Newsletter 26

Newsletter 26

May 2000


Chairman's piece

Biological recording continues to increase its profile. NFBR's involvement through its links with the NBN continue to prove important, not to say vital. We have had a significant role in shaping the NBN's latest discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). It may seem a slow process and there have been mutterings about holding back on bids to the HLF by local bodies but in the longer term it should be more effective. The NBN's "Strategic Framework" document will, hopefully, form the basis upon which the HLF will at last be able to judge the effectiveness of projects submitted by local consortia, both for some elements of the work of Records Centres, and for related projects concerned with volunteer involvement and provision of information to the public. Public involvement is the key area in which the HLF is interested and it needs to be able to judge just how effective any applications might be. The NBN's "framework" should provide the key to getting this right.

Another aspect of NFBR's influence can be seen in the discussion document which the NBN has circulated, based on work done by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, concerning data access principles. This has aroused a lot of interest, and the NFBR's meeting in Peterborough on 24th March considered the subject.

There is concern. How will "free" access impact on those bodies who need to be able to charge in order to stay afloat? If people have given their information "freely" to a Local Records Centre or a recording scheme for conservation use, what will they think when that information, or a summary of it, might end up in the hands of those who are designing development? Can a data supplier through the NBN, limit the level to which other people might be allowed access to it?

Access to and exchange of information is at the heart of the NBN, of course. One of the reasons we have the problem of "getting the data to where they are needed" is precisely because of the lack of facilities, as well as the will, to pass it on. There are copyright issues, issues of intellectual property and Data Protection Act concerns. All these need to be addressed. In the end, although, effective conservation measures can only be carried out if good information is available to everyone who needs to know. Somehow we need to ensure legal mechanisms, financial support and the necessary infrastructure are there to safeguard everyone's real interests, while still allowing "free" access to as much as is possible. This is what the NFBR is helping to put in place with its partners in the NBN.

Government too is recognising the importance of biological recording. It has recently announced a Commons Select Committee examination of "biodiversity" and its ramifications, and we will be assisting with this. Its cash injection into the NBN is also evidence of its interest. The cash has come with a few strings attached, of course, but not many. The NBN has been given some guidance as to how it needs to be used and this obviously is being seen as putting into place some of the nuts and bolts which the HLF cannot fund. This money is none too soon, either. While several of the major partners in the NBN have managed to re-direct funds into various projects during the last two years, there is a limit to how much can be done this way, and progress can be patchy. The key now is to see some tangible results as soon as possible, and to make sure that important initiatives, like the Local Records Centre Project for example, do not founder because of lack of ongoing funds.

The NBN Trust will also be up and running when this Newsletter comes out. This, too, is a landmark, because at last there will be an independent focal point for activity. However, NFBR members need to be aware that, while, until now, it has had its own direct "seat at the table", technically the NBN Trust's council members are there as individuals, not as representatives. This won't appreciably change the approach, but it is a requirement of the NBN's new status as a charity. For the moment at least I have put my name down as a trustee from our broad "sector". I can be voted off at an AGM any time! On the other hand, if members and associated bodies of NFBR want me to bring something up, please say so. There will still be advisory groups to which NFBR will come directly, so our route to the top will not just be through me, I am glad to say.

This brings me to a final point. The NFBR has managed to be so closely involved because we are seen to be a representative body of those directly involved with biological recording and its applications. This was why the NFBR was set up to raise the profile. We have done this on slender resources, a lot of luck, much determination by a few key people, and good will. We need to maintain and extend this. We urgently need to expand our own membership to ensure there remains an independent voice from the grass roots. So, if you get this Newsletter as a member, remember to insist to all your local contacts that they should be members too. Every Local Records Centre in the country ought to be joining. Every operator of a Society recording scheme and every chairman/woman of a records committee should be joining us to ensure the message continues. They or their constituent bodies may also want to join the NBN Trust. But in the medium term, to further their own links with and through the NBN, it will be important that individual people's voice is not lost in the developing organisational infrastructure, which inevitably needs to be put in place.

Trevor James (Chairperson, NFBR)
Head of Ecology, Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre.

Invertebrate Information in Northern Ireland:

Collection, Assessment and Application

This article will cover the collection, assessment and application of invertebrate data in Northern Ireland dealing entirely with terrestrial and freshwater groups, principally insects. I am going to start with a review of how and where we are. I will then deal with aspects of the use of invertebrates in conservation assessment, and end with some considerations of the future developments. My remarks are to be viewed in the context of someone who is asked to provide and interpret information on invertebrates.

It is a general truth that biological recording and conservation in Northern Ireland has followed trends and programmes initiated in the rest of Britain and Ireland. There are, however, some things in which we in Northern Ireland do have a lead over other regions, and that is the provision of biological information. This is in part due to the small area of Northern Ireland, the small numbers of invertebrate specialists, and the degree of co-operation amongst us. The development of the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) is also something of which we can justifiably be proud.

Collection of invertebrate data can be divided into research or fieldwork. For the purposes of this review, I will divide the period into historical (pre-1970) and modern (post-1970) periods. The data gained from either published or collected material from fieldwork can also be split into inventory data or site-specific data. The former simply records the occurrence of a species within a political area such as a county, or even just Ireland, whilst the latter allows one to identify with reasonable certainty the collecting locality - in practice, assigning at least a 4 figure gird reference. Data can be gathered from study of museum collections and researching published sources.

From the mid-19th century, there have been few active entomologists and invertebrate experts at any one time in Northern Ireland. Some, such as Alexander Haliday and Arthur Stelfox, were internationally renowned. However, these figures have contributed relatively little to our knowledge of the Northern Irish fauna, as it was outside their working arena.

The more locally based entomologists have been more significant. The extent of their activities ranged from individuals like Thomas Greer, who published many notes and contributed numerous records to Irish catalogues of Lepidoptera, to Charles Langham who collected profusely, but published virtually nothing. Langham's work was largely unappreciated until his collection was bought by the Ulster Museum. These entomologists often collected in very localised areas, and did not provide sufficient information to localise the records. There are very good reasons for this - lack of maps and transport being two. The collections amassed by many of these naturalists often left Ireland or were broken up. In summary, whilst these historical data are essential for producing inventories or checklists, anyone hoping for great insights into site specific data, trends in species abundance or distributional changes will almost always be frustrated.

The significance of this is illustrated with a study of part of the Northern Irish water beetle fauna. There are 100 species, of which 87 were recorded in Northern Ireland before 1988. Thirteen species have been added to the list since 1988. Only two species have not been recorded since 1988, but one of these was a migrant species. For only one species, Coelambus novemlineatus, can a trend (decline) be seen, and even in this case few localised sites can be mapped. The Ulster Museum collections have some water beetle collections, but the number of records that can be ascribed to a specific site is small.

Since 1970, there have been many changes affecting biological recording in Northern Ireland, although these often lag several years behind GB. The following are amongst the most significant changes and developments.

  • Increased interest in conservation.
  • Growth in number of professional biologists.
  • Production of atlases.
  • Need for more site-specific data.
  • Development of computerised databases

These are not the only reasons why invertebrate information has become more available and more in demand, but it does explain a great deal. The need for site specific data has clearly been a major influence, as species information is needed to justify reserve acquisition and management. One of the first organisations in Northern Ireland to gather this information was the National Trust with their biological survey team. This is a model that other organisations, I feel, could emulate.

The impact of the use of Recorder and the successful growth of CEDaR, even after its first few faltering steps, has also been significant. The extent of this dataset in terms of number of records far exceeds the physical collections in the Ulster Museum. I personally find no difficulty in the concept of viewing an electronic record as valuable as many museum specimens. This value increases as they come together into one place. The development of large computerised datasets therefore solves two of the problems that have bedevilled the use of many collections - namely, their lack of locality information and their removal from Ireland.

Distribution maps based on the ubiquitous 10km grid square are maligned in some quarters, but as a spur to recording effort they are indispensable. Having been responsible for organising Northern Ireland coverage for several groups, I am firmly convinced that starting an Atlas project is the best way to increase recording effort. Show an active recorder a gap, and he or she will probably try to fill it! Northern Ireland distribution maps have appeared in formal atlases or in papers. However, all is not well on the atlas front, and Northern Ireland is particularly affected by recent trends in producing Great Britain only maps rather than British Isles maps. There is a reluctance to produce maps with Northern Ireland appearing to swim alone off the west coast of Britain. There are many reasons for this trend, but unfortunately it does disproportionately affect Northern Ireland. As we are part of the UK, and have to place our fauna within this political unit for biodiversity, the lack of maps showing the Northern Ireland distribution may mean that this segment of the population is ignored. Atlases have undoubtedly provided an incentive to many recorders. The Dragonfly atlas was an excellent example, and showed how a few recorders can achieve almost complete coverage from virtually zero in just a few years.

Targeted surveys and university research have also provided much useful information on some invertebrate groups. The monitoring of Environmentally Sensitive Areas using pitfalls has produced many records of spiders and carabid beetles. Environment and Heritage Service (EHS, DoE(NI) has funded some invertebrate surveys of habitats including fens in Armagh and Down and Lough Neagh sandy beaches. Single-species surveys of the Small Blue, Marsh Fritillary and Irish Damselfly have been completed. The sum of this work has produced some significant datasets that can be formally published e.g. the carabid atlas, or that can be analysed in new ways e.g. with programs such as WORLDMAP.

Assessment and Application

In Northern Ireland as elsewhere in the Britain and Ireland, conservation site selection is still concerned with habitat classifications based on the vegetation e.g. NVC or CORINE biotopes. A critique of this reliance on plants for biotope classification has highlighted the problems of the applicability of using these to protect habitat features for invertebrates. There is no recognition in these classifications for micro-habitat, structural features and management practices, all of which can profoundly influence invertebrate assemblages. In Northern Ireland, biotope surveys organised by EHS have not collected any invertebrate information. Even NNRs have not been fully surveyed for many invertebrate groups, although it is suspected that they are important. This has implications for management, as inappropriate techniques may be in use. On individual sites, there is little input of invertebrate information and their habitat requirements into site management, and even less actual management for invertebrates. Further, whilst Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland are meant to be sites to protect the flora and fauna, there are no selection criteria specifically for invertebrates. There is significant room for improvement in this area.

The development of the biodiversity strategy is one arena where invertebrates have had to be given greater attention. The proposed draft list for Northern Ireland includes 127 terrestrial and freshwater invertebrate species. It also recognises that there are significant gaps in knowledge, but the draft list is, I believe, a balanced one. The challenge to EHS now is to implement the targeted plans.

In summary, there has been a huge increase in the amount of and quality of invertebrate information in Northern Ireland. There is still however, a reluctance to include invertebrates in conservation activities. This area is being investigated at an all Ireland level. The aim is to produce lists of characteristic and typical species for major biotopes. This then can be used to integrate invertebrate information into site assessment, monitoring and management.

Brian Nelson
Department of Zoology, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, BT9 5AB
Tel: (028) 9038 3145
Fax: (028) 9038 3103

BWARS: mapping the distribution of British Aculeates

- and much more

The first maps to record systematically the distribution of any British Aculeates were the result of the Bumblebee Mapping Scheme. This operated in the late 1960's and early 1970's, although the maps were not finally published until 1980. Provisional maps giving the distribution of ants, eumenid and social wasps followed in a number of publications, but it wasn't until the end of the 1980's that a serious start was made on mapping the distribution of the entire aculeate fauna of the British Isles.

The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS) made several attempts to get going after initiation in 1978. It finally started to produce distribution maps of selected species following a re-launch in 1986. It was initially totally supported by the Biological Recording Centre (BRC) at Monks Wood. By 1995, it had moved on to becoming an independently financed group, still known as BWARS, but now a Society rather than a Scheme, affiliated to the British Entomological and Natural History Society. Important support is still given by BRC, but hopefully we are less of a responsibility, freeing them to help other groups. Our membership is currently in excess of 200, and includes a network of corresponding members abroad who act as channels of information and reference points to the wider picture of Aculeate conservation.

An ambitious programme of map production has seen the publication of two parts of the Provisional Atlas, with a third expected during 2000. These Provisional Atlases cover about fifty-five species each, and are planned to be produced at two-year intervals. We anticipate that the full set of Provisional Atlases will take twenty years to complete. The species for each Atlas are chosen according to a number of criteria, including a mix of rare and common species, ease of identification, host/parasite pairs and, recently, Biodiversity Action Plan priority species. Although this may make a rather unusual mix in each Atlas, the regular production of partial Atlases has been an important factor in supporting the currently expanding interest in this group of insects.

Verification of data is important. However, full validation, including checking reference specimens, is beyond our resources in most instances. Data for rare species may be required to be supported by voucher specimens; for commoner species, data which extend the range of the species will be questioned, as often it turns out to be a mis-read grid reference! The consequent maps report the overall range of the species well. Specific location data are not necessarily accurate in response to three main factors: the content of the original record; the coarse scale of mapping being used (10Km square); and the long (in terms of changes in the countryside) time span, with a cut-off date of 1970 being used at present.

The advent of computerised data storage has changed the face of recording beyond all recognition. Records stored on a computer database can be accessed and sorted in a matter of minutes: those on paper are often never accessed at all, as the effort required is too great. Consequently one of our greatest drives is for the computerisation of all basic data - we are getting there!

We have found that the setting of basic criteria for what constitutes a record, and guidance as to file formats which can be easily loaded, is all that needs to be stipulated. Text based information is less idiosyncratic than numerically coded information, and with modern databases, it is simple to amalgamate and manipulate data from a variety of sources. We did experiment with a more rigid database, even supplying the software, but the take-up was small, and the more rigid structure created more problems in amalgamating data than it solved. We have found that identifying and sorting localities by grid-referenced points, not site names, is vital.

We have been fortunate to be operating at a time when several easily recognised species have undergone dramatic expansions in range, or even established themselves as British species.

Our computerised data allows us to plot the spread of the sphecid wasp Philanthus triangulum, known in 1970 only as British from two areas in the Isle of Wight (pre-1960) and a few pre-1900 records in south-east England. This large wasp is very distinctive, taking Honey Bees, Apis melifera, as prey, and is unlikely to have been missed by aculeate hymenopterists.

By the time of the Red Data Book, it had become well established at several locations on the east of the Isle of Wight and, most surprisingly, had been discovered at three widely spaced locations in East Anglia. By 1995, it had spread right across south-east England and was beginning to move northwards and westwards, a pattern which has continued. We suspect that this species is reacting to the run of warm late summers, a feature of its biology previously documented in mainland Europe.

Two new social wasps have become established in the British Isles: the tree wasps Dolichovespula saxonica and D. media. The latter species is noticeably larger than our other vespids, except the Hornet, Vespa crabro, and has been the 'inspiration' behind many media 'silly season' scare stories. Thanks to this media interest, there have been plenty of records submitted. The first record was in 1978 on the Sussex coast near Newhaven; ten years later it was clearly established over Kent and East Sussex; by 1995 it had reached westwards to Devon and South Wales and northwards to Durham and Cumbria. Three years later (1998), it had apparently stopped spreading northwards, but had reached south-west into Cornwall.

By contrast, D. saxonica, first recorded in two well separated localities in 1978 (Norfolk and Surrey), has remained much more restricted to south-east England, although it is also spreading, rather more slowly, westward.

Mapping the spread of insects has been relatively easy - detecting a decline has been much more problematic. Recent work on Bumblebees under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan has required us to look again at the base data for the published atlas. This has all been transcribed to disk, from where it has been possible to re-analyse it.

The first shock was the realisation that up to 50% of the published distribution was not recorded in the base data, and that a significant proportion of traceable data was misallocated to a grid square. Both of these are a consequence of the manual mapping system employed. Nevertheless, we assume that the overall spread of records is roughly correct.

We know from our field experiences that some species were much scarcer in the 1990's than implied by the maps made up to 1975, but we did not have any systematic data to back this up. It was clearly time to map these species again in response to this need.

We are currently calling for records of Bombus ruderarius, a fairly distinctive species for which, as individuals, we can demonstrate decline from our personal records since 1970. The amalgamated data from all BWARS confirm this decline. What was unexpected, was the amount of recorder bias present in the original BDMS data set. There is very good coverage for Kent in the post-1970 map; this turns out to be due to three people systematically working the county during the 1970's. On the other hand, Salisbury Plain, being not easy of access, had very few records in the original data set. Kent has been quoted in a number of studies as being rich in bumblebee species. It is now much less rich. Salisbury Plain, however, is now (and undoubtedly was then) extremely rich in species. This shows up clearly when only post-1990 records are used. Care must still be exercised regarding recorder effort, but this is reasonably comparable for the BWG programme over the past three years.

Sometimes mapping host/parasite systems can throw light on probable relationships. The Chrysidid wasp Hedychridium roseum is quoted in the literature as being parasitic upon the sphecid wasps Astata boops, Tachysphex pompiliformis and Dienoplus (Gorytes) tumidus. The mapped distribution of H. roseum and A. boops overlap remarkably; the other two species are much more widespread than H. roseum. This suggests that the link between H. roseum and Astata boops is much stronger than any link with the other two species.

In BWARS, we are confident that the compilation of distributional data from a widely dispersed group of recorders is proving to be of greater value than the production of dot maps alone. The system is not perfect; we could do with many more recorders and more time to process the data. Anybody who is keen to become involved is encouraged to join the Society and start contributing - you do not have to be an expert before you start!

Michael Edwards
Midhurst, West Sussex.

Using Marine Species Data for Environmental Management

The Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland (MarLIN) is an initiative of the Marine Biological Association of the UK in collaboration with major holders and users of marine biological data and information. The MarLIN team is currently based in Plymouth, with plans to undertake work in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Many organisations have a statutory or other responsibility for environmental protection and management. They all require access to interpreted information that will assist them in their work. Information technology now provides rapid access to data and information through systems that can interrogate large datasets, and tools to interpret them into meaningful information. Links can also be made easily and cheaply to map-based or illustrative material, which aids understanding of technical outputs. MarLIN intends to draw on these developments to make access to that data and information as straightforward as possible.

In the past few years, the features of environment and biology which determine likely sensitivity have become much clearer. Frameworks, such as the Marine Nature Conservation Review biotopes classification and criteria for assessing rarity or degree of threat, have enabled better structuring of data. Objective approaches to interrogating and analysing data for environmental assessment are required, and MarLIN can provide a focus for such developments.

How is MarLIN being developed?

The key to the MarLIN programme is the development of an interactive network of suppliers and users of marine biological data and information linked via the Internet. This Network will itself be coupled to the bibliographic resources of the National Marine Biological Library (NMBL) and related databases to broaden the information base by providing information on the biology and sensitivity of marine organisms.

This interlinked system will benefit especially from the Marine Nature Conservation Review database, the National Biodiversity Network, and the facilities of the Marine Biological Association of the UK (in collaboration with NERC Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences (CCMS)), including the National Marine Biological Library, the planned Marine Life Resource Centre and the data systems links in the CCMS.

The basic components of MarLIN will:

  • Provide a 'starting point' to identify databases or web sites which might help users to answer questions about biodiversity, marine legislation, fisheries etc.
  • Provide a resource to disseminate information gathered by scientific studies to a much wider audience for education and research.
  • Provide a context to local information so that the biotopes and species present at one location can be seen in relation to the larger picture.
  • Give users images of species and biotopes which are present in an area, and therefore a more authoritative position to work from.
  • Provide information to users about the biology and sensitivity characteristics of the biotopes and species present at specific locations.

This information can be interpreted and used to:

  • Provide a baseline of information from which to develop systems for reporting in the future on the state of biodiversity in the marine environment around Britain and Ireland.
  • Identify representative locations as Marine Protected Areas, and assist in the preparation of zoning plans and the management of Marine Protected Areas.
  • Assist in the interpretation of data from monitoring studies, especially in relation to management of Special Areas of Conservation, and to requirements under a Water Framework Directive.
  • Provide information to support EC Environmental Impact Directive and Environment Management Systems ((EMAS) BS EN ISO 14001), including the Assessment of Environmental Effects Regulations 1998.
  • Contribute to initiatives being developed for a European Science Plan on Marine Biodiversity.

In addition, as part of the NBN, MarLIN is involved in a number of schemes intended to encourage volunteer recording in the marine environment.

MarLIN is currently funded by: Associated British Ports (Research & Consultancy); the Countryside Council for Wales; The Crown Estate; the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland; the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland; English Nature; the Environment Agency; the Joint Nature Conservation Committee; the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food; and Scottish Natural Heritage.

For further information about the MarLIN programme, please visit the web site at

Alison Hood
The Marine Life Information Network, The Marine Biological Association, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, PL1 2PB
Tel: 01752 633336 Fax: 01752 633102

What is the Heritage Council?

The Heritage Council is an independent body which has a responsibility to propose policies and priorities for the identification, protection, preservation and enhancement of the national heritage. It was set up under the Heritage Act, 1995. The brief of the Council extends to the built and natural heritage, including flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes and seascapes.

The Council advises the Minister on heritage issues, and unlike Dúchas The Heritage Service, of which the National Parks and Wildlife is part, the advice of the Council is independent. The Heritage Council has no direct executive functions, but is a statutory consultee under the planning acts.

The Council comprises 17 members who are experts in different aspects of heritage. It is advised by four statutory committees; wildlife, architecture, archaeology and inland waterways.

Why is the Heritage Council interested in biological recording?

The Heritage Council has stated in 'The Plan 1997-2000' that…'The Heritage Council recognises the vast amount of data on our heritage that exists throughout Ireland. Access to this information is not always easy, and its value in furthering the identification, protection, preservation and enhancement of the national heritage is diminished as a result. The Heritage Council will take steps to develop a national database on the heritage. This will improve the quality of the information available to the Council in proposing policies and providing advice and at the same time make the information it contains accessible and relevant to the public'.

The view of the Council, therefore, is that any decisions taken must be based on sound information. If sound information is not available, efforts should be made to ensure that this information is collected. The kernel of any policy or management decision must be based on information. This is why we need an effective biological recording system in the south to assist in making more sound policy and management decisions. It is that simple.

Why do we need biological recording?

The conservation of invertebrates has, I feel, three main dimensions at the moment:

  • Knowledge on ecology and distribution.
  • Consideration of invertebrate conservation needs as part of the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and planning process.
  • Appreciation of the need for invertebrate conservation amongst the general public.

An effective invertebrate recording system should not be seen as a fourth dimension to this, but rather as the foundation upon which all three dimensions are built. If we take the three dimensions that I have highlighted, they are not discrete, but rather dovetail in and overlap with each other.

1. Knowledge on ecology and distribution

There is a view in certain quarters that you can develop policy in an information vacuum. This is plain nonsense. The Heritage Council is tasked with proposing policies and priorities for Ireland's heritage, which includes invertebrates. For the Council to do this, we have to know what species occur in Ireland, where they occur, how their populations are changing, and understand which factors are necessary for their continued survival. I think this is the type of basic information that as a state we should be collecting systematically and actively.

Whilst we should be trying to be more systematic and focussed in the way in which the data are collected, we should be careful not to confuse some of the different objectives of recording. The state has international and national obligations to collect data in such a manner that they feed into an effective invertebrate conservation policy. Clearly the resources which the State is prepared to put into this are limited. Therefore ways must be sought to ensure that the efforts and energies of the State are focussed and channelled effectively. This requires strategic planning to match the input to deliverables as closely as possible. Where the energy and enthusiasm of amateur recorders can be harnessed to assist this, it should be done. However, this objective is only one; people also like to go out and get to know their own patch, recording what they find. I think a biological recording system should try to encourage people to record their own data in a manner that is most useful, but this requirement should not be all consuming. I would argue that all data are useful, but obviously some data are more useful than others.

2. Consideration of invertebrate conservation needs as part of the SAC and planning process

In the south, we have recently entered a new era in invertebrate conservation in that there are some invertebrate species listed for special conservation measures under the Habitats Directive. For the first time, conservation objectives have to be taken very seriously by other sectoral interests. Part of this requires that for SACs conservation objectives take priority over development priorities, except in cases of overriding public interest. In some quarters, there is an apology for this. However, I make no apology for the fact that for sites of special conservation value, nature conservation takes priority.

So if we are serious about meeting our responsibilities under the Habitats Directive, we have to undertake a systematic survey of the invertebrate interest of all SACs in a comprehensive manner. This does not mean rushing out and trying to inventory all the species that occur within the site - that would be impossible - but rather possibly identifying some key invertebrate indicators of habitat quality or other such approaches. The Council has established a working group on invertebrates, and this is one of the key outcomes of that group. Once we know what the interest of the site is, we then set down clear markers for what type of development is allowed or not allowed. Clearly, this cannot be restricted to SACs, as we must have some indication of the situation outside designated sites against which to measure the designated site's value. This is the professional way to do things, and until we begin to approach invertebrate conservation professionally we will not be taken seriously.

The requirements placed on the state under the Habitats Directive should not be seen as a burden, but rather an opportunity. Let us use this opportunity to take a major step in terms of invertebrate conservation, and rather than having the information deficit to continually return to haunt us all as part of the development and planning process.

Appreciation of the need for invertebrate conservation amongst the general public.

As with all aspects of heritage, there is a trend for invertebrates to be seen as the domain of the expert. While as a group invertebrates are complex and require particular expertise, as long as invertebrates are viewed as only the domain of the expert, they will be of very little relevance to people's everyday lives. We need to make invertebrates and conservation issues relevant to people. This is the only long-term option. Doing this is a challenge, and innovative ways need to be sought to achieve this objective. One way that this can be attempted is through the production of distribution maps. Maps of this kind produce an image that can be very effective, and it can put individual or clusters of records in context. We need not agonise too long and hard over the 'accuracy' of this approach. There is nothing wrong with presenting the existing information in a geographical manner. The risk lies in misinterpreting the information, or using it in a manner for which it was never intended.

Future developments

The Heritage Council is about to invite tenders to review the needs for biological recording in the south. The review will examine the existing professional and amateur recording methods currently employed in Ireland, and will make recommendations to the Council for a system that would maximise the value of the data being collected to inform decision making. The review will not be limited to biological data, however, as it will also examine the main environmental databases, and see if the relationship between biological and environmental data can be strengthened.

Liam Lysaght
Heritage Council, Kilkenny, Ireland

Butterfly records using data in conservation


The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the ways in which butterfly records are being used in conservation and ecological research, not at the local, site-based level, but in a wider context.

There are two distinctive types of butterfly data being collated in Britain and Ireland today. Distribution records form the majority of butterfly records held by Butterfly Conservation, local biological records centres and the national Biological Records Centre. Such records are not collected using a standardised methodology, although there are data standards. Abundance indices are based on the transect recording method developed by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE). This recording is standardised in relation to time and weather, and data are collated nationally by the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and by Butterfly Conservation.

Distribution data

Compiling databases of butterfly records covering wide geographical areas enables us to put local populations into context. At the national level, analysis of the 10 km square distributions in the first comprehensive atlas (Heath et al.1984) showed that almost half of the 59 resident species are threatened or already extinct. Since 1995, Britain and Ireland have been re-surveyed by the Butterflies for the New Millennium project (Asher et al. in press). This project and other species-specific research have shown that many butterflies have continued to decline at alarming rates. The range of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne), for example, has declined by more than 50% during the last 15 years.

In general, the declining species are those that are already scarce and which have highly specialised habitat requirements. They are the butterflies of chalk downland, coppiced woodland, unimproved damp grasslands and bogs. Their declines are due to habitat destruction and deterioration, and the consequent effects of increasing fragmentation and isolation.

National distribution data also show that some 15 species are expanding, although almost all of these were already common and widespread in southern Britain (e.g. the Comma, Polygonia c-album, whose range has moved about 200 km northwards since 1982). Most are species of the wider countryside that are still able to find suitable habitat in the modern, farmed landscape. Climate change is believed to be the most important factor behind these recent expansions.

These data have been used to measure rarity and trends in distribution for the assessment of conservation priority. Warren et al. (1997) analysed the 1984 atlas data to draw up a revised "red list" of butterflies in the UK. This has set the agenda for Butterfly Conservation's work over the past few years, notably in the production of Species Action Plans for twenty-two butterflies considered to be national priorities.

The populations of butterflies in Britain and Ireland have also been given a wider context by a new European Red Data Book, compiled by Butterfly Conservation and Dutch Butterfly Conservation for the Council of Europe (Swaay and Warren 1999). Six species resident in Britain (including two that are also resident in Ireland) were listed as Species of European Conservation Concern: the Lulworth Skipper, Large Blue, Duke of Burgundy, Marsh Fritillary, Scotch Argus and Large Heath.

Also at the international scale, Parmesan et al. (1999) reviewed the change in range of European butterflies over the past 30100 years and provided the first large-scale evidence of pole-ward shifts in the entire ranges of species. In keeping with the predicted response to global warming, northward shifts in range were recorded for over 60% of a group of 35 non-migratory species for which sufficient data were available, whilst only 3% had shifted south. Species on the move included the White Admiral (Limenitis camilla), Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) and Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), all of which are also expanding northwards in Britain.

Research applications

Databases of distribution records such as that compiled for the Butterflies for the New Millennium project present a very wide range of opportunities for ecological research. One ongoing study is examining the causes of recent range expansions and the potential consequences of global climate change. Hill et al. (1999) developed models to predict the distribution of the Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) using climate variables that are likely to affect the butterfly. The models worked well, particularly when habitat availability was taken into account. They were then run forward in time to predict the distribution of the Speckled Wood under various climate change scenarios. This work is now being expanded to include other species, such as the Gatekeeper and Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), and the early indications are that the ranges of these species will continue to expand northwards in Britain as the climate warms.

Another elegant study has developed a new approach to estimating rates of decline. Coarse grain (e.g. 10km square resolution) distribution maps have been used to measure changes in butterfly distributions. However common species, which may have many populations per occupied square, have the potential to decline considerably within squares before they are lost from entire squares and register on a distribution map. To try to quantify this effect, Cowley et al. (1999) used data on the actual size of habitat areas used by butterflies. The distribution data for some of the rarer species is now so comprehensive, that all known colonies have been mapped and the entire area of land used by a species in Britain can be measured or estimated. These total national flight areas are very small, and several were less than 3km². Using the IUCN categories for threat based on area of occupancy, all 13 of the species examined in this way would be classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Using 10km square maps, only three species would qualify (in the lowest risk category).

Developing the idea further, the authors then examined the flight areas of more common butterflies that were present in a study area in north Wales. Butterfly densities were mapped in different habitat types and declines estimated by comparisons with the extent of these habitats in 1901. The results revealed that many common species (e.g. the Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, Brown Argus, Aricia agestis, and Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus had declined as fast in this area as rare species have nationally.

Abundance indices

The Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS) co-ordinates transect recording to produce annual indices of the relative abundance of species across the UK. Although these indices are not representative of wider countryside, there are many important applications.

The indices provide a measure of abundance that is not unduly influenced by changes at individual sites. Therefore, wider influences on butterfly abundance (most notably the weather) can be separated from site-specific effects, such as habitat management. Annual indices can be compared to assess trends in species abundance over time, and long-term trends (such as those associated with climate change) can be distinguished from fluctuations caused, for example, by short-term weather events. In addition, the BMS data set has provided valuable information about butterfly phenology, voltinism, migration and local distribution changes.

David Roy and Tim Sparks (in press) at ITE have recently shown that the flight periods of many butterflies are starting earlier in the year and going on for longer now than they were in the 1970's when the BMS commenced. This trend is in accord with research showing earlier nesting and migration in birds and an extended growing season and first flowering dates in plants.

Many transects are recorded which do not form part of the official BMS but, until recently, these were only collated locally. Now Butterfly Conservation and the Ministry of Agriculture are collating this data nationally to assess the impact on butterflies of agri-environment schemes such as the Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Countryside Stewardship.


Although this has been only a brief review, it is clear that butterfly records present an extremely wide range of opportunities to further the understanding and conservation of our butterfly biodiversity. Many of these approaches are new, and further initiatives will undoubtedly continue to be made to fully utilise the data gathered by the great army of amateur and professional naturalists in these islands.


Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G. and Jeffcoate, S. (in press). The millennium atlas of butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press.

Cowley, M.J.R., Thomas, C.D., Thomas, J.A., and Warren, M.S. (1999). Flight areas of British butterflies: assessing species status and decline. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 266: 1587-92.

Heath, J., Pollard, E., and Thomas, J.A. (1984). Atlas of butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Viking, Harmondsworth.

Hill, J.K., Thomas, C.D. and Huntley, B. (1999). Climate and habitat availability determine 20th century changes in a butterfly's range margin. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 266: 1197-206.

Parmesan, C., Ryrholm, N., Stefanescu, C., Hill, J.K., Thomas, C.D., Descimon, H., Huntley, B., Kaila, L.., Kullberg, J., Tammaru, T., Tennant, J., Thomas, J.A.., and Warren, M.S. (1999). Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming. Nature 399: 579-83.

Roy, D.B. and Sparks, T.H. (in press). Phenology of British butterflies and climate change. Global Change Biology.

Swaay, C. van and Warren, M.S. (1999). Red data book of European butterflies (Rhopalocera), Nature and Environment, No. 99 . Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

Warren, M.S., Barnett, L.K., Gibbons, D.W., and Avery, M.I. (1997). Assessing national conservation priorities: an improved red list of British butterflies. Biological Conservation 82: 317-28.

Richard Fox
Butterflies for the New Millennium, Co-ordinator, Butterfly Conservation, PO Box 444, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5YA.
Tel: 01929-400209 email:

The BSBI Network

In January 1999, the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) started a new computerisation initiative, funded by the Country Agencies and Plantlife. The project was to take over the JNCC's Red Data Book database, and keep it up-to-date for future reference and especially to inform the Biodiversity Action Plan projects and the Quinquennial Review of legally protected species. It is called the Threatened Plants Database Project (TPDB), and extends to 400 of the rarest British plants in England, Wales and Scotland.

Our first impression in taking on such as task was that it would be completely impossible. In the past, the BSBI has never had a recording scheme of its own having always trusted the Biological Records Centre to manage our data for us. The new project would require us to hold and manage our own national database for the first time. The mathematics of this initiative looked daunting. The Red Data Book database contained just 11,000 records of rare plants at first. We calculated that there were 200,000 records that should go into it, each one of which would be highly complex recorders, determiners, associated species, sites and so on. We wanted a very high quality database that could perform ecological analyses such as tables of NVC quadrats, and checks on the dates of old records to ensure that they were made within the lifetime of the recorder. We found that we could add no more than 50 such records a day. This would have meant a 3,800 year long project!

Faced with such a dilemma, we decided to appeal to our members. The BSBI has a network of vice-county recorders in every county in Britain and Ireland, even extending to the Channel Isles. A large proportion of these v.-c. recorders are quite well computerised. Probably about a third of the land area is covered by a computerised scheme of some sort, with an estimated total of 10 million botanical records. Quality varies enormously: in some areas, records are kept only as tetrads or even quadrants (5km x 5km squares), which is not enough detail for rare plant conservation. However, we know that these vague computer records are usually supported by more detailed accounts on paper.

The plan was, therefore, to set up an exchange system with the "nodes" in the BSBI network. Some of our volunteers have computerised their own data, buying computers and software, and doing all the work at their own expense. A small number have received some support and advice from the BSBI, the Country Agencies or from local naturalists' societies. Others have co-operated with local organisations such as museums and Local Records Centres (LRC) to have their records computerised for them. We decided to approach all these people and offer a very basic agreement: they would give us a copy of all their records, and we would give them a copy of all the records we held for their area (usually, but not always, a vice-county).

The deal is a bit one-sided. These nodes hold, on average, over 100,000 records each, and the biggest (Cornwall) has over 650,000 botanical records. We have only a few dozen records for each county. Also, there is another catch; it turns out that the variation between the quality and structure of databases throughout Britain is absolutely enormous. Only about half of the botanical nodes use Recorder; the rest use a variety of 20 other, incompatible, database systems. And even those who use Recorder vary too much in the way that they operate their systems to allow exchange of data. Some people use sites in the traditional sense, but others use parishes, or grid squares, or even no locality information at all. As well as asking people to give their data to us, we also ask everyone to change the way they work to reflect 'best practice' gleaned from the combined wisdom of everyone involved.

At first we feared that no-one would want to co-operate with such a suggestion, but that fear has not been realised. Instead, almost everyone we have approached has agreed to get involved there's even a backlog of people who have requested to become nodes that we haven't yet got around to. A total of 50 organisations are now involved, with over 5 million records now held by us. The advantages to a local node, whether it is an amateur working mostly at their own expense or a records centre with public funding, are various:-

  • We regularly exchange ideas and information on good practice. This can be enormously valuable, as knowledge about technical aspects of computers, such as global updates, macros and exchanging tables of data can save time and improve immensely the quality and value of a database.
  • We exchange records. The TPDB project has an active programme of research into historical sources such as herbaria and literature, which we can pretty much guarantee will turn up interesting records, if not whole species, which are new to a county. We also have access to catalogues and publications and 'meta-data' that most people don't know about.
  • We provide the security of a backup. With my 'Recorder support' hat on, I can reveal that a high proportion of calls I receive are from people whose computer has crashed, and who have an inadequate backup. These problems can often be solved, but not always, and loss of data is not an uncommon outcome. By lodging a copy of each botanical dataset with the BSBI, everyone can be sure of continuity and security of botanical data which is an important objective for the recording community generally.
  • We can offer botanical expertise. The taxonomic accuracy of records is the most important aspect of any database, but surprisingly, perhaps it is the aspect that many people find most difficult to maintain. A co-operation with the BSBI's v.-c. recorders and specialist referees is definitely advantageous to those organisations which do not have this botanical expertise.
  • And last, but not least, co-operation can be financially rewarding. The TPDB project is not a large operation, but we work on the basis of spending about £200 on each node each year in supplying hardware, software and training. More lucrative are the joint projects, where we can add the endorsement of a respected national society to grant applications and commercial bids by a local body.

These factors seem to be enough to persuade most local recording schemes to want to join a national network. One can imagine a future in which each LRC or other computerised local recording scheme would divide up its records into taxonomic groups vascular plants, bryophytes, molluscs, whatever and send them each year to the relevant national recording group. In return they would receive the benefits outlined above from the national societies.

"But does giving away records not undermine the very existence of LRCs?" you might ask. Well, the jury is out on that one. It does not seem to have done so yet. What it does do is give local schemes the advantage of national data standards and access to national data sets, which allows them to do their work better than before. There does not seem to be any competition between national bodies and local ones for resources, either. Most LRCs and even privately run local recording schemes get most of their income from planning authorities, from grants, or from contracts to provide services such as survey and interpretation, which national societies do not get involved in. There doesn't seem to be much mileage in holding large data sets per se it is only work performed on them for which clients are willing to pay. To date, there has been no hint of losses to any of our nodes, and most have reported financial gains. We want our nodes to be as efficient, competent and successful as possible; and they want us to be the same. As we are in a state of infancy in our knowledge of the environment of even the best recorded counties, it doesn't seem likely that anyone is going to run out of useful work in the near future. What we, the recording community, have to do between us is present a competent and persuasive case to continue with our work.

I would like to invite debate on these issues within the NFBR and, indeed, ask why this organisation has not been promoting such co-operative schemes from the very beginning? Surely people join organisations in order to work together not to compete with each other! But the NFBR has never really organised any collaborative projects of benefit to its members. Everyone has been waiting for the NBN to do everything for them but it turns out that it isn't that difficult to do things for ourselves. We will make life easier for the NBN if we can set up structures and systems for it to work with. I would also like to invite any other organisation that considers itself a botanical data holder to get in touch with us. We are pretty much at the limit of our current resources, but there is always the potential for one or two more members, if they have a serious interest in botany. You may be surprised at what you can gain from joining in with a highly competent network of recorders. Personally. I am always amazed to discover what people can teach me. Only last month did I learn how to copy and paste from Windows and Recorder v3.3. I never suspected that could be done.

Alex Lockton
Co-ordinator of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, 66 North Street, Shrewsbury, SY1 2JL

Our Knowledge of Biodiversity in Rotherham

at the end of the Twentieth Century

Biological recording is about much more than drawing maps, but there are occasions when maps are useful. This one shows the progress we have made with studying the biodiversity in each 1km square of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough. About two thirds of our half a million records have a sufficiently precise grid reference to be used in this analysis, which shows the number of species recorded in each square.

There are 322 of these squares in Rotherham and over 100 species have been recorded in 78% of them by the end of 1999. Over 250 species have been found in 46% of the squares and over 500 species in 23%. The top 5% have over 1,000 species recorded and 1% has over 1,500 species, with a single square topping the 2,000 mark. The total biodiversity in the Borough is c.9,000 species.

The naturalists of Rotherham and adjacent areas have made an effort over the years to spread their recording throughout the Borough, and not to concentrate on the better-known sites to the exclusion of all else. There is still a very large amount of recorder bias in this map, but it was not until this exercise was carried out that we could see how successful (or not) we had been.

Bill Ely
Rotherham Biological Records Centre, Recreation Offices, Grove Road, Moorgate, Rotherham, South Yorkshire S60 2ER. Tel 01709 822016 Fax 01709 838823 e-mail:

Calling all BRCs: NFBR needs your help. Now!

This Newsletter is intended to be a means of communication within NFBR, but a recent meeting of Council felt that it could be used more effectively with your input. We believe that local Biological Records Centres have a great deal to offer the NBN, but there has not been any demonstration of the depth and detail of our data holdings since Charlie Copp carried out the CCBR survey in the early 1990's. Someone was foolish enough to suggest that we could pool our resources and produce a series of reports for the Newsletter, each dealing with a particular area of our data holdings and demonstrating the wealth of information that is available for the NBN to tap into. In the time-honoured tradition of committee meetings, that someone is now writing this piece.

So, this is the deal. I will collate your responses to this questionnaire and produce a report for the Newsletter, but its effectiveness will depend entirely on your input. If you feel that it is worth blowing our collective trumpet and showing other members of the NBN that our contribution is vital to its success, then I hope you will be willing to spend a short while in gathering the information together. If you feel that this approach is worthwhile then perhaps you would like to prepare an article on another group and send it to the editor, so keeping the ball rolling.

In order to keep this task simple and your workload as small as possible, I have chosen a very small but well-recorded group of animals the amphibians. I would be grateful for as much detail as possible but a few answers are preferable to none at all.

How many amphibian records do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many computerised records are
a) post-1950 b) post-1975?
How many manual records are
a) post-1950 b) post-1975?
How many records contain information on breeding?
How many records of Common Frog do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Edible Frog do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Marsh Frog do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Common Toad do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Natterjack Toad do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Midwife Toad do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of newts do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Smooth Newt do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Palmate Newt do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
How many records of Great Crested Newt do you have
a) in computer files b) in manual files?
Which other species have you got and how many records of each?


  • Answers in the form of '1a xxx; 1b xxx; 2a xxx; 2b xxx' will be quite acceptable.
  • Please distinguish between '0' [= no records] and '-' [= don't know].
  • Please include your name and/or the name of your LBRC.
  • Answers on paper, by fax or by email are all acceptable.

Bill Ely
Rotherham Biological Records Centre, Recreation Offices, Grove Road, Moorgate, Rotherham, South Yorkshire S60 2ER.
Tel.: 01709 822016 Fax: 01709 838823 e-mail:



Generating data solutions through Local Record Centres

On Wednesday 10 May 2000, at St George's Hotel, Llandudno, from 10am 4pm, the first of three conferences will be staged this year as part of the National Biodiversity Network's 'Linking Local Record Centres' project.

The conference will be of interest to anyone who uses biological information or is working with a Local Record Centre. It will examine the role of Local Record Centres and how to use them effectively.

The programme for the day will include talks and open discussions to look at:

  • Wildlife information at your fingertips fact or fiction?
  • What are LRCs, why do we have them and how do they work?
  • How an LRC can meet the needs of a local authority.
  • Advantages of partnerships.
  • Pilot process, including funding and partnerships.
  • Future options for Local Record Centres in Wales.

A full programme and booking form are available on the NBN web site.

Conferences following a similar format will be held on Thursday 27 July at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh and on Wednesday 8 November at the NCVO Conference Centre, London.

If you would like further information on any of these conferences please contact:
Christine French, The Wildlife Trusts, The Kiln, Waterside, Mather Road, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1WT.
Telephone: 01636 670 087. Email: