Current Concerns

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Current concerns

The proposed amalgamation of avian checklists:

In 2014, at the International Ornithological Congress in Tokyo, discussions took place about the potential for a unification of avian world checklists. This apparently was the spark for the IOC session in Vancouver in August 2018 on the above subject. TAS was not directly invited to participate - perhaps it was thought that Les Christidis, as Managing Editor, could speak for TAS. That however would have had to be based on a detailed brief agree by TAS Trustees and this was not requested and the obvious potential conflict of interest only became apparent at the time of the meeting (where Christidis as a convenor was personally committed to unification). So TAS itself was not represented there nor at any discussions from 2014 onwards.

Whether such unification is something that the Trust should - and could - involve itself with is under discussion. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist was deliberately positioned as a "strictly Biological Species Concept list" in 2003 (if not before), and it retained that stance in 2013/14 with some degree of relaxation (which probably did not get applied evenly). The Managing Editor’s philosophy has been that science benefits from the publication of differing views and that it is on this basis that science advances! To-day that view still seems fully justified.

However, it is no doubt true that many birders would be happy to have such a list - just to keep it simple!

Competing checklists seem to have adopted different taxonomic decisions - and there are plenty of logical reasons to differ. Some no doubt have their own reasons for wanting to be seen as "the authority", and that alone will make reaching genuinely and firmly and genuiely agreed consensus more difficult.

Importantly, the Trust has an obligation to protect the Trust’s Intellectual Property, and it has in recent years received an income from the publisher for licencing the checklist. Despite the need, now accepted, to make much of the list Open Access and to place it on-line, which we are acting on, the Trust is wholly dependent on financial support from the community (including a few trustees who over the years have kindly made donations - notwithstanding the fact that they are or were already donating their time). Going forward, the obvious costs to be met are database design and maintenance, website design and maintenance, recurring domain name usage costs etc. That, of course, assumes that the list authors are willing to accept the way that placement on-line eliminates the potential for royalties to be shared. Putting aside costs now being incurred - supported by donations - the Trust’s annual running costs are currently estimated to be no more than £2500 per annum. 

For all these reasons the Trust may wish to not participate or may wish to limit the scope of participation in any ’unified list’ - which may or may not really unite all the lists that the unifiers claimed they woud unite (a task demanding carefully-built concensus). This will be re-examined in due course: meanwhile the Trust has some catching up to do.

Whether there will be any Howard and Moore Complete Checklist in 15 to 20 years’ time will depend on how it is received and valued by its users and thus whether there is a sufficient demand for it. 


The "Penhallurick database":

Prior to his death John Penhallurick (1946-2014) appealed for someone to take over his database ("WorldBirdInfo"); eventually the Trust offered some help to make it available and agreed to suggest that its readers might wish to build on to it. This proposal was agreed and soon after John’s death his widow, Elizabeth, assigned the rights in this to the Trust. Denis Lepage at the request of the Trust downloaded it to see whether the content coudlbe accessed and organised.

There have been discussions with Denis about making it available on-line, but more urgent issues have so far prevented closure on this. As it belongs to the Trust those discussions need to be resumed and will be soon.


Global warming and species extinction:

After the debate at the United Nations and Greta Thunberg’s passionate address, it must be hoped that talk gives way to considered and expanded and accelerated actions. The protection of birds has had considerable attention for decades now: indeed the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was, and still is, a trail-blazer. BirdLife International plays a hugely important role.

Alongside this zoologists and botanists are still identifying more species of animals and plants! The growing understanding of DNA interpretation is revealing "look-alike" species that in life reveal themselves to be different by, for example, their voice or their strict habitat requirements. For these reasons checklists are still adding species and are supporting the awareness of the fauna and flora. They will face extinction when the wildlife lists are limited to what has been lost.