Users Guide

The users guide is intended to provide an understanding and usage of the content on the Nature of Dorset. The aim is enable users to get the maximum benefit from the data and related functions available on the website. The guide is a combination of commentary and instruction on how to use various aspects of the site. Like the visitor's guide this to is arranged as a series of questions, hopefully you question matches one of the ones I have chosen!

You can select any question from the list below and go to my answer or alternatively you can use the page advance/return navigation at the bottom of the display to trawl through all the pages in turn.


 

What basic information does the Nature of Dorset database contain?

The Nature od Dorset database:

When I moved to Dorset in July 2006 and immediately started researching the nature reserves here as a way of exploring my adopted county. Outside of Arne and Durlston I had little idea what else Dorset had in store to explore. Being a compulsive recorder and collector of data I soon started to build up a store of knowledge on the nature reserves of Dorset and felt that I should share that with others so that they too could share the wondrous places we had been to together. The Nature of Dorset project grew from that and the Nature of Dorset database is a repository of all the information I have accumulated. 

The database is a collection of data, not just from Dorset's nature reserves; I have included other wildlife 'hot-spots' too. The database comprises two main files; one of sites and one of species. These two primary databases are linked by a table of records that show what species you might see at a given site and at what sites you might find a certain species. 

This structure means you can use the Nature of Dorset website in two alternative ways:

  1. To find places to go to see wildlife and nature at its best with some expectation of what you might see when you get there
  2. To find the places certain species that you might want to see occur so that you know where to go looking

Sites Database:

As I visit a nature reserve/hot-spot I create an entry in the database that contains:

  • some basic information about the site, its ownership, management, access and facilities, etc
  • a brief description and my thoughts on the site
  • some photographs showing various aspects of the site to give a feel for it
  • its location on a map, directions on how to find it by car and some other sites nearby if you are looking to make a day of it
  • a list a species you might find on the site
  • a guide to the habitats on the site
  • a basic 'risk assessment' so those with mobility difficulties do not get caught out by unexpected accessibility problems
  • links to other websites that have information on the site

All of this information should give you a feel for the reserve before you even get there as well as enabling you to find it!

Species Database:

As I find a new species I create an entry in the species database that contains:

  • some basic information including scientific name, other names it might be known by, its place in the natural order of things and so on
  • a brief note about it highlighting identification features and behaviour and some other thoughts
  • some photographs
  • a distribution map showing where it can be seen
  • a link to similar species in the same family

I have arranged this in a 'top down' format from the species home page to aid identification. If you start at the top, with four clicks you may have identified something you have seen!

Sightings:

The sightings table links species to reserves and adds a date and a status to form the species lists and the distribution maps. These are not always my records, I have included some publicly available records too in some cases to enhance the prospective visitors experience. Where I have done this the source is shown and a link to the source is included in the resources for the site. The next two pages of the guide have a lot more information on species lists and sightings records and I urge you to read them!

Overall:

I believe that the 'reserves' section of the Nature of Dorset is now the most comprehensive guide to the nature reserves and other wildlife hot-spots in Dorset, not just on the internet but anywhere! I am still working on it and will continue to do so until health prevents me from continuing.

Are there any considerations to bear in mind when viewing species list and distribution maps?

Things to remember when viewing a reserve species list or the species distribution maps:

  1. Unless otherwise stated all the records are my own although identification may have been made by either someone else present with me or via photographic evidence later. With this in mind there may be some 'fragility' involved given the limitations of my own knowledge or in me having suitable reference material to research observations further.
  2. To supplement my records I have included some publicly available records (from an official website for example) to provide a more comprehensive view of some reserves where there are species present that I may have missed on my visit(s). These records are identified with the original source in the species lists.
  3. The species lists are compiled by random browsing whilst walking a reserve and not by any form of systematic or scientific research process so obviously they will include only what I saw at the time I was present in the places I walked. My lists, therefore, are species you are likely to encounter and have a reasonable chance of identifying! 
  4. Following on from (3) my species lists are intended to be a guide to what one might see or to help you identify something you saw on a visit. I accept my limitations and that there may be errors for which I apologise but no one can be an expert in everything and I am not an expert in anything. My aim is to increase your enjoyment of a reserve.
  5. It is stating the obvious perhaps, but to avoid confusion, these species lists reflect what I saw on the day of my visit or visits. It does not follow, then, that the species will be present when you decide to visit! You need to consult a field guide, for example, to see if a particular flower is likely to be out or to see if a particular insect is visible in its adult form when you intend to go looking for it.
  6. I have not necessarily seen an actual specimen in some cases but have included the species where there is evidence that it is present. For example, I may have heard a particular bird but not seen it, or there may have been droppings or footprints. A plant may not have been in flower, there may have been leaves developing prior to flowering or there may be seed heads or fruit present.
  7. The 'status' levels are, again, not the result of a scientific process but a general assessment made by me as a result of my casual observations on the day of my visit. Population levels can vary year on year and the time of year. For example, gatekeeper butterflies may have been numerous on a visit in July but absent on a visit in September.
  8. I have tried to standardise my status assessments and make them consistent. A 'definition' of the status terms can be found on the next page. Also from this date I am going to try and segment some of the larger reserves into differing habitat types. Where I have done this the status level will reflect the position within that segment of the reserve rather than across the reserve as a whole.

In conclusion, can I say again, the species lists are aimed at helping you enjoy a visit to a reserve, they are not intended to be a contribution to science. Please use them in the way they are intended to be used. I provide the data in good faith and I do not expect to receive scathing messages about mistakes I may have made!

Can you explain the status descriptions you have used for records?

Putting some meaning in to the status of species in species lists and distribution maps:

These notes should be read in conjunction with the general notes on species lists on the previous page.

Species lists are intended to help you enjoy your visit to a reserve by giving you some idea what to expect or by helping you identify a species you saw on your visit. The distribution maps are intended to help you find a particular species you may want to see. In addition to when a species was seen on a reserve I also try to give some idea as to how scarce or common that species is with a general status comment. This is based on an impression formed during a visit, not through any formal count or statistical assessment!

From the 1st January 2015 I am going to try and be a bit more consistent with these status estimates and I am also going to try and 'segment' larger reserves by habitat type to give an idea of where species may be seen within the whole site. Status comments for records from the 1st January 2015 onwards will use the following basis for assessment:

ANIMALS (Mammals through to lower invertebrates)

  • Present ..... the species is certainly present on the reserve as I saw at least one on my visit
  • Several ..... I saw a more than a couple of specimens but less than twenty
  • Numerous ..... I saw a fair number, probably between twenty and fifty
  • Plentiful ..... there were a lot there; probably between fifty and a hundred
  • Common ..... there were over a hundred present that I saw
  • Very Common ..... there were large numbers, more than I could even attempt to estimate
  • Abundant ..... they were just about everywhere!
  • Evidence ..... I did not see one but there is evidence to show that the species is present
  • Vagrant ..... the species was present but I would not expect to necessarily expect to see it there again
  • Migrant ..... this is a migrating species and one only likely to occur whilst on passage
  • Overhead ..... this species was not actually on the reserve but was visible overhead

PLANTS: (Flowers through to fungi)

  • Scarce ..... I found one or two specimens, you will have to look hard for it!
  • Occasional ..... I found some scattered across the area, you might see it!
  • Local .... I found a lot of it in one place, you should find it!
  • Frequent ..... I came across it often, you should see it!
  • Common ..... I saw it everywhere, you must see it!
  • Very common ..... I  saw lots of it everywhere, you will see it!
  • Abundant ..... it is the dominant vegetation, you cannot miss it!

Just a note about the date of the record. This may not be the last time I saw the species on that reserve, it was the date where the population status was as shown. 

I say again, the status is just an estimate to give you some idea as to the scarcity or abundance of a species in a particular place. If you are looking for a particular species then head for somewhere it most abundant!

How do I submit my records to the Nature of Dorset database?

How to submit records and photographs:

  • Records can (currently) only be submitted via Twitter for which there is an available utility for importing tweets into the Nature of Dorset website. At the present time no such utility exists for Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platform.
  • I need to know that you want your records included so that I can add you to the list of Twitter accounts that are followed. You can notify me via a Twitter message/post or by using the contact form on the Nature of Dorset website.
  • You can also submit records by tweeting directly to @natureofdorset

Every contributor has their own 'home' page which can be found at Records and Photos>Contributors and then select from the available grid of avatars. If you wish you can copy and paste the URL of your home page into the website field in your Twitter profile so that you and your followers can access it easily.

Some simple rules for tweets:

  • Tweets should be for current sightings only (the last day or so) and not historical records
  • Tweets should contain both a species name and a location
  • Records for all animals and plants are welcome, not just birds. Only positive identifications will be included.
  • For birds only notable records are required - notable means all records for vagrant or rare species, species on migration, overwintering species, breeding records or anything unusual
  • Multiple species can be included in one tweet but:
    • They should fit within the allowed tweet length, shortened links do not import and anything beyond the standard tweet length will be lost
    • If you cannot get everything into one tweet split it across two or more
    • Recognisable abbreviations may be used to help keep within the allowed tweet limit
    • Photographs of lists/notice boards do not work well nor do links to other websites or blogs
    • Counts can be included and for regularly monitored sites these will be stored and tabulated within the Nature of Dorset
  • When specifying a location remember:
    • If you are submitting multiple species they must all be for the same location, multiple locations in one tweet does not work!
    • Only locations in Dorset are going to get included
    • Your tweet may be tagged to a nearby location for the purposes of display on distribution maps, people can see from your tweet a more exact location if appropriate
    • Avoid using exact locations for sensitive species, general 'Dorchester area' or similar will do but avoid being too vague as in 'west Dorset'
    • Avoid using 'my garden' or 'my patch' as people will not necessarily know where your garden or patch is. You can use your Twitter profile geographic location to provide this information
  • If you want to post photographs for inclusion:
    • Ensure your Twitter profile allows the sharing of your photographs
    • Only post one photograph per tweet and the tweet should only mention the record/location of the submitted species photograph
    • Not all submitted photographs are included in the Nature of Dorset database. Preference will be given to good quality images, images of species that do not already have a number of photographs submitted, and photographs that show a unique feature, an alternative view or other relevant factor that will aid identification for site visitors
    • Accepted photographs will not only be stored in the Nature of Dorset database but will also be re-posted on Twitter and to the Nature of Dorset Facebook page and so will reach a wider audience

 

What is the bird identification tool and how do I use it?

Introduction:

We have all been in a position when we have been out in the field and seen a bird we do not immediately recognise and so we get out our field guide and start thumbing through the pages looking for a picture that matches the bird we saw (or think we saw!). There is more to identifying birds than finding a picture match and this aid tries to help you by providing a series of filtering options which can be used to narrow down some suggestions that direct you to the best candidates to look at in your field guide. You can tap/click the species photograph to see more information about a species in the Nature of Dorset database which may also help.

Just to emphasise; this tool is not intended to provide you with a positive identification on its own and is best used with a good field guide or other identification resource (such as the RSPB website for example)

Methodology:

The bird identification aid offers you six questions:

  1. What type of bird was it?
  2. Can you be more precise?
  3. In which month did you see it?
  4. What was the dominant colour of the bird?
  5. What size was it?
  6. What habitat did you see it in?

For each of these questions there is a drop down list of possible answers from which you can choose. Once you have made your selections click/tap 'Apply' and potential candidate species will be displayed. You can swipe through the possibles to see if you can find a probable and from there you may want to look in your field guide for more information or, alternatively, click/tap the species photograph to see what information the Nature of Dorset has on that species.

You can answer as many of the questions as you feel you can and the system will then present an array of photographs for birds that match the answers you have given. The more information you give the tighter the selection of possible candidates you will receive however, if you are too precise your choice may be too narrow especially if one of the selections is not totally 'correct' (see notes below about size and colour). You may find it is best to answer just two or three and look at the options presented to start with and narrow down further if you need to. You can, of course, try a different combinations of answers and see if there are overlaps with some species occurring in all the combinations you use!

Answers to these questions can be very subjective and your perception may not match mine and therefore be prepared to try different answers and different combinations of answers if you do not find what you are looking for with your first attempt. Birds have wings and are mobile and can turn up anywhere any time. Statistically you are most likely to see common species but you should always expect the unexpected! This guide contains about 250 of the birds most likely to be seen in Dorset, be very sure of your facts before you decide it is a species not in this list.

This aid is based on MY observations in DORSET (England!) and as a result:

  • It will not be a comprehensive list, only those 250 or so species that are most likely to be seen in Dorset
  • The data is Dorset based and may not be true for other counties in the United Kingdom but it may still be a useful tool for people living in other parts of the country
  • The data given can only be general as the mobility of birds means they can turn up in unexpected places at unexpected times of the year

Instructions:

What type of bird is it?

This gives you a chance to restrict the options to 'general' types of bird: seabirds, waders, birds of prey and so on

Can you be more specific?

If you can be a little more precise this is a range of more detailed options: rather than seabirds you may be able to  say it was a gull, or a tern or an auk and so on

In what month did you see it?

The months in which a bird can be seen can be quite variable. 

  • The months I have specified for each species reflects what the norm is here in Dorset in a usual year 
  • The actual months a species is seen can vary each year depending on the weather and how it impacts migration and movements
  • In some years migratory species may occur in large numbers and in others may not be seen in Dorset at all
  • Not all individuals of a migratory species may actually make the journey and so may be seen outside of the anticipated months 

What was the dominant colour?

Identifying birds by the colour alone is fraught with difficulty! To ornithologists plumage it is just one of many factors taken into account in identifying a species but a casual observer will usually only notice one thing - the colour of the bird.  Here are some of the problems encountered identifying birds colour alone:

  • Peoples interpretations of a colour will undoubtedly vary. Men and women see colours differently, for example, and what I see as brown may be beige to others
  • Most birds have multiple coloured plumage and so I have tried to use the dominant colour in this aid
  • Even birds of a single general colouration will have vasts amount of variation within their feathers
  • The light and distance can affect the colour you see
  • Birds in flight reveal colours that cannot be seen whilst stationary
  • Some birds have just minimal colouration differences with other similar species
  • Colouration can vary with the age or sex of the bird

To compensate for this you may need to try different options under colour to find the bird you are looking for.

What size was it?

Size does matter when it comes to identifying birds and so I have used a simple structure to help with the process of selection of potential species based on the measurement of a typical specimen from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail; you may be surprised by the some of the placements so you may need to try a couple of examples! I have given an example of a common bird within the group to provide an easy means of comparison.

  • Less than 12cms = very small (blue tit)
  • 12-18 cms = small (house sparrow)
  • 19-28 cms = medium (blackbird)
  • 29-38 cms = intermediate (jackdaw)
  • 39-58 cms = large (carrion crow)
  • 59-78 cms = very large (pheasant)

What habitat was it seen in?

Each species of bird is adapted to eat a specific diet; it may be insects, seeds, worms, molluscs, even other birds or mammals. It follows, therefore, that you will generally find a species where its food source can be found and bird species are often linked to certain habitat types. One has to remember that birds are mobile and so can occur in places where they are not expected, especially during migration times but, in general, the assumption works. Selecting a habitat where you saw a bird, especially during the breeding season, can be an important factor in its identification.

Alternative:

If you are at one of the nature reserves or nature 'hot-spots' featured in the Nature of Dorset you may like to look at the species list for that site to see if anyone has reported what you are looking at previously. To do this, go to the option to "Identify a species based on where I am now".

Finally:

Just to reiterate:

  • This is a guide to possible candidates for identification and NOT a definitive guide to bird identification
  • All the information is Dorset based and may not apply to other parts of the British Isles
  • The data in this guide is open to interpretation in different ways by different people so use with care
  • Tool is available for use free of charge and intended to help budding nature lovers and not established enthusiasts

 

What is the flora identification tool and how do I use it?

Introduction:

We have all been in a position when we have been out in the field and seen a flower we do not immediately recognise and so we get out our field guide and start thumbing through the pages looking for a picture that matches the flower we are looking at. There is more to identifying flowers than finding a picture match and this aid tries to help you by providing a series of filtering options which can be used to narrow down some suggestions that direct you to the best candidates to look at in your field guide. You can tap/click the species photograph to see more information about a species in the Nature of Dorset database which may also help.

Just to emphasise this tool is not intended to provide you with a positive identification on its own and is best used with a good field guide or other identification resource. 

Methodology:

The wild flower identification aid presents you with four questions:

  1. What colour was the flower?
  2. What month did you see it?
  3. In what habitat was it growing?
  4. What family of plants does it belong to?

You can answer as many of these questions as you feel you can and the system will then present a selection of photographs for flowers that match the answers you have given. The more information you give the tighter the choices you will receive and you may find it is best to answer just two and look at the results and then try a different combination of two answers and see if there are overlaps and if some species occur in all combinations you use!

Answers to these questions can be very subjective and your perception may not match mine and therefore be prepared to try different answers and different combinations of answers if you do not find what you are looking for with your first attempt. This aid is based on MY observations in DORSET (England!) and as a result:

  • It will not be a comprehensive list, only those 500 or so species that are most likely to be seen in Dorset
  • The data is Dorset based and may not be true for other counties in the United Kingdom but it may still be a useful tool for people living in other parts of the country
  • The data given can only be general as a single enthusiastic person cannot visit every square metre of Dorset and recoord every flower they see!

Instructions:

What colour is the flower:

Identifying plants by the colour of their flower is fraught with difficulty! To botanists it is just one of many factors taken in to account in identifying a species but a casual observer will usually only notice one thing - the colour of the flower!  Here are some of the problems encountered identifying plants by flower colour alone:

  • People interpretations of a colour will vary undoubtedly vary. Men and women see colours differently, for example, and what I see as purple may be pink to others
  • Some plants occur in different colours. Bluebells and violets, for example commonly occur in white and so in this aid I have used only their more normal form
  • Some plants have multiple coloured flowers so I have tried to use the dominant colour in this aid
  • Flowers will have natural variations in colour depending on their age
  • Sometimes the soil can create variations in colour within the dame plant
  • Sometimes you will see sepals which are different colours to the petals and give the impression that the flowers are a different colour completely (especially the dock family)
  • Some flowers are so small it is difficult to see what colour they really are, especially low growing, creeping flowers
  • Within the same colour groups I have used there will be variable shades (for example yellow, lemon, gold, etc)
  • The light can affect the colour you see and, especially, the colour in a photograph (blues photograph poorly)

To compensate for this you may need to try different options under colour to find the flower you are looking for.

In what month was it flowering:

The months in which a plant flowers can be quite variable. 

  • Months I have used will reflect what happens here in Dorset in a usual year and this may not reflect the position elsewhere in the country
  • The months listed can vary each year weather (especially frost in autumn and early winter)
  • A plant in a sheltered, sunny position may flower much earlier than elsewhere

If you see a flower late in the year you may need to start searching in earlier months to find what you are looking for. Remember, in Dorset plants will flower much earlier than in the north.

What habitat was it flowering in?

Some plants only grow in specific habitats and conditions but other can be quite ubiquitous and grow in the most unlikely places! This can be as a result of diverse factors such as the dumping of garden rubbish in the countryside or perhaps a plant is a remnant of the way the habitat once was before being changed by human intervention. However, habitat is an important factor in species identification.

What family does it belong to?

I appreciate that the casual observer may not readily know the characteristics of the family groups of our wild flowers but I have included it as a parameter as it is an essential part of wild flower identification and if the observer can select a family group then it will help.

Status:

For each species I include this because statistically you are more likely to see a common flower than a rare one! The status is my opinion and based on my recording of a plants in Dorset.

Alternative:

If you are at one of the nature reserves or nature 'hot-spots' featured in the Nature of Dorset you may like to look at the species list for that site to see if anyone has reported what you are looking at previously. To do this, go to the option to "Identify a species based on where I am now".

Finally:

Just to reiterate:

  • This is a guide to possible candidates for identification and NOT a definitive guide to flower identification
  • All the information is Dorset based and may not apply to other parts of the British Isles
  • The data in this guide is open to interpretation in different ways by different people so use with care
  • Tool is available for use free of charge and intended to help budding nature lovers and not established enthusiasts 

What is the tree identification tool and how do I use it?

Introduction:

I have always found trees a difficult group! They are all the same aren't they? They have trunks and branches and leaves in summer. The common trees are perhaps not difficult and we may all know an oak when we see it but can you tell a silver birch from a downy birch? It is not easy. With that in mind I have put together an identification aid to trees that I can use when I am out in the field and I hope you may find it useful too.  The idea is simple, trees have various different features and I have tried (or, at least, I am in the process of trying) to photograph these features for the trees and shrubs one is most likely to see in Dorset. Choose a feature from the drop down list and photographs of that feature on a variety of trees will be displayed; put your phone alongside the feature and compare - simple! You can tap/click the species photograph to see more information about a species in the Nature of Dorset database which may also help.

I should emphasise that this tool is not intended to provide you with a positive identification on its own and is best used with a good field guide or other identification resource. 

Methodology:

The tree identification aid presents you with a choice of ten features that are found on most trees:

  1. bark
  2. cross section
  3. flower
  4. leaf
  5. (leaf) bud
  6. summer profile
  7. winter profile
  8. seed/nut
  9. fruit/berry
  10. twig

You can select one of these features for the tree you are looking at and then compare the options displayed with the specimen you are looking at. I would strongly suggest that you use more than one feature and look for a species that occurs for each feature you choose. Using these options it should be possible to narrow down the possibilities at any time of the year.

This aid is based on MY observations and photographs in DORSET (England!) and as a result:

  • It will not be a comprehensive list, only those 40 or so species that are most likely to be seen in Dorset
  • The data is Dorset based and may not be true for other counties in the United Kingdom but it may still be a useful tool for people living in other parts of the country
  • There are not photographs for every feature of every species as a single enthusiastic person cannot find and photograph every species of tree at every stage of the yearly cycle!

Finally:

Just to reiterate:

  • This is a guide to possible candidates for identification and NOT a definitive guide to tree identification
  • All the information is Dorset based and may not apply to other parts of the British Isles
  • The data in this guide is open to interpretation in different ways by different people so use with care
  • Tool is available for use free of charge and intended to help budding nature lovers and not established enthusiasts