About the British Birds Rarities Committee

The BBRC is the official adjudicator of rare bird records in Britain. Its members are democratically elected by birders’ representatives in each county and serve for a fixed term.

It publishes its annual report in the monthly journal British Birds. These web pages supplement the annual report and also enable birders worldwide to keep abreast with the latest committee news.

Also in this section



On the structure of BBRC

Why is it sometimes called 'The 10 rare men'?

Well, that refers to the 10 people who actually vote on the records. But there are other people involved, notably the chair and the secretary (see below). Additional posts include vice chair, archivist, museum consultant and genetic consultant and these roles are explained more fully in the constitution.

So what do the chair and secretary do?

The chair has to be an ex-voting member of BBRC, and one of their main roles is to ensure the voting process is as rigorous and as accurate as possible. They can be asked for advice on difficult records, when they often bring their knowledge of previous similar submissions to help the decision process.

Also, as it says in the constitution, the chair is 'to act as the conduit for policy development and ideas…'. They will discuss those ideas with the secretary and other members as appropriate. If necessary the ideas will be brought to an AGM for further discussion and voted on.

The secretary administers the voting process but is total divorced from decisions made. They liaise with submitters and county recorders to try to get as complete a picture of the rarities occurring in Britain and then pull together the data and the voting to help produce the annual report.

These roles are defined in detail in section 2 of our constitution.

How are members elected, and when do they retire?

Normally a member retires after ten years. Nominations for a vacancy can come from anyone, and it is common for the BBRC to put forward a candidate. If there is more than one candidate then an election takes place with votes coming from counties/recording areas and observatories. Counties can allocate a total of five votes to the candidates and observatories two votes. Despite what you may hear the BBRC itself does NOT vote. Nominations can be made via this form.

Do you use outside experts?

Yes we use a wide range of experts, some of which are ‘permanently’ connected with the BBRC and others used for specific matters. The ‘permanent’ posts are the museums consultant and genetics consultant – the latter a new role only started in March 2013. The museum consultant checks various features for us at the Natural History Museum, Tring. The genetics consultant advises on interpretation of DNA samples, and also carries out DNA analysis if required. Other temporary advisors could include those who have expertise in the identification of particular species, or families, or specialisations such as sea-bird observation.

The roles of BBRC and BOURC

Why is there BOURC and BBRC – what do each do ?

BBRC assess all records of rare taxa that are on category A of the British list. Category A is for those species/taxa that have occurred in the wild since 1950. We also assesses sightings involving a potential new taxon (species or sub-species). If the ID is accepted then the record is forwarded to the British Ornithologists Union Records Committee (BOURC). BOURC then look at the record again, both the identification and particularly the likely provenance of that first record – provenance means that the sighting is of a naturally occurring bird.

If BOURC are happy then the taxon is added to the British list and thereafter all subsequent records for that taxon are assessed by BBRC alone.

Is there something special if the record is a ‘first for Britain’ ?

Yes, there are special criteria which have to be considered, which are listed in our constitution appendix II.

Remember that if a first for Britain is accepted by BBRC then it will go to BOURC for acceptance on the official British List. So these guidelines for acceptance of a ‘first’ are designed to ensure that the claim is totally robust and has every possibility that the taxon concerned will be accepted by BOURC.

Even if the identification is also accepted by BOURC (as happens in the vast majority of cases) they still will have to look at the provenance of the record. Only if they are happy that the taxon, and that particular first record, has occurred naturally will they place the taxon on category A of the British list.

Vary rarely a ‘first’ will be accepted by BBRC, but BOURC may disagree that the identification is confirmed/safe. The two committees liaise in such cases, and in fact there are often members who sit on both committees, and the chair of BBRC always sits on BOURC. Remember the BBRC chair does not vote in BBRC’s normal assessment process so will not have been involved in the original assessment by BBRC.

Who determines provenance of other records?

Once a species is on the British list then provenance is in the remit of BBRC. If, whilst voting on the identification, any BBRC member feels there is an issue with provenance then they will comment on that as part of their vote. If the identification is accepted, but a majority of voters are doubtful of the record being a genuine wild bird then it will not be published in the main section (for category A birds) of the rarity report, but instead will be put in an appendix: ‘Records where identification is accepted, but origin is uncertain’.

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