Newsletter 23

Newsletter 23

September 1998

Contents

Progress towards the NBN: the NFBR perspective

Sometimes, despite all the occasional frenetic activity, progress towards getting the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) up and running seems painfully slow! Since April, when the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was expected to be producing its revised criteria for bids, the NBN has been working towards the submission of its own bid to the Fund. With NFBR represented both on the Executive Group of the NBN and on its Local Advisory Group, we have been heavily involved with discussions, although, as an organisation, we do not bring to the table the kind of financial weight that the other principal partners do - JNCC, NERC, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and the Natural History Museum.

At the end of July, the bid to the HLF was submitted. This involved the production of detailed Project Plans for the various elements of the NBN programme, including detailed costs, as well as an overall Business Plan, for which external consultants were employed. NFBR itself is not directly carrying any of these various Projects forward, although individual members of NFBR Council, notably Paul Harding, Charles Copp, Stuart Ball and Sara Hawkswell, through their involvement with partner bodies, are heavily involved. The role of the NBN Executive Group is to co-ordinate, oversee, and agree these Project Plans and other programmes within the NBN. NFBR's role, therefore, is an important one in ensuring that individual concerns from its constituent members, as well as from its associated organisations, BCG, ALGE and BRISC, are taken into account. The communication problem that this presents is considerable, and this is one reason why one of the NBN Projects is itself concerned with "Communications" - the putting into place of appropriate mechanisms to ensure everyone who wants to know is kept abreast of what is relevant in a structured way, including the setting up of a Worldwide Web Page (www.nbn.org.uk). NFBR was represented at the inauguration of the "Communications Group" in July to push this forward, although it needs someone with specialist knowledge in this area to take this representation on - offers?

The main project developments so far have been on two main fronts: the Linking Local Records Centre Project (currently managed by Sara Hawkswell), and the Developing CollecVCollate Software Project (led by Stuart Ball). Associated with these are Projects concerned with Developing Data Standards (led by Stuart Ball), and Developing Standards for Identification (led by Peter Barnard, Natural History Museum). The latter is largely concerned with generating and managing the Taxonomic Dictionary supporting the CollecVCollate Software (now known as Recorder 2000). The award of contracts to carry out the software build was to happen at the end of July (see notes elsewhere in this Newsletter).

The Project "Linking Local Records Centres" has recently advertised for expressions of interest from existing Records Centres to be taken on board as the "second tranche" of pilot LRC's under the NBN. This follows on from the first tranche, which involved the setting up of processes for "new" centres. With funding already obtained from elsewhere, there will be up to six of these second tranche centres. The rationale and programme for this was widely discussed with partners in the NBN, including ourselves.

The need to involve National Schemes and Societies has been seen as crucial since the start, and there is an umbrella Project to take this forward, led by Paul Harding. The establishment of a single mechanism for bringing the wide diversity of such bodies on board is seen as a particularly difficult area, involving the collaboration of a widely varying number of bodies, many with few resources to direct to such work. So far, the setting up of a useful "National Advisory Group" to parallel the Local one has been only partially successful. Related to this is a Project designed to link various institutional National Custodians of data, led by lan Fisher of RSPB. A number of particular custodians - notably RSPB itself, with its in-house Griffin Database Project, as well as the Institute of Freshwater Ecology, are subprojects under this.

The HLF bid is an important milestone. If we are successful in gaining the kind of support that is needed to take things forward, then the structures necessary to progress further will be put in place. Not least of these must be an organisation which can act on behalf of all the existing partners to carry out the management tasks. Various options for this have been discussed, and the concensus appears to favour a Company Limited by Guarantee, with charitable status. The relationship between this body and existing partners is a key issue needing further deliberation. At present, moves to further this have been on hold pending the submission of the HLF bid.

As for the HLF bid itself, with the changed criteria and somewhat diminished pot of gold available, exactly what can be expected is in question. The bid has been designed to cover eligible expenditure towards setting up the necessary elements to support the Demonstration Phase of the NBN. Further bids will be necessary, from both local consortia as well as the NBN itself, to carry out the Expansion Phase in an organised way. The key is to ensure that the current NBN Programme is seen as a relevant umbrella for such future bids, to ensure that the NBN functions well in the future. This will need the wholehearted support of bodies such as NFBR, even if we do not have much cash to put up-front in the process. A particular role that NFBR and its members can play is to ensure that relevant local players are kept up to speed and encouraged to support the process, particularly Local Government. While the Local Government Association and its Scottish equivalent, COSLA, have been involved to some extent in discussions, so far they have been only luke-warm. Support from the national conservation agencies (English Nature has recently produced a useful statement) is an important element in this, but so too is the support from individual local bodies likely to want to get involved. If the development of biological recording is to prosper, then we must ensure this involvement.

Trevor James, Chairman

NBN Update

Nationalal Biodiversity Network - Building knowledge by sharing information

The LRC team

Over the last 9 months, a team of five workers has been employed by The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) on behalf of the NBN to undertake the work of the Linking LRCs Project. Sara Hawkswell, Biodiversity Information Manager and Rachel Hackett, Biodiversity Information Officer are based at TWT National Office in Lincoln. Three outposted LRC Support Officers: Liz Halliwell, Patrick Cloughley and Ross Andrew are based in Cheshire, Llandrindod Wells and Aberdeen respectively. Sadly, Ross Andrew will be leaving at the beginning of September to take up a new post as LRC Manager for Orkney. We wish him well and will continue to work with him in his new role. In the meantime, the work programme for the project will not be altered, and we are seeking an immediate replacement for Ross.

The Pilot LRCs - Phase 1

In October 1997, three pilot LRCs were selected from 20 applications to help develop and test the case for the "new-type" LRC, proposed as part of the NBN. The pilot areas are: Cheshire, Merseyside, Halton and Warrington; North East Scotland; and Powys and the Brecon Beacons. They are all areas without existing LRCs, and where a range of different challenges will need to be overcome to establish effective LRCs. Each pilot has a workinglsteering group of committed local partners and recorders.

A LRC Support Officer is based in each of the three pilot areas to facilitate the working groups and prepare development plans for the proposed LRCs. Pooled together, the pilots will test the strength and flexibility of the framework to help shape future LRCs nationally.

Phase 1 Pilots - progress to date

  • Pilot areas selected
  • Steerinworking Groups established
  • LRC Support Officers appointed
  • Workshops undertaken and planned in each of the pilot areas, on a range of issues:
    • User and supplier needs
    • Habitats and sites
    • Methods of operation
    • Funding mechanisms
    • Policy and conservation action
    • Data confidentiality
  • Draft outline for development plan guidelines produced

Operational Standards

The first phase of this work developing operational standards and good practice guidance is complete. It involved the formal assessment of six existing LRCs, using a mixture of desk reviews, questionnaires, telephone interviews and personal meetings. The study aimed to:

  • evaluate the effectiveness of existing policies and operational management in meeting the needs of customers and suppliers; and
  • draft recommendations on the preparation and implementation of operational standards.

A detailed report on the study, its findings and recommendations and the NBN's response to these recommendations has been produced. The report: 'Linking LRCs. Developing Operational Standards and Good Practice Guidance - Phase I' can be found on the LRC (Progress) pages of the NBN Web Site. As a result of this report, it is proposed to adopt a more bottom up 'model office' approach to developing standards. This will involve the hands on development of a procedure manual by staff in demonstration centres, who can test each aspect in practice (see demonstration LRCs - Phase 2).

Demonstration LRCs - Phase 2

This second phase of demonstration LRCs has been planned to complement the work already underway on the Phase 1 Pilots. Expressions of interest were invited from existing LRCs interested in becoming 'Demonstration Centres', and who wish to work with the NBN to address:- particular difficulties they have experienced; build on known practice elsewhere; and refine and document their current practice. Collectively, the demonstration LRCs will focus on:

  • developing partnerships
  • establishing effective involvement with National Schemes and Societies
  • developing and documenting procedures and standards for LRCs.

The deadline for expressions of interest was Friday 21 August 1998. Selection procedures will take place during September, with a view to starting work on Phase 2 in the autumn. Further information is available from myself or Sara Hawkswell at The Wildlife Trusts, UK National Office.

Working through Local Record Centres seminars

A successful seminar attended by over 100 people was held in London on Thursday 19 March 1998. The seminar gave delegates the opportunity to find out more about the NBN and Linking LRCs Project. A copy of the seminar report can be found on the LRC (Progress) pages of the NBN Web Site.

Following this success, a series of regional seminars have been proposed throughout the life of the Linking LRCs Project. These seminars will include formal presentations and workshops, and provide you with the chance to meet and talk with the people delivering the project, enabling you to contribute to the development of operational standards and other NBN projects. Around four seminars a year are planned in different regions of the UK, to ensure that everyone has reasonable access to at least one a year. The first seminar will be held at the Jarvis Caledonian Hotel, Inverness on Thursday 22 October. A second seminar is planned for Wednesday 9 December at the National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Cardiff.

Further details will be available on the LRC (Progress) pages on the NBN Web Site (http://www.nbn.org.uk) from 10 August 1998.

Dates for your diary:

Friday 27 August 1998 - Local Advisory Group meeting - Linnean Society, London August 1998 Selection of users for testing the New Recorder software September l998 Testing of the new Recorder software to begin Thursday 22 October 1998 Linking Local Record Centres Seminar - Inverness December 9 1998 Linking Local Record Centres Seminar - Cardiff (day to be confirmed)

Contacts

For general information about Linking LRCs Project contact:

Rachel Hackett, Biodiversity Information Officer, The Wildlife Trusts UKNO, The Green, Witham Park, Waterside South, Lincoln, LN5 7JR. Tel: 01 522 544400, Fax: 01 522 51 161 6, Email: nbnawildlife-trusts.cix.co.uk.

Progress with NBN collect/collate software

The process to find a company to build the new software is nearing its final stages. We undertook six weeks of intensive negotiation with the short-listed companies between the start of June and mid July, and we now have finalised contracts and are awaiting "Best and Final Offers" which are due today (28 July)! Tomorrow, the evaluation team meets and it is decision time. Next week (4 August), the Recorder Steering Group meets to receive our recommendation and will, hopefully, give us the go-ahead to award the contract.

Then we can actually start work! This all seems a tremendously long and tortuous process (especially to those involved!), but we are told that we have managed to do the whole thing in near record time for an EU Services Directive procurement. They apparently more typically take at least a year.

The chosen company will require some start-up time to assemble their team, for their designers and programmers to assimilate the mountains of documentation, and spend some time with Charles Copp and myself getting to grips with it all. If all goes to the current time table, designlprototyping meetings should start in October, and beta versions of the first modules will be released around mid-February or March. The exact details depend on which supplier we select.

Plans for user involvement in the design and testing are well advanced. We plan to centre formal testing on 2 (possibly 3) existing, well established LRCs who have a good network of volunteers and access to GIS facilities. We will appoint a co-ordinator in each of the chosen centres to help us recruit and support volunteers to do the actual testing. We are also involving two national recording schemes (Mammal Society and BSBI) to help us to test local and national verification of data input by testers in the target areas, and BRC are contributing some of Mark Telfer's time to co-ordinate this. Finally, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales have contributed some staff time to help with the more technical aspects of testing, particularly in relation to communications and GIS.

The target LRCs will be chosen once we have selected the company and, therefore, can be definite about the activities involved and time table. If you are not amongst those involved in the formal testing programme, but would like to be involved, don't worry. We intend to make prototypes and beta versions available for download from our website, together with a mechanism to provide rapid feedback (e.g. a web-based form). I will be responsible for making sure that feedback via this route is taken into account during design and de-bugging.

Requirements for "new Recorder"

Whilst nothing is fixed yet, we can make the following two predictions with some confidence:

  • It will be 32-bit Windows software. This means that it will run under Windows 95, 98 and NT, but NOT under Windows 3 or Windows for Workgroups. Other operating systems (e.g. Macintosh) will NOT be supported.
  • It will be distributed on CD-ROM and will probably require a CD-ROM drive to run as well as to install.

We expect to distribute updates (e.g. to the species dictionary) and allow the submission of records via the Internet. Therefore an lnternet connection will be desirable to make full use of these facilities, but is not absolutely essential.

Dr. Stuart G. Ball, Data Custodian Team Leader. Tel: 01733-866864

Key Species - the Rotherham approach

The previous Conservative Government held the view that development was a good thing and restraints on development were bad, so it was the restraints that should be restrained, not the development. The creation of Enterprise Zones, where the involvement of the local planning authority was minimized, is one example. The thrust of PPG9 (Anon 1994a), the Government's principle means of advice on nature conservation to those planning authorities, is another. The advice was that only the very best sites, particularly those with international designations, should be protected from development. There was a presumption against local authorities restraining development by designating sites of lesser wildlife significance.

The experience of Rotherham's planners has increasingly been that HMG site protection policies were too restricted to afford protection to the generality of wildlife and the sites on which it occurs. In order to give real protection to our wildlife, and still comply with PPG9, a register of defined interests has been developed. The logic of wildlife protection has, therefore, become rather convoluted - if a site could not easily be protected, then protect the interest, per se, that is contained within the site. The preparation of biodiversity and sustainability policies in the government's final years led to an amelioration of its previous attitude, for example in PPG7 (Anon 1997a), and made the Rotherham approach easier to defend.

This approach differed from the way in which wildlife protection has been perceived by conservationists, who championed the cause of protecting individual sites and all that those sites contained. The wholesale designation of sites which we know to contain valuable wildlife habitats would not have been approved by the Secretary of State, and an alternative had to be developed. Our problem in Rotherham was compounded by the fact that we were operating under the Structure Plan prepared by South Yorkshire County Council 10 years before that body was abolished, and the intended review of that plan was never carried out. Instead, new Unitary Development Plans were set in motion for each Borough. Until the new UDP is approved by the Secretary of State, an appellant is expected to test the emerging policies of the Borough Council, and not to accept them or assume that they will be approved. Every aspect has been repeatedly tested at public inquiries, and the approach appears sound and enforceable.

Rather than appellants trying to demonstrate that their proposals can safeguard nature conservation interests, it is our experience that every attempt is made to ridicule and discredit the basis of nature conservation policy. It is not simply the local authority that is treated in this way since, for example, we have even been faced with defending "Birds of the Western Palaearctic" as a reliable document.

This is the starting point from which Rotherham has developed its 'Key Species Concept'. It is clear from our experience that HM Planning Inspectorate is willing to accept national Red Data Books as the objective and definitive statements of what is rare or worthy of protection. Our aim is to provide a more comprehensive, objective list which cannot be gainsaid at public inquiry. Each of our 'Key Species' has been designated by HMG, a statutory agency or a top-flight NGO, and none have been selected for their rarity in Rotherham. You will appreciate that this is not a list of the plants and animals for which we intend to produce Species Action Plans, but is intended as a support for Rotherham's environmental protection policies. We are developing a definitive list of plants and animals which have been recorded within Rotherham, and which are accepted as threatened or in significant decline.

We began with the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Anon1994b) and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Steering Group's report (Anon 1995). With HMG's endorsement of that report (Anon 1996a), it has accepted, warts and all, the species listed as "threatened or declining" (the long list - now 'species of conservation concern' - and the short and middle lists - now 'priority species'). So, as our first criterion, we have taken any plant or animal which appears on the BAP long list and which has been recorded in Rotherham in the last 25 years as being one of our 'Key Species'. Similarly, the theme of significant decline or threat, rather than rarity, is carried forward by the RSPB red and amber lists (Anon 1996b). It has been demonstrated that the UK range andtor population of all birds on the amber list has decreased by 25% or more over the past 25 years.

These two lists allow us to give a great deal of support to sites which have vertebrates recorded from them, but invertebrates and plants are grossly under-represented by comparison. In order to incorporate these groups, we have looked to other official statements. Any plant or animal which is included in a Red Data Book, whether published or provisional, was an obvious candidate. RDBs are official statements from JNCC, and we use the list as incorporated in the current version of Recorder, as this is a more 'honest' approach than using the published volumes when dealing with invertebrates. Our knowledge of the status and distribution of many invertebrates has been greatly enhanced in recent years, stimulated by the national recording schemes, Invertebrate Site Register and the RDBs themselves. The current Recorder species file is, as a result, a very different animal from the published (i.e. paper) volumes. As Recorder is an official JNCC product, I take the view that the statuses incorporated into the species file are official or authorised JNCC statements.

This amended list of RDB species looks good at a national or regional level, but becomes a very short list when applied to a Borough such as Rotherham, which covers less than 300 square kilometres. In order to make the list more useful for us, it needs to apply to a good proportion of the sites which we wish to protect. I discussed the position of Nationally Notable and Local species, two status designations that originated within the Invertebrate Site Register, with Stuart Ball. His advice (pers. comm.) was that RDB designation now referred to a species being recorded (or suspected of occurring) in no more than 15 of the UK's ten kilometre squares, Nationally Notable species are known (or suspected of occurring) in 16- 100 of these ten kilometre squares, and Local species are recorded from over 100 squares. The figure of 100 ten kilometre squares is roughly equivalent to 3% of the UK land area. Regionally Notable species (NotableINr - a concept of great significance in the north of England as many invertebrates have a distinctly southern bias) apply the criteria of 3% cover to the region in question. The Notable and Local designations are also included in the Recorder species file and are, are such, 'official' statements from JNCC. We decided that the 'Local' designation was insufficiently firm for our purposes, but the Notable categories were ideal for our needs.

The incorporation of RDB and Notable species into our list of 'Key Species' has trawled a few plants in as well as many invertebrates, but the vascular plants, in particular, are still poorly represented. The English Nature report 'Plants in Natural Areas' has been consulted but, at least in the Natural Areas in Rotherham, does not add to the list we generated from Recorder, as it obviously uses the same data as ourselves. This is an aspect that we are still investigating, and are discussing with English Nature staff and local botanists to see if an extension of the 3% coverage to include individual Natural Areas would help.

In order to make progress with our local BAP, a Forum has been operated over the past year with representatives of local naturalists, conservationists, landowners and others. The Guidance Note on 'Developing Partnerships' (Anon 1997b) suggests that separate fora should be established for Chiefs and Indians, but we were underway before that was published and have, for the moment, incorporated everyone into one group. That group agreed the following wording at the Rotherham Biodiversity Forum meeting on 4th September, 1997:

Any plant or animal which has been recorded in Rotherham during the past 25 years is included in the full list of Key Species if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Any plant or animal which appears on the BAP long list.
  • Any plant or animal which is included in a Red Data Book.
  • Any plant or animal whose range or population has decreased by 25% or more over the past 25 years.(The only ones currently included in this category are from the RSPB 'amber list')
  • Any plant or animal which is recognised as occurring in less than 3% of the UK(1), the north of England(2) or the relevant Natural Area(3).


(1) (Those in this category have been designated as Nationally Notable by JNCC, HMG's conservation advisor.) (2) Those in this category have been designated as Regionally Notable by JNCC. (3) There are no agreed designations for this category yet.

All species have, therefore, been designated nationally and none have been designated by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council or any other local organisation.

Applying the criteria

The application of this list has involved trawling from our copy of Recorder those species which have been recorded since 1970, and which meet one or more of those criteria. The resulting list contains c800 species, which is ~10%of the species of plant and animal recorded from the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough. Invertebrates dominate the list, as they should do if the list is meant to be at all representative, but the plants, as already indicated, are not well represented. The list has not been tampered with at all - the whole purpose of this exercise was to produce a list which cannot be challenged at public inquiry and, therefore, we cannot challenge any species on it. While the criteria have been selected to give us the result we want, the list that results from those criteria is an objective one.

The list of 'Rotherham Key Species' is very different from a subjective list of Rotherham's 'goodies' that we would have produced. It includes many BAP species which are still common, such as Blue Tit, Greenfinch, Bluebell and the millipede Nanosoma polydesmoides, while the RSPB amber list includes Blackbird and Starling! On the other hand, the RDB and Notable species include a number of plants which are clearly introductions, albeit presumably inadvertent in most cases, although Box, an RDB plant, may not exist except in planted form. At the moment, the plant list contains more oddities than genuinely important species. There are also many bizarre birds on the list, such as Spoonbill and Golden Oriole. On the other hand, most of the plants which we consider to be significant are excluded. This discrepancy is something that we need to work on this year.

What use is this list? In the short term, we have obtained the approval of the Rotherham Planning Authority for the criteria we have developed. The list that is generated from them has been adopted for the purpose of interpreting Council policy. Both the criteria and the list are now being circulated for public consultation and information. Currently, 319 natural history sites have been registered with the Council, and every one now has a list of 'Key Species', produced from our copy of Recorder. Sites which would have been hard to protect under PPG9, can now be shown to be the only sites in Rotherham to contain certain Key Species. A lot of birds are recorded from several of these sites, but the invertebrates, which contribute the bulk of species from many of them are, in general, genuinely scarce in Rotherham and are recorded from one or two sites only. Our most 'productive' sites have between 150 and 200 Key Species recorded from them. Only a quarter of our 'Key Species' are recorded from SSSls while 81% are recorded from registered natural history sites. Rotherham's Heritage Sites Register is currently being reviewed, and the presence of 'Key Species' on other sites may be a sensible reason to add them to the Register.

As I stated at the outset, the focus of this activity is the site protection aspects of the BAP, not the enhancement aspects, nor have I covered the parallel activity of safeguarding 'Key Habitats'. The conservation of the species that we are trying to protect has still, in the main, to be tackled.

Copies of the leaflet 'Selecting Key Species and Key Habitats in Rotherham' and the current lists are available from: The Head of Planning Service, Bailey House, Rawmarsh Road, Rotherham S60 1 QT.

References

Anon (1 994a). Planning Policy Guidance: Nature Conservation. DOE. HMSO, London.

Anon (1 994b). Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan. HMSO, London.

Anon (1995). Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report. HMSO, London.

Anon (1996a). Government Response to UK Steering Group Report on Biodiversity, CM3260. HMSO, London.

Anon (1996b). Birds of conservation concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. RSPB, Sandy.

Anon (1997a). Planning Policy Guidance: The Countryside - Environmental Quality & Economic & Social Development. DOE. HMSO, London.

Anon (1997b). Guidance for Local Biodiversity Action Plans. Developing Partnerships. Guidance Note 1. HMSO, London.

Bill Ely, Rotherham Biological Records Centre

The Spider Recording Scheme

In 1670, Martin Lister (1638-1712) sent his Table of Spiders", listing 31 species, to John Ray and Francis Willughby, confidently believing that he had included most of the species to be found in England. Eight years later, when he published his Tractatus de Araneis, he wrote in the preface ".....it is not easy to find in this island any new species that I have failed to describe". By then his list had increased to 34! 273 years later, 560 species were included in British Spiders published, in two volumes, by G.H. Locket & A.F. Millidge in 1951 and 1953. This enormous increase was largely the result of the work of dedicated amateurs such as John Backwall (1788-1881) who had increased the list to 304 by 1864, Octavius Pickard- Cambridge (1828-1917) who took the total to 532 by 1900, and A.R. Jackson who had added 47 by the time of his death in 1944, although he deleted others because of synonymy. There is no doubt that the publication of British Spiders was a turning point. It stimulated much greater interest in spiders and led, eventually, to the formation of the British Arachnological Society. It increased the amount of recording being done, and particularly focused on recording by way of surveys of particular areas and habitats. As a result, the British list stands today at 637, and is still increasing slowly, year by year, as new species are described, or as a result of changes in taxonomy.

However, up to the publication of British Spiders in the 1950's, little attention was given to the recording of the habitat or distribution of the species being described. Examination of some collections made in the first half of this century shows that specimens of a single species were lumped together in tubes and jars with little or no regard for their date of collection or provenance. Indeed, as late as 1991, Dr. Eric Duffey, in an article in the Newsletter of the British Arachnological Society was calling for a more systematic collection of data during field work including, amongst other things, the recording of precise and easily identifiable localities, with dates, so that the range of distribution could be defined. To redress the balance a little, it must be said that valuable information on distribution had been published by W.S. Bristowe in the first volume of his Comity of Spiders published in 1939. He listed the distribution of over 550 species, by county, for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and then went on to discuss what was known about the effects of environment on distribution.

Regrettably, Bristowe's detailed records and specimens were lost during the Second World War. However, Peter Merrett, building on Bristowe's data, continued to record distribution by county, using his own records and those of other enthusiasts, and was able to publish maps of over 600 species when the third volume of British Spiders appeared in 1973.

It is against this background that the present Spider Recording Scheme was begun in 1987, largely on the initiative of the late Clifford Smith, with the help of Peter Merrett, and the support of the council of the British Arachnological Society. Its aims, as stated in a document produced by Clifford Smith at the time were:

  • To define the geographical distribution of each species of spider found in the British Isles.
  • To record the spider fauna of selected sites of particular concern to nature conservation, and of other areas whose habitat potential might be threatened.
  • To provide opportunities to extend our knowledge of the biology of spiders, with special consideration of their habitats, seasonal occurrence and population dynamics.

The scheme was received with enthusiasm, and very soon well over 100 recorders had registered and begun submitting record cards. Since 1987, over 21,000 RA65 cards (the general recording card) have been received plus a large number of GEN7113 cards (for recording individual species) and 530 GN14 cards (for capturing data on rare species). In addition, more and more recorders are now storing their records on computer, and there are known to be tens of thousands of records in this form. Records from Northern Ireland are now being collated at CEDaR (Ulster Museum). Records from the Republic of Ireland are the responsibility of the National Parks & Wildlife Service. Of course, coverage of the country is patchy, reflecting to some degree the distribution of records, and there are areas in Scotland, England and Wales which remain under-recorded.

The proposal in 1987 had been to publish provisional distribution maps, based on the lOkm squares of the Ordnance Survey National Grid, after 10 years of field-work but, for a number of reasons, that goal could not be achieved. In 1997, a revised timetable was therefore proposed which should, hopefully, see the maps published towards the end of 1999. Quite rightly, publication is regarded as a high priority. It will make available the vast amount of information currently held on cards which, in this form, cannot be interrogated or assessed. The maps will generate questions, will identify anomalies, as well as revealing gaps in our knowledge that will need to be filled. A new round of recording will thus be stimulated. So, every effort is being made to achieve this revised 1999 goal but, as the National Organiser appreciates ever more clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done yet.

D.R. Nellist, National Organiser

A Certificate in Biological Recording

In 1997, the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with the Field Studies Council and the Botanical Society of the British Isles, launched a new Post-experience Certificate in Biological Recording and Species Identification. The aim of the certificate, as originally suggested by Franklyn Perring, was to help to fill the gap in field skills that many students are left with after finishing degree courses. In its first two years, the certificate has been well received, with over sixty students now enrolled. It comprises a series of residential courses - mostly three or four days long - at Field Centres around the country. The student can choose from a range of subjects, from invertebrates to mammals, lower or vascular plants, national vegetation classification or computer programs, to build up a qualification that is relevant to their needs. It is expected to take about two years for most people to complete the certificate. A central theme to the programme is accreditation. This can include identification tests, assessment of field notebooks, writing survey reports and the presentation of herbarium sheets (or voucher specimens). Although this is initially daunting, it is more often enjoyable, and helps to establish just how much the student has learned. It is very much a two-way process, and the course tutors are expected to hone their teaching skills too.

The part of the programme that is likely to be of most interest to NFBR members is the core module, which is obligatory and is entitled Biological Recording. This is a four-day course which examines the philosophy and practice of collecting and managing environmental information. Each student is expected to design and implement a brief recording exercise, demonstrating that data can be collected in particular ways for particular purposes, but can also be more widely applicable - for example, by being incorporated into a national species recording scheme. They also critically examine reports, publications and their own experiences in this field, and are expected to be totally ruthless in their analysis of poorlydesigned work! The use of computers is a recurring theme throughout the Certificate, and courses are offered on the use of Biobase, Recorder and Dmap, although they are not obligatory. Several of the students have been involved in setting up Biological Records Centres, and have brought their own computers in order to digitise maps and get their recording system set up.

The 1998 programme included, amongst others, courses on freshwater invertebrates (Richard Orton), umbellifers and composites (Franklyn Perring), orchids (David Streeter), grasses (Judith Allinson), grassland and woodland NVC (Adrian Bayley), male ferns (James Merryweather), pondweeds (Chris Preston), spiders (Stan Dobson), and Biobase (Mike Thurner). The courses are all offered at very reasonable Field Studies Council rates - typically around f 11 0 for a weekend. The Certificate cannot be seen as a complete training programme in itself. All the students have some experience already, and will want to continue to learn after completing the Certificate. In fact, the accreditation is not obligatory - about half the attendees of each course are not vocational. The intention is, however, to begin to offer some structured training in this rapidly-changing and very complex field. The 1999 programme will be available in the autumn. Details can be obtained from the address below or from the Field Studies Council brochure.

Sarah Whild, The School of Continuing Studies, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B1 5 2TT. Tel: 01743-343789, Email: s.j.whild@bham.ac.uk

News from the BSBI

During the last three years, the Botanical Society of the British Isles has invested heavily in computerisation for its vice-county Recorders, with support from the Country Agencies, the Esmee Fairbairn Trust and the JNCC. A co-ordinator has been employed to supply computers and provide training and support to the recorders, and also to facilitate information exchange with LRCs, the BRC and conservation organisations. At present, the co-ordinator's post is held jointly by Sarah Whild, who is a lecturer in Ecology at the University of Birmingham, and Alex Lockton, who is a consultant and information manager for the Shropshire Flora Project.

The BSBl considers it a vital part of its work that information is rigorously managed and properly used. Key issues include verifying records, data exchange and systematic field work. At the moment the Society is engaged in its Atlas 2000 project, which involves the electronic transfer of literally millions of biological records both to and from, the Biological Records Centre at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. This project is managed - at the BSBI's end - by the Atlas Co-ordinator, Trevor Dines.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the relationship between County Recorders and Local Records Centres. In some counties, there is already a very positive and beneficial relationship, but in others there is much work to be done, especially in ensuring that LRCs have adequate standards of validation. Presumably most LRCs will want to have close contact with County Recorders for as many specialist recording groups as possible, especially in those fields where the Records Centre Manager is not an expert. If any Records Centres find themselves without such a contact, they might like to contact the Society's coordinators to discuss future co-operation.

Sarah Whild & Alex Lockton, 66 North Street, Shrewsbury SY1 2JL. Tel: 01 743-343789 (phone & fax), 0585-700368 (mobile), Email: s.j.whild Qbham.ac.uk or s.j.whildQwhild.icom-web.com

News from BRISC

A workshop for LRC managers was organised by BRlSC on 24 June 1998 covering a range of topics relevant to running a LRC. Anne-Marie Smout chaired the day, and considerable time was set aside for discussion, both around each presentation and coffeeltea breaks for informal contact. Even so, some people felt that there should have been even more time for discussion.

James Williams (SNH) started off by giving us a much needed introduction to 'The legislative framework for handling environmental data', taking us through the labyrinth of national and international legislation that may affect the gathering of biological information, the disclosure of information, copyright, even the keeping of personal data in electronic format or otherwise. James made it quite clear that he was no lawyer, that the interpretation was his own, and not necessarily the view of SNH, and that therefore a certain amount of caution had to be attached. He also outlined the implications of the new Freedom of Information Act (Your Right to Know) that is currently going through parliament. All things LRC managers ought to know about and we ignore at our peril. As James rightly pointed out, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Mark Simmons (Perth LRC) then talked about 'Running a local records centre on a shoestring', based on his own experience in Perth Museum. He outlined the kind of activity that can still go on, even if your budget is minimal. Volunteers obviously have a considerable part to play, but there are limitations due to lack of space, expertise and computers, rather than lack of time to supervise. Running surveys, which the public can take part in, helps to advertise the role of the centre. The process of drawing up a Local BAP has also provided a useful and welcome opportunity of raising everyone's awareness of the importance of LRCs, especially that of the local authority and politicians.

William Penrice (Fife Nature) was first speaker after lunch with a talk on 'Making data work for yod. He described how Fife Nature encouraged local experts to become satellites, involvement in the Local BAP, and especially the wide use of GIS by Fife Nature in reporting on data. Fife Council received more planning applications than any other local authority in Scotland, and deadlines for response were often just hours, not days, once the applications came down to Fife Nature. The process of data search and reporting therefore had to be very efficient and stream-lined, if important species and areas were not to be missed in the hurry. Fife Nature has built a live link between Recorder and ArcView, the GIS used, which allowed for a quick and much more efficient spatial reporting.

The next speaker was David Black (Scottish Wildlife Trust) who had been instrumental in landing a grant of over £100,000 of Lottery money to employ a Wildlife Records Officer for three years. This would also involve the development of CARSE (Central Area Recording System for the Environment). He outlined the various and extensive tasks that had been agreed with the lottery people, among which were: getting 100,000 records on the database in a year (they have 34,000 at present!), raising awareness and achieving involvement of the general public (1000 people at the end of the project), setting up the management of the project through partnerships and much more. A development officer will be appointed in the near future.

Last speaker of the day was Bob Saville (Lothian Wildlife Information Centre), who talked about 'how to involve people in recording'. The Lothian centre has been doing a very great deal, and has had a lot of success in this area, especially a recent survey of which species people found in their own gardens. He also warned against spurious data, such as someone reporting a flock of over 100 Magpies, which turned out to be Oystercatchers! The lack of new recruits to the ranks of species experts also came up, and Lothian has published (in their last newsletter) a list of local experts who are willing to take groups out and to pass on their expertise generally. He also stressed the importance of not forgetting the fun of recording wildlife at a time when we are all taken up by the technical side of entering records, running records centres, of the NBN, etc.

There was general agreement that it had been a very useful day and that we needed more of them. GIS was suggested as a topic for the next workshop, which is planned for Novermber (date to be confirmed). A fuller report of the day will be available from BRlSC c10 Fife Nature, Fife House, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 5LT. (There will be a cost for photocopying - p. + p., is still to be decided).

Anne-Marie Smout, Chairperson of BRISC

Butterflies for the New Millennium - Newsflash!!

Butterflies for the New Millennium (BNM) would like to announce that it now has a Web address: http://www.nmw.ac.uWITEIbutterfly/

The site is new, and has some useful general information about the BNM project + maps, contact addresses etc. Why not give it a try! Comments to:

Richard Fox, BNM Project Co-ordinator, ITE Monks Wood, Huntingdon, PE17 2SL

Attention - NFBR Conference/AGM!!

The NFBR Conference/AGM will be held at the National Museums & Galleries of Wales in Cardiff on the 17th November 1998. The theme for the conference will be: Biological Recording: using new technology

Publication Notice/Reviews

Provisional atlas of the ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) of Britain. Martin L. Luff. Huntingdon: Biological Records Centre, 1998. ISBN: 1 870393 41 4 £7.50 pb. (incl. post). Available from: Publications Sales, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, PE1 7 2LS

This A4 format tome has been long awaited! As long ago as 1982, Martin Luff produced a taster in the form of a preliminary atlas covering selected species of ground beetles. This was the product of years of concerted effort in putting together data from a broad range of sources across the country for this important family of invertebrates. Now we have the "provisional" atlas itself, which covers virtually all the carabids on record for Britain. The only species left out are those unrecorded this century, and one or two others either known to be extinct, or which are only casual visitors anyway. Quite when the "provisional" atlas will be supplanted by the "definitive" one is not quite clear - in fact, especially with invertebrates, it's doubtful if an atlas is ever anything other than provisional anyway.

The atlas has a brief but useful introductory section covering identification, additions and extinctions recognised since Lindroth's Royal Entomological Society "Handbook" was produced in 1974, status of species, the outline of the Carabid Recording Scheme itself, and brief notes on ecology and distribution patterns. The first map is a coverage map - although it does not make it clear if the "coverage" might just be one species per 1 Okm-square or many. This map shows a worrying number of total blanks in north-east and south-west Scotland, as well as a surprising number of blank squares in the Welsh Marches, East Anglia etc. There then follows the systematic section which has two maps per page and a short piece of accompanying text per species. The maps show pre- and post-1970 records (open & closed dots), but specifically exclude pre-1900 records. The text for each species gives a brief idea of status (including whether or not the species has been designated "Notable" etc. or is included as a "BAP species), usually some notes on its ecology and breeding biology, and its international occurrence. Finally, there is a fairly extensive bibliography of 191 references, up to 1997, and an index of species (including some cross-references for synonyms).

The 1998 publication date, however, is a bit misleading from the point of view of the data shown on the maps. The time delay in publication is such that many post-1992 records have not been included (such as many records for VC20: Herts), when these were in fact supplied to the scheme as long as five years ago (just too late for the deadline)! This may be the reason why there is still evidence that the maps tend to record the distribution of recorders, and might give a somewhat false image of frequency, at least for some species. Examples can be seen for relatively common species such as Agonum albipes or Pterostichus strenuus where "clumped distribution shows up the efforts of M.D. Eyre, D. Lott and others! In fact, if we want to see just how "provisional" the maps are, we need look no further than the maps for Nebria brevicollis or Pterostichus madidus. This, of course, doesn't detract from the enormous effort of collation and data processing that has been involved, but the introductory section should have told us that the date range for many species was up to 1992. Otherwise, the atlas is generally free of obvious errors, although, as in all such works, there are oddities. Occasionally it is difficult to see whether or not dots on the maps are filled, despite the generous lay-out. Some of the species accounts could have been fuller - in a few cases there are no habitat notes (e.g. Notiophilus species) - in fact there seems to be quite a bit of blank paper on many pages which could have been used to advantage. In one or two cases, it is odd why a map should have been given at all - such as for the immigrant species Calosoma sycophanta or species almost certainly extinct like Hapalus cupreus.

These details apart, though, the atlas fills a big gap, and gives us a useful tool in identifying important species (and their habitats). The introduction points out just how threatened many species are, especially those of wetlands, for example. All such ammunition is useful in establishing conservation policies. If it is possible to produce a second edition of a "provisional" atlas, then let us ensure it has all up-to-date data added!

Trevor James

Proposals for future monitoring of British mammals. Macdonald, D.W., Mace, G. & Rushton, S. (1998). London: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. ISBN 1 851 12 0076 9. pp 374. Price f 35.00

Proposals for future monitoring of British mammals - an overview. Macdonald, D.W ., Mace, G. & Rushton, S. (1998) London: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. ISBN 1 851 12 077 7. pp 39. Price f 7.00

This publication, which consists of a full report and a summary report, arrived on a colleague's desk the day before the deadline for material for this newsletter, so a full critical appraisal is not possible. It is, without doubt, the most important publication relevant to the future of biological recording since the Co-ordinating Commission on Biological Recording (CCBR) Report.

Do not be deflected from trying to get access to a copy by the fact that it is about mammals and monitoring, even if you are dyed-in-the-wool tardigarde recorder. There are concepts and proposals in this report which re-define and could help shape much 'biological recording', for decades to come. Much of the approach is rather theoretical, and some fairly sweeping assumptions are made about the role of volunteers. The authors and their extensive team (how much did this lot cost?) have managed to capture current thinking and positions on a whole range of issues that either update or expand on aspects of CCBR. For that alone, it is a very useful document.

The central proposal is for a mammal monitoring network (MaMoNet) operated at three national scales of sampling (some interesting, but entirely new ideas there) with a Central Office and a small team of professional Mammal Monitors and trainers. The cost implications are frightening - £450,000 pa, which they compare with £400,000 pa for similar activities in bird monitoring. As this is for only the terrestrial mammals, it makes the BTO and WWF portion of the biological recording cake look, if not modest, at least sensibly proportioned (did I really say that?). In a press release, Angela Eagle MP said that 'JNCC have been asked to explore how the proposals could be implemented, and will be approaching key players in the coming months'. Wow - poor JNCC - no more free lunches for visitors there for a while!

But let's not carp about MaMoNet per se; it the thinking on monitoring (and to some extent basic recording) that this report captures which makes it compulsory reading for any member of NFBR. As usual, pity about the price of the full report. Given the choice, buy the full report - the overview is just that and a bit thin on detail.

Tom Grant

Call for new Council members/Treasurer

Ever wonder what the NFBR Council gets up to? Why not put your name forward, and find out! Let any current Council member know that you are interested.

Council also requires a Treasurer. Our current Treasure (Marie), who has done an excellent job, is stepping down at the AGM. This post requires only a few hours work per week, honestly! Again, if you are interested let Trevor or Nicky know!

Items for the Newsletter

It is the intention of the Editors to try and publish three NFBR Newsletters per year (January, May & September). In order to succeed with this task, we would be grateful if potential contributors could have their articles with the Editorial staff by the 15th of the preceeding month. Thank you for your assistance, and we look forward to receiving your articles.