3 months of its receipt, depending on the current workload, which varies considerably throughout the year.
Records are circulated in two different ways: Fast-track & Full Circulation.
Fast track: If a bird is well photographed and multi-observed, then 3 Voting Panel Members will cast their vote. In the event that all three don’t agree, it will be passed on for Full Circulation. Any member can ask that a Fast-track vote be changed to a Full Circulation.
Full Circulation: All other records will be assessed by all 5 voting members and a minimum of 4 Accept votes is needed for acceptance of the record.
All submissions are loaded onto a private Internet forum that only Panel members can access. Along with the submission, a voting page is created which summarises the record and allows Voting Members to record their vote, along with any comments or extra information they wish to share with other members.
Members can vote Accept, Not Proven or Discuss. If the early voters do not accept the record, but the later voters do, they should inform all Voting Members, the Secretary and the Chairman to ensure that earlier voters are encouraged to revisit their decision. A member will vote Discuss if they feel further information on the record, the species, or an expert opinion is required.
At an individual level, an Accept vote implies a very high (though not always total) confidence in the mind of the voter that the record was as claimed. Voters try to apply their individual judgement and level of confidence when making their decision. This is usually a subjective judgement and will be influenced by many factors, including the quality of views, the light conditions, the apparent care with which the bird has been observed, the species involved, the experience of the observer with that (and/or similar) taxa and many other factors. Consistency with previous decisions will also be considered; it is very important to ensure the long-term value of the DRP database.
At an individual level, a Not Proven vote means that the voter has less than the very high level of confidence required for an Accept vote. This means that a Voting Member can feel that the record was probably as claimed, but that it simply does not meet the personal level of confidence they apply. It explicitly does NOT imply that the voter believes the observer to be either incompetent or dishonest in any way, but in many cases just that there is a risk of a genuine error having occurred because not quite enough evidence could be assimilated by the observer(s) in the time available. Experienced and highly competent observers will often submit records on much lower levels of evidence than less experienced observers, but these are sometimes deemed Not Proven because the confidence felt by the observer in the field may not be matched by the detached assessment of the voters. The reasons for Not Proven decisions will be communicated by the Chairman directly to the observer and will not be published elsewhere. It should be noted that a Not Proven outcome rarely implies that a record is not as claimed, but just that the evidence presented falls short of being enough to ensure that members are confident that the record was as claimed.
Working Arrangements – Publication of Decisions
On completion, all submissions, member’s voting comments and all relevant correspondence are retained permanently on file whether or not the record is accepted. All comments and the votes of individual members are strictly confidential.
All decisions are published in the DBR and on the DBC website. It is expected that they will also be conveyed via social media in the near future.
If there is new evidence, the Panel will reconsider any previously voted upon record on request. Such requests are usually from the observer or the county recorder, but occasionally they are the result of third party input. In all cases some fundamental requirements have to be met before records can be re-circulated, such as: new knowledge about identification criteria for a species or confusion species has been published. A record would not be reconsidered unless there is new information that may affect the original decision. We would not consider ‘retrospective information’. This includes drawings done several weeks/months after the original sighting, or citing the observer’s subsequent experience of the species. We would not reconsider a record at the suggestion of a third party if they refuse to put information on paper or insist on anonymity. The identity of third parties will be treated confidentially.
All 5 Voting Members will always vote on these reviews and a unanimous decision must be reached for acceptance.
Any observer has the right to withdraw a submitted record, at any time, by communicating this wish to the Secretary of the DRP. The observer is under no obligation to explain why, although such explanations would be welcomed. The Secretary should endeavour to ascertain whether or not there was any question of the record having not been properly assessed at the time.
Marcus Lawson, Chairman.