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the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

In the beginning …

Lyndsey Cox, GiGL’s Data Entry Officer, on data entry – the building blocks of the data management

From handwritten notes on scraps of torn paper to complex personalised databases, records come into GiGL in all sorts of different formats.

Most commonly, data are presented to GiGL as a simple list of species. Grid tables are a favourite with some recorders, who record combinations of the same species on differerent dates. Equally important are one-off records, which are often just ad-hoc sightings. They can be from both known recorders and members of the public and tend to be the ‘scraps of torn paper’ variety.

The information of interest to a recorder often exceeds GiGL’s needs, and we may have to extract species and habitat information from within paragraphs or even pages of other text. Reserve management plans and reports often contain species lists, either within the appendices or within the main body of the report. Species information has even been extracted from historical diaries going back to the beginning of the 20th Century, donated by the author’s family.

GiGL also receives more formal records, such as the Greater London Authority’s habitat forms and species forms, and those from individual boroughs. Borough forms are sometimes similar to the standard GLA forms and, like the GLA forms, usually have space to include additional information.

Whatever its original source, a good record requires four essential elements – the recorder’s name, the species name, the location, and the date. Put simply, who, what, where, when. A data entry spreadsheet is available on the GiGL website with the four essential items highlighted. The date can be recorded in full or in part, numeric or text-based. ‘January ‘08’, ‘01/01/08’, or simply the year, ‘2008’, are all acceptable. A range of dates, for example ‘01/01/08 – 03/03/08’ can also be used.

The location name should include a grid reference where possible.This helps us to pinpoint a site when the name is unclear or it has more than one name. The recorder’s name helps us with both data verification, and to ensure ownership of that data is clear. Species names should be recorded with care to prevent confusion upon inputting.

Good handwriting is not a prerequisite to submitting a record, although it certainly helps with data entry. Other non-essential elements make the data entry much easier and faster. For example:

  • Refrain from using initials in place of the recorder’s name or codes for the species name, unless the recorder’s full name and a key to codes used is sent with the record.
  • Include details of the organisation on whose behalf the recorder works, if applicable.
  • In those cases where the grid reference is unknown, include as much detail about the location as possible. Grid references are not always provided with records, especially when they come from members of the public, are older records or one-off sightings. GiGL can often provide the grid reference, if we are given enough information about the location.
  • Include all four essential details on all sheets. Sheets can sometimes become separated and if one of the essential four elements is missing from a sheet, it may not be possible to connect it with the rest of the record.
  • Try to put species lists in alphabetical and/or chronological order.
  • Ideally, the species list should contain the scientific as well as the common name. This is especially important for species where the same common name can be used for a number of different species or sub-species. In addition to species and habitat information, other secondary information can be included on GiGL’s database, including species’ abundance levels and even weather conditions.

Excel spreadsheets, including GiGL’s own spreadsheet, can be imported directly into Recorder. In this format a successful import relies on the correct spelling of species names whether it be the scientific or common name.

Forms from large-scale public surveys, such as the London Wildlife Trust garden survey, also yield valuable information, as do website hosted surveys such as the recent survey of school grounds carried out by Harrow school children.

Children taking part in the project could also explore links to other websites, including Arkive and online ID keys while they did their own data entry. The resulting data came straight to GiGL for processing and was then handed to Harrow for analysis.The children’s data are also available via our website, allowing them to see their own records overlaid on Google maps via the WIMBY pages.

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