Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Team Awesome: our volunteers add 17,000 records to Victorian Biodiversity Atlas

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

Databases are only as good as the data that is entered (or not entered) into them, with many important decisions relying on databases being up to date and conclusive. Connecting Country and our monitoring partners have collected tens of thousands of wildlife records over the past decade. But there’s no point collecting data if it’s not accessible to the people who need it.

From 2019 to 2020, Connecting Country’s amazing volunteers have entered a whopping 17,175 wildlife monitoring records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA), with thousands more records currently being progressed in preparation for uploading soon.

Adding this amount of data to the VBA has taken a substantial effort of over 500 volunteer hours. Anyone who has entered this amount of data onto the VBA can attest that the process is not straight forward, so this has been a huge effort by our volunteers and a significant contribution to conservation efforts in the local region. Uploading our records to the VBA means that the data we have collected is no longer ‘locked up’ within our organisation, but available for researchers and decision-makers when they are making important decisions about where to allocate government resources, where to do planned burns, and whether to approve developments such as residential subdivisions.

Our awesome team of data entry volunteers volunteers

Initially, we were seeking just one volunteer to help enter data for us. However, when we put the call out for a volunteer we got such an incredibly strong response that we chose to engage four enthusiastic volunteers to share our data. These four amazing and tireless volunteers are Alexandra Reinehr, Corey Greenham, Karen Stuart and Lou Citroen.

  • Alexandra is about to complete a Bachelor of Science with an Environmental Management and Ecology major. She lives on an 153 acre property in central Victoria so it’s not surprising her focus is on sustainable and biodiverse farming practices. Alexandra came across Connecting Country through one of her lecturers at Victoria University and was interested in volunteering so she could learn more about the flora and fauna of her region as well as help contribute to their mission to restore and enhance biodiversity.
  • Corey grew up in the Bendigo area and currently lives in Melbourne. Corey finished his Bachelor of Environment and Society at RMIT in 2018. He has a broad passion for the environment and sustainability but has strong interests in biodiversity, urban greening, and community-based environmental initiatives. Corey says, ‘I thought the project would be a fantastic chance to learn more about the local environment in the Bendigo and Castlemaine region while helping to improve the existing information on local species such as the Phascogale. Even though I grew up in the area, I only spent a little bit of time in Castlemaine and have really enjoyed exploring the town and surroundings over the course of volunteering.’
  • Karen is well known here in the office at Connecting Country, having previously completed a work placement in our office and helped make sure our nest box database is in good shape. After working in administration and finance for 35 years and raising two children, Karen seized the opportunity to follow her passion. She is studying a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management. A highlight includes two weeks of volunteer fieldwork on the Eyre Peninsula with Australian Wildlife Conservancy, where she worked alongside expert ecologists. She is blending her work history with her studies and (partly due to her volunteer work with Connecting Country) Karen is beginning to obtain work through local ecologists. Karen says, ‘It is an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to volunteer with Connecting Country and the wonderful people associated with the organisation, and to be able to combine my data experience with my environmental studies.’
  • Lou has volunteered extensively with many diverse causes over the years. He started with volunteering for his daughter’s athletics competitions, then a placement in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (‘And what a blast it was!  A thrilling, unforgettable two weeks of my life!’), followed by nine years at BirdLife Australia, before moving to Castlemaine. Lou says, ‘During that time a BirdLife staff member suggested I make contact with Tanya Loos (then at Connecting Country), which of course I did.  Community-based Connecting Country, a small not-for-profit, focussing on restoring biodiversity in Mount Alexander region, is a vibrant, indefatigable, well-organised, friendly and inclusive group of dedicated scientists and veritable army of volunteers.  My volunteer ‘career’ aspiration, to make a contribution to conservation, however humble, has happily continued in Castlemaine.’

Connecting Country warmly thanks each of our data entry volunteers for the enthusiastic contribution of their valuable time and expertise to what we know can be a tedious task! We simply couldn’t have shared our monitoring data without them, and they’re a delight to have as part of the Connecting Country team.

Habitat Health Check

These new records have been added to the VBA as part of our Habitat Health Check project, funded by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Habitat Health Check: empowering citizen scientists to monitor habitat health in Central Victoria has supported our transition to a citizen science model.  This two-year project ending in June 2020 and consisted of reviewing our four monitoring programs: Birdwatch, Nestboxes, Plantwatch and Reptile and Frog monitoring. It is a collaborative, robust, citizen science project that monitors native animals and plants in the Mount Alexander region. We have reviewed our existing monitoring programs, and moved to a new collaborative, targeted model that empowers our enthusiastic and skilled volunteers, improves scientific rigor, and promotes data sharing via the Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity online portal.

What is the VBA? 

We often get questions from the community and landowners asking about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) and why it is important. We also get questions about where people should add their surveys, and sightings of flora and fauna, to ensure government agencies can access and consider the records. The VBA uses consistent data standards in recording species observations and conservation efforts, and contains over seven million records across the state of Victoria.

The VBA is a web-based information system designed to manage information about native and naturalised species occurring in Victoria. The system includes species attribute information, including origin and conservation status, along with more than six million records of species distribution and abundance. All published records have been through the verification process including review by a panel of Victorian experts. The VBA includes data submitted to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) from external sources as well as the Department’s own data collections from systematic surveys and general observations.

Connecting Country enters the data from our monitoring program onto the VBA. With amazing volunteer helpers, we are currently entering all historical data from our surveys and observations. This will assist the government agencies in planning and reporting on biodiversity outcomes. We hope it will result in better planning and management outcomes for biodiversity. The data from the VBA feeds into the Atlas of Living Australia, but not vice-versa, so Connecting Country recommend that all flora and fauna data is entered onto VBA first and foremost, as it will also be added to the Atlas of Living Australia. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post about the Atlas of Living Australia.

Using the VBA

The VBA includes a dynamic list of all species found in Victoria and provides information including conservation status. There are more than seven million records of species distribution and abundance collated from many different data providers. You can use the atlas to search and map species from across the state, and check for threatened species in your area.

Adding your records to the VBA is a valuable way to influence a range of government investment, regulation and management decisions. The following video link highlights why the VBA is important. By sharing your observations in the VBA format you can contribute to statewide biodiversity planning, and help DELWP measure the progress to meeting their Biodiversity 2037 targets.

VBA have also released a mobile, simplified version for recording your general observations called VBA Go.

For more information on the VBA including videos and help guides to get you started – click here

To sign up, log in, access and contribute to the VBA – click here

To  access VBA Go – click here


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