Newsletter 25

Newsletter 25

August 1999


Developing biological recording: NFBR’s role for the future.

It may be early days, even now, to know how the plans for improving the structure of biological recording under the National Biodiversity Network pan out, but in all the discussions it is worth remembering what the NFBR was set up to do – to promote biological recording and the use of biological information in conservation, education and planning. The aims of the NBN consortium are pretty well a mirror image of this, of course; probably inevitably as the NFBR was pivotal in bringing the ideas together which underpin it. Getting the infrastructure in place to fulfil the aims was always going to be a slow process, partly because it is a complex task, but also because it needs to be thought through carefully, and built up step-by-step. The NFBR’s role in this can be described as representation. We are not in a position to fund projects, or even to provide staff time to manage them. However, we do aim to focus on factors which must be kept in mind. Central to all of these is the role of the field biologist, amateur or professional (or a mixture of both!), only who can ultimately deliver the data. For this reason, NFBR’s input to the NBN has tended to concentrate on the practicalities of delivering information, at local and national levels, and how this work can involve the broadest range of individuals and organisations. It is also why NFBR has attempted to ensure that the overall interests of the biological recording fraternity are kept to the fore, when there might be a tendency for any one of the major partners in the NBN to view it from merely their own perspective. So far, the NBN has been a robust partnership which has responded well to the needs of this diversity. The future, with the current proposals for the establishment of the NBN Trust, will, hopefully, be equally responsive to the needs of the individual naturalist, as well as to those of the larger institutions.

Work on the NBN may appear to be slow, but another matter which must be remembered is the rapid pace of change, not only in the power of data management technology, but also in the role and needs for biological survey and monitoring. There is a danger that various parts of the biological data infrastructure will get seriously out of step. The NBN cannot, therefore, be a once-and-for-all “fix” of the problems as perceived even when the NFBR was established. Even the development of the new Recorder 2000 (or whatever it is called) software will only be a step along the road, because things will move on rapidly. Certainly, the demands of the national and, increasingly, local Biodiversity Action Plans, have led to all manner of new developments which need to be serviced with accurate data. These developments mean that, on the one hand we urgently need to get the NBN act together on things like data exchange standards and accreditation of data suppliers, whilst we also need to have a permanent state of review as to what is needed to be supplied, by whom and to whom. This will mean that the NBN will have to be flexible. While it is currently being seen as a fairly unified “system”, it may well be that it develops in a more modular way, partly because that is the way that funding is tending to go, but also because that may make it more able to respond to change.

The practitioner on the ground could get quite seriously squeezed by all this. National recording schemes are already finding it quite hard to deliver in some areas. The Botanical Society of the British Isles, for example, is having to work flat out to meet its contractual target to deliver the Atlas 2000. While, 12 years ago, we seemed to be quite happy to amble along with amateur recording effort at a fairly low key, suddenly the need is not just for broad-scale data, but for detail – how many of what, where, when, to the nearest 8-figure grid ref. Of course, the amateur resource cannot be relied on to deliver all of this, even though some bodies, like the British Trust for Ornithology, have performed wonders in getting an army of volunteers focused in a scientifically meaningful way to deliver information. The NBN, therefore, needs to be a mechanism for allowing even better delivery. It must not be a burden on the amateur, nor must it be a leviathan which will rapidly get out-of-date. It must be a means of channelling information effectively and flexibly from producer to user, and to allow bodies involved to react rapidly to potential demand.

Where does the NFBR sit in all of this? I believe we must take an active role in drawing in all those disparate bodies which deal in biological information, and, more importantly, a wide range of individual practitioners themselves, to continually review and debate needs and concerns. For this reason, I would suggest that the NFBR ought to have representation from a very wide range of its sister organisations, because, through its position in the NBN, it is able to focus these concerns. When the NBN Trust is set up, it is essential that all such participating bodies should have a say in the way the system runs. While the NBN Trust will be autonomous, it will need to have clear links with a wide range of organisations and individuals to ensure it remains relevant. The NFBR is a channel through which these representations can be made.

Trevor James (Chairperson, NFBR)

Head of Ecology, Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre.

Recorder 2000 – an update

The first test version of the entry screens and dictionaries was delivered on 5th July and we have spent two hectic weeks testing it and collating "incident reports" to go back to the suppliers. These describe the bugs and things that don't work as they should. I think Charles Copp's comment sums it up nicely: "There is much that is good, but what we have is not yet at beta test level with too many fixes done in a panic." We eventually submitted 75 incident reports covering around 300 separate items. The developers, Dorset Software Services Ltd., are due to have fixed these by early August in order to receive the next payment under the terms of the contract.

Meanwhile, we have another delivery on Monday (19th July) of a test version covering import, export and mapping functionality.

Work has continued on facilities to export data from Recorder 3.3. and Biobase. Versions of these routines, written by myself for Recorder and Mike Thurner for Biobase, have been produced and transfer to Recorder 2000 will be tested during August.

Stuart Ball, JNCC

NBN News – Delivering Wildlife Information

Bookings are being taken for a seminar to be held at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham on Tuesday 14th September. The day will involve presentations, workshops and debates to look at the products and services delivered by LRCs, and the role of the NBN in improving these.

If you would like to book a place, send a cheque for £5 (made payable to The Wildlife Trusts) to:

Rachel Hackett, The Wildlife Trusts UK National Office, The Kiln, Waterside, Mather Road, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1WT.

Please state clearly your name, organisation and seminar details. Further information about this seminar and all future seminars is available on request.

Dragonflies on the web

linking up local, national and international projects

Introduction The development of the World Wide Web and other aspects of the Internet have brought about tremendous changes in the availability of information to recorders, and the speed with which it can be accessed and disseminated. My involvement in biological recording came through an interest in Odonata. This led to participation in the Cheshire Recording Scheme from the 1980's. The recording was initially paper based, until I was asked to put the scheme onto a computer database using the BBC Model B computer. This enabled automatic production of distribution maps and diagrammatic display of data. Records were still held in isolation, although they were submitted to Monk's Wood on disk from 1985. In 1992, the data were analysed, and resulted in the publication of a book ‘The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Cheshire’ through Liverpool Museum.

Whilst in Cheshire, we have continued to collect data on Odonata, there was a sharp decline in recording effort, as some of the recorders submitting information could see no result or target for their efforts. There was little chance of publishing new information once the book had been produced, apart from occasional updates in journals.

The Cheshire Odonata website

With the rapid expansion of the Internet in the 1990's, it became apparent that a website could be a way of promoting the Cheshire recording scheme, and stimulating interest and recording. The site (http:// www. /~brocross / dfly / dfly . htm) was launched in early 1997. It aimed to present distribution, breeding and flight period information for each species recorded in the County, and is attracting around 3,000 hits per year. It is cheap to run, access and use compared with other options for information distribution.

The use of the website is two way. It allows up to date information to be disseminated rapidly, and allows instant feedback from anyone accessing the information. Information on new species recorded is available the same day, enabling others to look elsewhere as soon as possible - which is important with a mobile and seasonal subject. On occasions, it can be a burden keeping the site up to date, but the results are worth it. There is nothing more off-putting than to visit a site, only to find it has not been updated for months.

Submission of records has increased, and recorders are able to see their contribution recognised immediately. All attempts to encourage submission in a standard format have failed, and records tend to arrive via e-mail in a chatty format. This is, however, a small price to pay for the greater range of information.

Data transfer issues

The website allows the transfer of data to the Regional Recorder who just accesses the annual records and downloads the page, which is set out in an ASCII text format, and is thus easily transferred to other recording packages. This free access to information does cause some dilemmas regarding the use of the data. These are valuable data, and there are those who need the records for commercial purposes. The Cheshire data have been accessed by consultants acting for clients on a wide range of developments. This information has been paid for, and the money invested in running the recording scheme. If the data freely available are too detailed, then the income will be lost. This is addressed by only making the previous year's detailed site records available on the web.

Linking to others

It is so easy to move around the world accessing data via the web, and as a recorder, I have found this invaluable. Location and distance are no longer an obstacle to the recorder. For example, if I want information on Odonata elsewhere, I can go to a number of sites which also cover the subject - and if the information is not there, I can e-mail a wide range of people for help.

The US has the greatest number of sites, and the links are widespread. The International Odonata Research Institute (IORI) site ( lists 73 links to other sites, whilst the Cape Cod pages: ( on2.htm) list over 200 links world wide. An example in Europe is based in Sweden at ( dragonfly/dragonfly.html) with information about all species found in the country including distribution data and recent sightings. There is a number of recording schemes world wide now available on the web, and this is set to increase. Queries can also be put into a wide forum through the web. The IORI site offers a notice board for these.

The immediacy of these links is very important. Last summer, the influx of a US dragonfly Anax junius (Green Darner) into the UK, recorded for the first time, suddenly meant that detailed information was needed about habitat and behaviour of this species. By looking at the web, I was able to download photographs and information within minutes, and to receive details from several people by e-mail in hours. This is again a two-way process, and I have received requests for information and assistance from all over the world, including the Amazon Basin in Brazil, Croatia and the United States.


The Web is a very powerful tool for recorders to use. If you can take a broad view of what recording is about and the need to interact with other projects and individuals, then there are significant advantages to be gained by us all, and the work we do is made easier and more enjoyable. The significant advantage is that it can be used by anyone, and anyone can contribute through creating a site or by interacting with those that are already there.

David Kitching

Cheshire Dragonfly Recorder, 84 Broken Cross, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 8TZ
Tel: 01625-423249

Using GPS as an aid to recording and monitoring

We are using Global Positioning Systems or GPS to produce maps to use as a management tool for wildlife sites. I believe this also has applications for biological recording and monitoring. As Stuart said " we are convinced you need maps for recording".

This involvement came by assisting Ted Green in the recording and tagging of veteran trees on a number of sites. Having tagged a great number of trees, increasingly the question was asked " Where are they?" or even "Where is a particular tree?". Picture yourself in a randomly distributed array of trees looking for a particular one to verify a record. Even if all the tags are still there, and they do disappear, it is not always straightforward. This is why we turned to finding a quick way to accurately map them. And this led us to GPS.

Here are a few questions that come to mind when considering Biological Recording:

  • What sort of positional reference do you give?
  • How do you compute the grid reference?
  • And how accurate is it?
  • What accuracy is desired?
  • Do you refer to existing records when you go on site? And does this information affect your search pattern?

As Dominic stated " Environmental records have spatial attributes". It seems to me that the essence of biological recording is the bringing together of four things. Though this should actually be four, as I need to add the "how" that Stuart mentioned. The observation itself (what it is, how many etc.), the time and date of the observation (which is self-explanatory), and the position. This last component is usually the weak link in the process, purely because hitherto it has been the hardest to work out at anything other than the largest scales. Again, another quote from Stuart is appropriate "The biggest source of error is the grid reference". Sometimes only the name of the site is given, or if a grid reference is given, it is estimated from an assumed position on a relatively large-scale OS map. Of course, standard-surveying techniques can be applied when accurate data are specifically sought, but they are hardly suitable for everyday use. We believe that by using GPS, the accuracy of biological recording can be increased and thus the quality of the information derived is improved. As well as these direct benefits, the effectiveness of subsequent visits can be enhanced, by focusing attention, if necessary, to specific areas. Now, I am not proposing that you all go and buy £7000's worth of GPS equipment, nor that you buy anything at all, but that you simply use an accurate map.

I should explain what we mean by GPS (not to be confused with GIS), and simply, I hope, how it works. GPS is a navigation system that uses signals transmitted from a network of satellites (kindly provided for our use by the American Department of Defence) to calculate how far away they are. Knowing the positions of the satellites enables the location of the receiver to be computed. There is a snag, and that is that as the system is primarily for military purposes, the signals are deliberately degraded, with the result that using a stand alone receiver results in an accuracy of +/- 30 to 50 m. These receivers are the type available in the High Street. This can be overcome by using two receivers; one remaining stationary for the duration of the survey, the other carried by the mobile receiver. This is called differential GPS. The two sets of signals can then be processed together to give an accuracy of about + 1 m. We don't have two receivers, but instead we obtain the information from a stationary base station in the form of an AM frequency radio signal. Our position is then computed every second, as we go. This is, in other words, a Real Time solution. This is quite important for reasons I will give later. For the data collection, a position is computed every second. A point feature can be recorded by collecting data for 5 to 10 seconds and averaging them. Incidentally, a standard deviation is computed allowing a measure of confidence to be given to the average. A line feature simply comprises a series of positions joined together, and an area feature is formed by joining the last position of a line to the first. Features can be attributed as we go, or a data dictionary can be used allowing selection of attributes from prepared lists. Thus the data that we produce are essentially a series of attributed points each of which has a grid reference. Different co-ordinate systems are supported.

Maps can either be printed directly from our software or the data, in a number of formats, can be exported directly to a GIS. There are two aspects to the issue of accuracy. These are the degree of accuracy achieved during a particular survey, and the constancy over a period of time. To evaluate the first, we laid down a 2 x 2 m quadrat and recorded positions at 1 m intervals. The result we obtained, although not completely square, differentiated all the points. We are able to use a more sophisticated processing system, but it is more onerous in terms of the operating requirements, and only suitable for the more open locations. The result from a 0.5 x 0.5 m quadrat recording positions at 25cm intervals again although not square show the points all separated and in the right order! To demonstrate fidelity over a period of time, the values of OS grid references of a trig point surveyed by our GPS suppliers and those I recorded about 18 months later were compared. A difference of about 3 to 4m between them in both easting and northing was apparent.

That's the technology of the process, now lets look at what it can do for us by examining the sorts of maps we have started to produce and how biological recording is influenced. The first example is Ashtead Common; its NNR status derives from a large (over 2300) population of veteran oak pollards. These are now all numbered, but as you can imagine the task of locating a specific tree is not straightforward. It was to address this problem that we turned to GPS. We have been able to map the positions of the 100 plus trees in Compartment 14; the paths and tracks forming the boundary of the compartment and the network of "deer tracks" by which one would walk through the area. Plotting the trees together with their tag number produces a map enabling anyone to navigate to a particular tree. One can see how, at this site, the accurate mapping of the pollards has produced a platform upon which subsequent records can be entered. These records can then be given an accurate grid reference without recourse to the use of specialised surveying equipment. At Ashtead, the assemblage of readily identifiable features, the trees themselves, means that it is relatively easy to produce a detailed large-scale map composed of small-scale features.

A second example demonstrates that this can be done in a very much more open environment. Cleeve Common is a SSSI and at 1000 acres, the largest expanse of unimproved limestone grassland in Gloucestershire. Being open and at times relatively featureless, the challenge was to produce maps accurately recording details of the site, and to investigate the use of GPS in habitat mapping. Again by plotting tracks at the smallest scale, and also mapping vegetation blocks in an area of the common, a series of maps at different scales could be produced. In these plots, the OSGB grid has been superimposed to demonstrate that even in this environment, maps can be produced that allow those making observations to manually ascribe grid references to them at a high level of accuracy.

These were two site-based projects. We are just becoming involved in a species-based survey to look at recording the occurrence of rare fungi at Windsor Great Park. This is another site famous for veteran trees supporting internationally important populations of fungi. Thus, for example, Phellinus umbrinellus is found at Windsor, Burnham Beeches and Rickmansworth, otherwise only in subtropical rainforest in C & S America. Ganoderma adspersum is rare in the UK and almost extinct in Europe. Phellinus robustus has been found on 6 trees at Windsor, one in the New Forest and one at Duncombe Park in Yorkshire. Our aim is to produce maps of these specific trees to enhance their protection by pinpointing their location and allowing the site managers to flag up the their sensitivity. I have tended to concentrate on the implications for biological recording. Clearly the accuracy of our data, coupled with our ability to record the position of irregular features without reference to known points, means we can quickly gather data for the purpose of habitat monitoring. The constancy of these data permits comparison at a later date allowing change over a period of time to be quantified. The leading edges of the reedbeds at Frensham Great Pond have been mapped for long term monitoring in a situation where there are a number of conflicting interests. Fixed point photography and permanent quadrats are tools used in monitoring that require the locations of specified points to be known, to be returned to at a later date. The use of a real time GPS solution is significant, because it allows us to navigate to a given point, albeit at a slightly reduced accuracy of 2 to 4m. Combined with the use of a metal detector, we have been able to relocate buried markers. In a trial at a meadow we timed the process and the markers were found within 5 minutes of arriving. Thus the positions of quadrats and fixed-point photographs can be relocated. The technique works best in open and relatively uniform environments, exactly the conditions that prove the most demanding for other methods.

One final point. I described the accuracy obtained by using a more sophisticated processing system. We have evaluated this at a reserve where a population of Salvia pratensis (meadow clary) is being monitored. The positions of individual plants were plotted in relation to a transect established across the grazing exclosure. The success of the population measured both in terms of numbers and distribution of the plants can now be accurately reassessed in the future. To summarise, people out and about in the field are the source of biological records. There is always going to be a requirement for more information. At the moment, the increasing use of GIS is also fuelling the demand for spatially accurate data. I feel that if the process of obtaining accurate information can be made relatively straightforward, then greater amounts of useable information will be forthcoming. This will without doubt strengthen the value and therefore the role of the keeping of biological records, and thus the respect those outside the environmental community accord them. Perhaps I can leave you with an idea / vision for the future. Detailed digital maps of chosen wildlife sites with unrestricted access showing accurate but "non-sensitive" information could be made available on the Web. Anyone wishing to visit an area could download maps for sites they may visit and make accurate observations with them. The records including their positional information could then be lodged by E-mail with the site managers and county recorders as appropriate, as indicated by links given on the maps themselves. By the time we get around to this, the cost of our technology may have fallen to allow the use of differential GPS and a map based datalogger to become the norm.

John Smith

Mosaic Mapping, 5 Bransley, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5EE.
Tel: 01285-740459



Welcome to the start of MarLIN – a new approach to sharing information on the distribution and biology of marine wildlife and encouraging the collection of further information from around Britain and Ireland.

The concept of a Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland has been developing since the spring of 1997. Originally, the proposal was called UK Marine Biology and gained support, especially from the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

There are three main programme objectives:

  • To provide a structure for linking available data on marine life around Britain and Ireland.
  • To improve the access, display and interpretation of information in support of environmental management, protection and education.
  • To be the most comprehensive and easily used source of information about marine habitats, communities and species around Britain and Ireland and their sensitivity to natural events and human activities.

From March 1998 to March 1999, the ‘Development’ phase of the programme has been undertaken. During this period, we have been particularly involved in letting potential collaborators and interested parties know about our plans, establishing standards and encouraging contribution to the cost of running the programme. We are still working to ensure that relevant organisations understand what we are developing and that, if they see benefits for their organisation, contribute to the cost. Since March 1998, we have been working with partners through the establishment of a Steering Group and technical sub-groups.

Much has already been established through early funding of a project to assess ecosystem and species sensitivity. This work is a contract with the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions, and has provided a solid start to the programme through staffing a key part of the work and enabling the set-up of computer systems. The work is now being enhanced with funds from English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage.

At the beginning of April 1999, we entered the ‘Establishment’ phase – a three year programme of work especially to establish the network of information providers and the software to display and interrogate information. As a programme, MarLIN intends to utilise the full capabilities of modern information technology. As such, the internet is an important medium for dissemination of information, and the MarLIN web site acts as a focal point for those seeking access to the information that MarLIN is drawing together. The web site is steadily expanding, with new pages and demonstration interfaces coming on-line as they are developed. Comments and suggestions are gratefully received and can be directed to the MarLIN team through the site itself. You can access the MarLIN web site at:

MarLIN is also involved in the development of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), providing a focus for marine recording through its role as a national data custodian. Through the Local Record Centres, the NBN will focus on the use of volunteer/amateur recorders, and as such intends to provide opportunities for training recorders. MarLIN will take an active role in facilitating the training of marine recorders. The MarLIN Team hope that there will be opportunities in the future to take advantage of the wealth of expertise and taxonomic knowledge held within organisations such as the NFBR, particularly when considering the training of recorders or developing new recording schemes. MarLIN is also working hard to establish data standards and is collaborating with NBN on this subject. For more information on the NBN, visit their web site at:

July 19-21st 1999 saw the first MarLIN conference, entitled ‘Using Marine Biological Information in the Electronic Age’. For further details see the MarLIN web site or write to/phone: Dr Bob Earll, CMS Ltd, Candle Cottage, Kemply, Gloucestershire GL18 2BU, UK 01531 890415.

Please keep up-to-date with what we have done and are planning to do through the web site and contact us if you would like to help in the development of the programme.

MarLIN would like to thank its current funding organisations: Countryside Council for Wales, Crown Estate Commissioners, Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, English Nature, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Scottish Natural Heritage, and The Marine Biological Association of the UK.

Alison Hood

Communications and Liaison Officer, MarLIN, The Marine Biological Association of the UK, Citadel Hill, Plymouth Pl1 2PB
Tel: 01752 633336; Fax: 01752 633102

Developing the Biological Records Centre for the National Biodiversity Network

On 1 January 1999, the Biological Records Centre (BRC) at Monks Wood entered a new phase of its existence in which it is to redevelop its own role and its work with national biological societies and national species recording schemes. The main organisations that fund the work of BRC (Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)) have entered into a new, 6 year partnership, not only to maintain BRC, but also to provide up to about 50% additional funding. Both organisations recognised that BRC has been severely under resourced to carry out the work that it has been expected to do. The objective of the new partnership and increased funding is to make BRC more effective in its long established role as the national focal point for species recording for many groups of plants and animals. As part of this new role BRC will become a key component of the developing National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

BRC Management Advisory Group

To help guide the work of BRC, a new Management Advisory Group (BRCMAG) has been established. BRCMAG has representation from governmental and non-governmental organisations that are users of and suppliers to BRC. The group of 10 representatives will meet at least twice a year under the chairmanship of Sir John Burnett. NFBR is represented by our Chairman, Trevor James, and he also wears his Hertfordshire BRC hat. I am pleased to say that more than half the members of BRCMAG are members of NFBR. BRCMAG met for the first time on 1 April 1999, on BRC’s 35th birthday!

Staff changes and a new post at BRC

Paul Harding remains as Head of BRC, but now has a NERC-wide role in co-ordinating NERC’s involvement on NBN. Paul has relinquished his role as Head of the Biological Databases Unit at ITE Monks Wood in favour of Dorian Moss, who has also become more closely involved with BRC’s work in data management and access. Cynthia Davies, who has worked with Dorian on European databases for many years, now leads BRC’s Database and Atlas of Freshwater Fishes project. Jon Cooper joined BRC on 7 June 1999 in an entirely new Information Scientist post. Jon will be working on data management and access systems to develop wider access to BRC’s databases, and to design new data products. In particular, he will be working towards providing controlled access to data held at BRC, derived from national recording schemes, using WWW technology. Clearly, there is a limit to how far we shall be able to take these developments in advance of the NBN network becoming operational.

The other BRC staff and their main roles are unchanged:

  • Chris Preston and Jane Croft – Botany
  • Mark Telfer, Nick Greatorex-Davies (and Paul Harding) – Zoology
  • Henry Arnold – Data Manager
  • Val Burton and Wendy Forrest – Data input and editing, clerical support

New work programme

A new work programme for BRC has been agreed in which developing easier access to data and working with national societies and recording schemes will take priority. Of course, we shall be finishing off work on projects such as Atlas 2000, Butterflies for the New Millennium and Database and Atlas of Freshwater Fishes, within their planned schedules, during 2000/2001. A considerable part of the present 15 month work programme (to March 2000) is working towards developing NBN. This includes input to projects led by other NBN consortium partners, such as the Linking Local Records Centres project, developing Recorder 2000, the pilot NBN Data Catalogue and redeveloping the NBN Web Site.

Working with national societies and recording schemes

Societies and schemes are crucially important potential sources of expertise and data for the future of NBN at local and national levels – and let’s not forget it! BRC’s role in NBN will be to assist societies and schemes to have a fully integrated role in NBN, so that they can benefit from the new initiatives, methods and resources that are gradually being developed, and also so that they can contribute their expertise and data for wider benefit. BRC has begun a programme of meetings with societies and schemes, which will carry on throughout 1999. Other projects that are related to NBN are involving some national societies and schemes and BRC is collaborating closely with them. BRC will continue to complete work on several other atlas projects over the next few years, collaborating with the relevant societies and schemes, such as those for Marine Algae (British Phycological Society), Hoverflies (Dipterists Forum), Spiders (British Arachnological Society), Bees, Wasps and Ants (BWARS) and Millipedes (British Myriapod Group).

Communicating in the future

In the past, BRC has not had the resources to communicate with the biological recording community as effectively as we would have liked. We hope to develop a BRC web site later this year and we are working on a communications strategy for the future. I hope that this short piece gives a flavour of what is going on at BRC. If you have any particular queries or comments, please contact me or one of my colleagues.

Paul Harding

BRC, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, PE17 2LS.
Tel: 01 487 773 381 Fax: 01 487 773 467 Email: initial.surname (eg P.harding)

Pseudoscorpion recording

While delving into woodland soil, peering under bark or looking at the contents of a Malaise trap, tiny strange lobster- or scorpion –like arachnids can often be found. These are pseudoscorpions or false-scorpions, one of the four arachnid groups to be found in this country. Britain currently has 26 species to its name which live in habitats as diverse as marram grass tussocks on sand dunes to old books in dusty libraries. More commonly, they occur in leaf litter, decaying wood or compost heaps and bird’s nests. As some of them ‘hitch-hike’, they also turn up on windowsills and in Malaise traps. These phoretic species live in temporary habitats (rotting trees, compost heaps, nests) and so in order to find a new home, they hold onto a fly or beetle and get a free lift, dropping off again at their new destination. Hand sorting, sieving and the use of Tullgren funnels are the commonest way of finding them, but identification can be difficult. The Linnean Society Synopsis No. 40 deals with pseudoscorpions in detail (currently being revised), and a simplified key is available from the National Recorder, who will gladly examine material sent to him. Like so many of the less ‘popular’ groups, our knowledge of the distribution of species within this group is, in many cases, limited to the activities of the recorders (a provisional Atlas was published some time ago). Currently 5000 or so records are stored in a Microsoft Access database – but more records are wanted. So if there is anyone out there willing to help, please contact:
Dr. Gerald Legg

Keeper of Biology, Booth Museum of Natural History, 194 Dyke Road, Brighton BN1 5AA.
Tel: 01273-292781 Fax: 01273 292778


The Northern Ireland Ground Beetle Atlas

The Northern Ireland database for ground beetle mapping was inherited from a scheme begun in Britain by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Biological Records Centre, Monks Wood Experimental Station, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon in 1971. The British scheme culminated in the publication of an Atlas (Luff, 1998) for the island of Great Britain, but Ireland was excluded. Mapping in Northern Ireland has proceeded slowly but fairly systematically over a period from 1973 to the present, mostly through the part-time efforts of a few individuals. This early work was based on hand-searching a range of habitats within 10-km squares across Northern Ireland. However, coverage was patchy in the uplands, in large mires, or in extensive areas of grassland where pitfall-trapping would have been a more appropriate technique. In the 1990’s, monitoring of the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme, applied by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland (DANI) to designated areas across Northern Ireland, provided an extremely valuable supplement to the database. Monitoring involved systematic surveys of the flora, and the collection of ground predators by pitfall-trapping in areas where the Scheme operates, which is mostly in the type of extensive upland habitat neglected in the early part of the mapping scheme. Approximately 20% of the land area of Northern Ireland is now designated as ESA, and comprises the West Fermanagh and Erne Lakeland ESA (Fermanagh), the Sperrins ESA (Tyrone and Londonderry), the Slieve Gullion ESA (Armagh), the Mournes and Slieve Croob ESA (Down), and the Antrim Coast, Glens and Rathlin ESA (Antrim). The object of the scheme is to provide support for farming and rural communities in disadvantaged areas, and at the same time encourage environmentally sensitive farming practice, particularly the maintenance of traditional practice upon which a great many wildlife habitats within Northern Ireland depend. A total of 5000 species records (36% of the Carabid database) has been contributed from this source and without it, knowledge of the native Carabus species, in particular, would be very limited. Other pitfall records have become available through the Hedgerow Survey undertaken by Dr. Alan Bell (DANI), from the team led by Dr. Keith Day at the University of Ulster at Coleraine relating to Northern Ireland Nature Reserves and the ground beetle communities of both native and planted forests, and from Brian Nelson (National Museums & Galleries of Northern Ireland: Ulster Museum), who organised a pitfall survey of Northern Ireland interdrumlin fens in 1997. There are also the individual contributions of many other recorders. The total number of contributors to the scheme is 27. The combined database for the ground beetle mapping project now comprises 14,082 records from 1052 sites within Northern Ireland. Records are available for all 186 10-km squares. All material within the database has either been seen at first hand or vetted, and habitat information standardised on the NCC/RSNC system currently used in the Recorder programme.

Dr. Roy Anderson

Department of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, Queen’s University, Belfast

Attention – NFBR Conference/AGM

The NFBR Conference/AGM will be held at the National Museums & Galleries of Northern Ireland in Belfast on the 27th-28th November 1998. The theme for the Conference will be: ‘Bugs for the New Millennium’.

Items for the Newsletter

It is the intention of the Editors to try to 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. We look forward to receiving your articles.


Recent UK Biodiversity Action Plan publications

The whole BAP process is (or should be) heavily dependent on good information about species and habitats from biological recording. The NFBR Newsletter has included reviews of some previous UK BAP publications, and this is to bring to your attention the availability of several other publications.

There are several new volumes of species and habitat action plans. These plans are additional to those in the UK BAP Steering Group report (1995) (reviewed in NFBR Newsletter 19) and are styled as Tranche 2 Action Plans.

Four volumes have been published in 1998 and 1999.

  • Vol I – Vertebrates and Vascular Plants – Also contains the revised list of ‘Priority Species’
  • Vol II – Terrestrial and Freshwater Habitats
  • Vol III – Plants and Fungi – Includes fungi, lichens, bryophytes, charophytes and a few more vascular plants
  • Vol IV – Invertebrates
  • Vol V – According to a Biodiversity Secretariat spokesperson, it is ‘due out soon and will cover coastal and marine species and habitats, plus some other bits and pieces’.

The same spokesperson said that there probably will be more volumes in due course.

These Tranche 2 Action Plan volumes are free of charge from:
Biodiversity Secretariat (contact Jane Mossop), DETR, Room 902D, Tollgate House, Houlton Street, Bristol BS2 9DJ.
Tel: 01179 878974,
Fax: 01179 878182/8508,

Also available from the same source are:

  • Guidance for Local Biodiversity Action Plans – A set of five Guidance Notes;
  • Biodiversity News – quarterly newsletter;
  • Local Biodiversity Action Plan Case Studies.

My experience with obtaining these publications is that the distribution system is a little idiosyncratic, but with perseverance they arrive and, after all, they are free. But are they useful?

The Tranche 2 Action Plans are factual accounts of the priority species and habitats with comments on current status, factors causing loss or decline, action plan objectives and targets, proposed action by lead agencies and, in many cases, up-to-date distribution maps. If you need to know what is going on with the pale shining brown or the icy rock-moss, these are the volumes for you. The costed action plans (especially the habitat plans) made my brain ache. The sums involved are huge, both in terms of current expenditure and planned expenditure – interesting reading for any conservation campaigners looking for future governmental hostages to fortune. Is there really a current expenditure of £1,802,000/year on lowland meadows and why will it decline to 25% of that in the first five years? Why will action on a leaf-rolling weevil require £27,500 over the first 5 years, whereas that on the Scottish wood ant will require only £6,400 in the same period? However, my main criticism of these Tranche 2 Action Plans as publications is the absence of a detailed index or contents list – it makes it very difficult to find anything.

Biodiversity News is quite useful, when you can get a copy.

The Guidance Notes for LBAPs should be required reading for all those who are embarking on an LBAP. Pity the notes appeared after many of the LBAPs had been started (and in some cases completed)! I am still waiting to receive a copy of the Local Biodiversity Action Plan Case Studies…..

Nature in Ireland

Edited by J. W. Foster, 1997, Dublin: Lilliput Press. 155 mm x 233 mm, 658 pages. ISBN 1-874675-89-9. Available from: Lilliput Press, 62-63 Sitric Road, Arbour Hill, Dublin 7, Ireland. Price: £IR 19.50 incl. p&p.

A wonderfully eccentric book - it could only have been written by and about Irish (sensu lato) natural historians. It ably demonstrates the unparalleled Irish literary tradition and eclectic approach to life. At 658 pages it is a book to dip into (on suitably wet days), and with 35 chapters it is easy to do this - few chapters exceed 20 pages. It is not a natural history guide. It is a review of all aspects of the scientific and cultural history of natural history in Ireland and by Irish-born naturalists abroad. The contribution of Irish naturalists to the study and understanding of natural history (including geology), at home and abroad, has been immense.

When it comes to reviewing the contribution of individuals, I have a few quibbles with who gets a mention. For example: Denis Pack Beresford, a largely unrecognised pioneer in biological recording, is completely overlooked; Augustine Henry, a internationally recognised pioneer of scientific forestry, and Robert Phillips, a leading amateur field naturalist of his generation, are mentioned only in passing.

There is a notable comment about species recording, by Donal Synnott in his chapter Botany in Ireland, "The work of the field botanist - the plant records made often as a recreation, sometimes as a duty, occasionally as an obsession - has now assumed a political importance. Field botany, once regarded as an esoteric pursuit, is now viewed as a practical activity with implications for the kind of environment being planned for the future." However, Jim O'Connor, in his chapter Insects and Entomology, sounded a note of alarm about the future of entomological studies and taxonomy in Ireland, due to an ageing population of professional specialists and poor recruitment of younger generations of amateurs. Both issues are of crucial importance to the future of biological recording in Ireland and also in Britain.

Review by Paul T Harding

Provisional atlas of the longhorn beetles (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) of Britain

by P. F. G. Twinn and P. T. Harding. Abbots Ripton: ITE (Biological Records Centre), 1999. 96 pages. ISBN 1 870393 43 0.

Slowly we are being treated to snippets of relatively up-to-date information on Britain’s beetle distribution through the publication of provisional atlases, based on data collated by one or other of the national recording schemes. The publication of this latest provisional atlas, covering the conspicuous (mostly) longhorn beetles, fills a gap which has been evident for some time. Longhorns are perhaps the “sexiest” of the beetles after the stag beetle and the ladybirds - at least they tend to command attention when come across by the casually interested naturalist. So it is a little surprising to find that not more is known about them.

One thing is obvious at a cursory glance: despite the map showing overall coverage, the maps for those almost ubiquitous (in the south at least) of species, the wasp beetle and the harlequin beetle, display quite clearly the distribution of county recorders rather than the beetles! We therefore have to be careful in interpreting the other general map on p.28 which shows us the number of species recorded by 10km square. This is where the map of “intensity of recording” on p.27 is helpful, because it does make a broad attempt at doing the difficult job of deciding just how well-recorded areas are. However, even here we need to be careful, because the size classes of dots are for 1, 2, 3-7, and 8-356 records respectively, so the big dots can mean anything from “pretty thin recording” to “massive data set”!

The maps themselves are fully enough covered, though, to give us a reasonable idea of abundance and overall distribution. In some cases, too, they suggest declines (or, occasionally, increases). For example, the tanner beetle has a large proportion of its records pre-1970, as does the poplar borer, while the dense spread of recent records across the fen country and beyond for Agapanthia villosoviridescens shows quite well its recent increase.

One aspect which is curious is the odd imbalance between the abundance and distribution of beetles shown on the maps and the national statuses of so many of them. For example, Judolia cerambyciformis, apparently widespread in the west country, is Notable B, while Pogonocherus fasciculatus with only 13 widely spread recent records, is given the same status. Other species, such as Dinoptera collaris, appear to have no recent records at all, but are still only RDB3, while Pyrrhidium sanguineum, now known from 12 recent 10km squares in Wales etc. is still RDB1. All this goes to show the difficulty of keeping up with information!

All in all, this is a useful start. The introductory text is helpful, with brief accounts on extinct species, doubtful natives, the overall biology of the group and limitations of the data etc. There is a useful, but rather awkwardly laid out table of synonymy (much needed), although it does not explain one or two usages which do not appear to have surfaced in the general literature elsewhere (such as the use of Grammoptera abdominalis for G. variegata), unless I have missed something! There is a good bibliography, and the index is quite good too. My only real quibble is that it would have been interesting to have had a bit more about each species, especially some (provisional, of course!) notes on distribution, trends etc., and perhaps slightly smaller maps to compensate. As it is, the black-bordered maps perhaps suggest a book of mourning for so many beasts which are now hard to find! Let’s hope it spurs people on to take up the chase. Then we can have the pukka last word: a full atlas + colour pics!

Reviewed by Trevor James

Orthoptera: Euro-flavour of 1997

Q. Why are Orthoptera atlases like buses? A. You wait ages for one and then 3 come at once. Yes, no less than 3 Orthoptera atlases have been published in 1997, covering Netherlands, Switzerland and Britain and Ireland. They are all very different in format and content.

1. De sprinkhanen en krekels van Nederland (Orthoptera).

R. Kleukers, E. van Nieukerken, B. Odé, L. Willemse, W. van Wingerden. 1997. Nederlandse Fauna 1. Leiden: Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, KNNV Uitgeverij & EIS-Nederland. pp 416 + 16 p of plates. The book includes a CD of the songs: De zingende sprinkhanen en krekels van de Benelux. B. Odé. Available from: KNNV Uitgeverij, Oudegracht 237, 3511 NK Utrecht, Netherlands. Price: DFL 82.50 (Dutch Guilders), including the CD, + DFL 25 p&p (total about £35).

Covering only the Orthoptera of the Netherlands (but including all the UK species), it is in Dutch, with colour photographs of most species and maps, figures and diagrams and has a 4-page English summary with an explanation of the meaning of the main terms used in the figures and diagrams. The 100 page introduction covers the group and the recording scheme in the Netherlands, with chapters on History of Orthoptera research, Systematics and nomenclature, Biology, Song, Ecology, The Orthoptera Mapping Scheme and Identification (this chapter has well illustrated keys to species). The 200 pages of individual species accounts (each with a short English summary) contain a large line drawing of each species and sections on description, biology, identification, world distribution, occurrence in Netherlands, protection status, how to record the species, description of song.

There are 3 maps for each species (Netherlands before 1980 and 1980-1993, European range), histograms of season of occurrence and main habitats and oscillograms of the song (for most species). The final sections cover Nature conservation, Regional Orthoptera fauna, Studying Orthoptera with an extensive bibliography (including many references to important works published in other European countries) and an index. The 67 minute CD includes the songs of 45 species and has an explanatory leaflet with some English summaries. The book is a compendium of knowledge and, at about £35 including the CD, must be the bargain of the decade. There is much that anyone not able to read Dutch can get from the book and CD because it is well structured and illustrated.


2. Atlas de distribution des Orthopteres de Suisse.

P. Thorens & A. Nadig. 1997. Documenta Faunistica Helvetiae 16. Neuchâtel: Centre suisse de cartographie de la faune. 155 mm x 225 mm, pbk, 236 pp. ISBN 2-88414-010-7. Available from: Centre suisse de cartographie de la faune, Terreaux 14, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Price SFr 30 (£13).

A good example of the atlas genre covering the Orthoptera (108 native species) and Mantodea (1 species) of Switzerland. The main text is in French. It includes all British species except Pseudomogoplistes squamiger.

The introductory sections (50 pages) are also in German and cover the group, surveys, methods and how the results are presented. Each species is mapped by recorded presence, pre-or post 1970, in 5 x 5 km squares, with a species account covering Swiss and general distribution, phenology, habitat, altitude and status. There are histograms of phenological and altitudinal occurrence for almost all species. The index to post 1950 publications on the Swiss fauna is arranged by regions (and cantons) and major topics such as ecology, general biology and red lists. Also included are: a bibliography of over 200 titles; a systematic list of species; a table of the relative abundance of species. The table of red list and threatened species also includes a key to the habitats and threats to each species/habitat.

3. Atlas of grasshoppers, crickets and allied insects in Britain and Ireland.

E C M Haes & P T Harding. 1997. London: Stationery Office. 210 mm x 295 mm, laminated pbk, 61 pp. ISBN 0-11-702117-2. Available from: The Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT; Stationery Office Bookshops and Accredited Agents; booksellers. Price £ 15.50.

Despite its inflated price (apparently due to Stationery Office policy!), this is the slimmest of the three. It is intended as a companion to, and is cross-referenced to Marshall & Haes (1988) Grasshoppers and allied insets of Great Britain and Ireland. Colchester: Harley, which is still in print.

The new atlas gives updated 10 km square distribution maps of all native species of Orthoptera, earwigs and cockroaches. The occurrence of stick-insects is also described. There are useful short species accounts, augmenting what is in Marshall & Haes, and giving the protection/threat status of species. The atlas nods in the direction of the rest of Europe by including a second map for each species, at the 50 km square level, using the European UTM grid. The Introduction includes brief reviews of the history of orthopteroid recording in each part of Britain and Ireland, and a list of recent local distribution atlases. The full colour cover includes excellent photographic portraits of six species, mainly by Robert Thompson. Essential reading if you want to keep up-to-date with British/Irish orthopteroids - pity about the price. And make sure you get the corrigenda slip - the captioning of some maps is misleading.

Reviewed by Tom Grant

Threatened Wasps, Ants and Bees (Hymenoptera: Aculeata) in Watsonian Yorkshire.

Archer, M.E. 1998. A Red Data Book. PLACE Research Centre, University College of Ripon and York St. John. Obtainable from PLACE, University College of Ripon and York St. John, Lord Mayor’s Walk, YORK YO31 7EX. Price £3.00 (£3.50 with p&p).

The current emphasis of conservation in the UK is directed towards the production of biodiversity plans at both the local and national level. Up to date information on the status of species, the audits is fundamental and the first stage in this process. This publication is an example of one approach. It covers the wasp, bees and ants fauna found in the four vice-counties of Yorkshire. The county is fortunate in having, as a resident, one the British experts of this group Dr. Michael Archer to produce it.

Of the 321 species of aculeate Hymenoptera recorded from Yorkshire, 107 are considered threatened either on a national level or within the county. The book largely comprises accounts of these species. These cover the first and last records, national and local status and, for most species, a list of sites from which they have been recorded. These accounts are succinct, getting across the information clearly. Introductory sections cover the sources of information, definition of threat categories and an analysis of the distribution of the rarities within the county. This was analysed using the natural areas, and shows clearly a concentration of rarities in certain areas of the county. The reasons behind this are however not discussed. This publication is essentially a factual account of a local fauna. Clearly to fully appreciate the information, you need to be familiar with the county, so inevitably it has limited usefulness outside Yorkshire. However, as an example of how to present the information on the species, there is little to fault. The major weakness of this publication, I feel, is the linking of rare species to habitat which is understated.

Reviewed by Brian Nelson.




Local Authority Briefing Note - Scotland (February 1999)
This provides an introduction to the NBN and Linking LRCs project, and explains the significance of biodiversity information and LRCs to Local Authorities in Scotland

Linking LRCs First Project Report (November 1998)
This report provides a summary of the progress made with the 'Linking Local Record Centres Project' between July 1997 and October 1998. The next project report will be published in November 1999 to cover the progress made since October 1998.

Local Authority Briefing Note - England and Wales (October 1998)
This provides an introduction to the NBN and Linking LRCs project and explains the significance of biodiversity information and LRCs to Local Authorities in England and Wales.

Developing Operational Standards & Good Practice Guidance - Phase 1 (June 1998)
This report outlines the findings and recommendations of a study into the operational standards and practice of six existing Local Record Centres, and the NBN Executive Group's response to these recommendations.

Developing a Local Record Centre - The development plan approach (April 1999)
This summary paper briefly introduces the development plan approach to establishing or developing an LRC.

Developing a Local Record Centre (April 1999)
This is a handbook, which offers guidance for those seeking to establish or further develop Local Record Centres as part of the National Biodiversity Network.


Linking LRCs - Issue 6 (June 1999)
The sixth edition of Linking LRCs provides an update on the Linking LRCs Project since April 1999. Topics covered include progress made with the demonstration project to look at building partnerships and developing a biological information management system in Tayside; an update on the development of Recorder 2000; and information about forthcoming seminars.

Linking LRCs - Issue 5 (April 1999)
The fifth edition of Linking LRCs provides an update on the Linking LRCs Project since February 1999. Topics covered include progress made with the development of Recorder 2000; an introduction to the work on developing access terms and conditions; an update on the demonstration project to look at the relationship between LRCs and national schemes and societies; a summary of the last Local Advisory Group meeting; and details of past and future seminars.

Linking LRCs - Issue 4 (February 1999)
The fourth edition of Linking LRCs provides an update on the NBN Linking Local Record Centres Project since November 1998. Topics covered include progress made with the pilot 'new' LRCs and the demonstration LRCs; an update on Recorder 2000, progress with development plan guidance for LRCs; and details of past and future seminars/open days.

Linking LRCs - Issue 3 (November 1998)
The third edition of Linking LRCs provides an update on the NBN Linking Local Record Centres Project since September 1998. Topics covered include an update on Recorder 2000; a summary of the last Local Advisory Group meeting; and details of past and future seminars/open days.

Linking LRCs - Issue 2 (September 1998)
This newsletter provides an update on the NBN Linking Local Record Centres Project since July 1998. Topics covered include progress with Recorder 2000 and the second phase of demonstration LRCs; a summary of the last Local Advisory Group meeting; and details of past and future seminars/open days.

Linking LRCs - Issue 1 (July 1998)
This newsletter provides an update on the NBN Linking Local Record Centres Project since October 1997. Topics covered include a brief explanation of the NBN and Linking LRCs Project; the LRC team; the Pilot LRCs, proposed demonstration LRCs; Collect and Collate software; operational standards; and information on new and developing LRCs.


Working Through LRCs Seminar Report - London (June 1999)
This report is a summary of the seminar held in London in April 1999, which included presentations and workshops to look at who needs biodiversity information; building partnerships; and meeting biodiversity needs through LRCs.

Working Through LRCs Seminar Report - Carlisle (April 1999)
This report is a summary of the seminar held in Carlisle in February 1999, which included presentations and workshops to look at developing partnerships; LRCs and the role of English Nature; access terms and conditions; and a range of local recording issues.

Working Through LRCs Seminar Report - Cardiff (February 1999)
This report is a summary of the seminar held in Cardiff in December 1998, which included presentations and workshops to look at the progress being made with the pilot LRC in Powys and the Brecon Beacons National Park; policies and procedures; the value of biodiversity information to local authorities; and biodiversity data for the public.

Working Through LRCs Seminar Report - Inverness (November 1998)
This report is a summary of the seminar held in Inverness in October 1998, which included presentations and workshops to review the progress with the NBN and Linking Local Record Centres project; the pilot 'new' LRC for N E Scotland; the collect/collate project; and local recording issues.

Biological Recording Open Day Report - Aberdeen (September 1998)
This report is a summary of the open day held in Aberdeen in September 1998, which included presentations and demonstrations about the NBN and proposals for a NE Scotland LRC; local recording issues including the NE Scotland coast; bird recording; Atlas 2000; and butterflies for the millennium.

Working Through LRCs Seminar Report - London (June 1998)
This report is the summary of the first in a series of seminars held in London in March 1998, which reviewed the progress with the NBN and Linking LRCs project; the role of LRCs in Local Biodiversity Action Plans; and the role of recorders in the NBN.


NBN Position statement on the application to the HLF (February 1999)
This is a brief statement on the NBN's position in January 1999 with regard to the funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

NBN Brochure
This brochure introduces the concept of the NBN - what it is, how it will work, who it will involve and how it will be established.

If you would like a copy of any of the publications listed, please contact: Rachel Hackett, UKNO, The Wildlife Trusts, The Kiln, Mather Road, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1WT.
Tel: 01636-677711, Fax:01636-670001, Email: