The Records Committee of the British Ornithologists' Union (BOURC) has historically maintained a British and Irish list and has periodically published a checklist covering the status of birds in Britain and Ireland. In this context, the BOURC has jurisdiction over the British element of the list and the IRBC has sole jurisdiction over the Irish element, which is fully accepted and acknowledged by the BOURC.
The IRBC has hitherto been neutral about the concept of a British and Irish list: we do not maintain it nor do we supply information for it as this can be collated from official published sources. Following careful deliberation, the Committee believes that it is no longer appropriate to have a concept such as the British and Irish list and consequently, we have asked the BOURC to cease maintaining it.
There are a number of reasons for this decision as follows:-
- There is now a pan-European trend towards each country compiling and maintaining its own list and publishing it independently while co-operating with other European rarities committees, as is evidenced by the formation of the Association of European Rarities Committees (AERC). In Western Europe, at least, no other country has a joint list with a neighbouring country and for Ireland to be party to such an anomalous arrangement is confusing and perpetuates the misconception that many people outside Ireland have that the BOURC exerts a controlling authority over rare bird recording in Ireland. This occurs despite the fact that the BOURC makes it clear in all its publications that this is not the case.
- The very large disparity between Ireland and Britain in terms of coverage and the location of Ireland away from many of the main European migration routes mean that Irish records add very little to the British and Irish list.
- In our view, the island of Ireland is as logical and clearly defined a zoogeographical unit as exists anywhere and we do not necessarily agree that the two islands, Britain and Ireland, form as distinct a zoogeographical unit. The situation is actually quite complex: southern England is, in many respects, more akin to neighbouring France than it is to the south of Ireland, and the north of Scotland is closer ecologically to Norway than it is to the northern parts of Ireland.
We await the BOURC response to our request although it must be remembered that it does not have the authority to take the final decision on this: it must refer the matter to the Council of the British Ornithologists' Union.
The IRBC has maintained an excellent relationship with the BOURC; indeed this has actually improved in recent years. We share a common language and ornithological heritage and we look to the BOURC for guidance on taxonomic matters where we may have insufficient background information, and we intend to continue to do so. Our decision does not represent a 'split' or a lack of co-operation but is a logical progression because of the evolution of thinking on the maintenance of lists in a European context. We believe that some of the public announcements from the BOURC, which we fully support, have paved the way for our decision and, hopefully, will make it easier for all concerned to accept it.
The IRBC is aware that our objectives may well be misinterpreted by some who would believe that our motives are based more on politics than on a desire to improve matters ornithological. However, we are convinced from our regular contact with birdwatchers from all over Ireland, north and south, that the British and Irish list is not a tradition in which many of them have much interest. Furthermore, we believe that the vast majority of birdwatchers in Ireland regard the entire island of Ireland as a natural unit and conduct their interest in birdwatching throughout the whole island.