Newsletter 27

Newsletter 27

December 2000

Contents

Chairman's Piece

While we are all waiting for the outcome of the NBN developments, and the deployment of Recorder 2000 as the answer to our prayers for data management, it's as good a time-killer as any to be looking at what else is happening with the natural environment. This is one reason why next year's Annual Conference of the NFBR is going to be targeted at 'Biodiversity data: provision and application'. The UKBAP Group has now produced a good set of biodiversity action plans for everyone to get their teeth into, so where do we go from here?

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Are we really sure all these biodiversity targets are useful? Have we got to the bottom of what is really worthwhile pursuing? How do we know whether the suite of arcane species we have assembled for one group or another are really the ones we need to worry about? What is the evidence, and do we have it all at our fingertips, locally as well as nationally? Even if we have, do we know what we need to be doing about it?

I suspect the answers to some of these questions may be unpalatable to a lot of people, particularly those who like neat answers! Biodiversity Action Planning has produced a lot of activity, but in many areas, we most certainly haven't got the data into a useful order yet. Translating raw data into meaningful action is even harder, because so many unanswered questions remain about the life histories of species and their inter-relationships, let alone about the effects of man's activities on them.

It is all quite crucial, though; that we don't take our eye off the ball of making sure that all our recording effort is actually useful. While Local Record Centres may be busy accumulating their hoard of data, the focus of those with the purse strings is ever more closely looking at the practical benefits of what they are funding. While biodiversity action plans may be a bit of a distraction, or even a frustrating irrelevance in the eyes of the field naturalist, they do represent a tangible link between the hard-nosed funding bureaucrat's interests, and the focusing of cash where we can best make use of it. How long the two interests will coincide is anybody's guess, but the writing may be on the wall for it being one of the highest priorities, and we had better make the best of it while we may.

In the meantime, NFBR's work remains to be completed. We can still do with helpers at all levels. In particular, the Council needs younger blood with plenty of ideas to assist the debate, and to take on some of the practical tasks. If anyone else wants to be involved, let us know. The forthcoming AGM is your opportunity. Perhaps we could even have a genuine election for a new Council member!

Happy recording.

Trevor James Chairman

The NFBR Annual Conference and AGM

The rescheduled NFBR Conference and AGM will be held at the Birmingham & Midland Institute on the 8th March 2001. The subject is 'Biodiversity Data : Provision and Application'. Further details and booking forms will be sent out nearer the time. The contact is John Newbould (newbould@,aol.com)

Recorder 2000 - A Personal Review

The long awaited and rather delayed Recorder 2000 - (R2K) - finally became available in August after its pre-launch event in 1999. Was it worth the wait?

Judging from the amount of traffic on:

R2Ks reception has been rather mixed - from considerable accolade to downright hostility. Why, then, should the release of an update to good old/bad old Recorder 3.3 (R3.3) provoke such a variety of responses? I suspect largely because it is young and different, and behaves a bit like a stroppy teenager at times. Its name is the same, though, surprisingly for a programme called Recorder, the word 'record' is not in its lexicon. One can enter a 'taxon occurrence' but not a 'record'.

First, no way is it really an upgrade of R3.3, and it makes no pretence of being. It is a whole new programme, with new and sometimes unfamiliar ways of doing things. Many of the things it can do couldn't be done in R3.3 and, for the time being, vice versa. Most of those who have welcomed R2K with open arms are new to Recorder. It is mostly us old lag R3.3 users who are proving difficult to convince that this upstart programme might just well be the answer to what has been wrong with biological recording in Britain for the last few decades, and I think it will be.

In short, it can talk to the outside world. Its accessibility to external software is R2Ks real strength. At long last our Recorder data becomes transparent to other software, which was never possible with bad old AREV. Users can easily (...well, fairly easily) build their own reports etc. and, if they're really good, build their own add-ins. More importantly, these can be circulated over the web for others to use. A small library of additional features and downloads is already building up on the Recorder web-site. R2K is modular - that means special add-ins to deal with, for example, marine site data, veteran trees, butterfly monitoring transects and the myriad other ways naturalists gather data should soon be or are already on stream. JNCC is, hopefully, listening to its customers and working out what special reports, addins etc., we all want, (especially the ones that will get us back to where we already are in R3.3!).

This openness comes at some cost. The specification of machine needed to run R2K at anything like an efficient speed is way in excess of the mid-90s machine needed for R3.3. R2K requires lots of RAM and hard disk space (the programme and the Access 97 files it produces are enormous), and a damn good clock speed if you don't want to spend time watching the hourglass on its endless turning.

One reason for some of the hostility has been that JNCC seem to have released it before the programme was good and ready. A fair number of bugs (only some of them entomological) have wriggled their way into the release version, which they are now working urgently on to remedy. Many already have been. There has already been a maintenance release on the web and, to be fair, there is a widget in the programme to e-mail any error messages to JNCC to help them work out appropriate fixes. This is something that most commercial software is not humble enough to include. It is however, a shame that more trialling was not undertaken prior to R2Ks release, with users using their own datasets. This comes from someone who downloaded various trial versions of the software, and never found time to put them through the wringer. It is very easy for me to be clever with hindsight.

The glitches vary from insignificant annoyances - for example, the 'close' button on open windows is forever greyed out, even though it works perfectly normally. This is the result of a bug in Delphi in which it is developed. Other more fundamental problems are being addressed between JNCC and the software developers. Some forms of data entry are also a bit clumsy, and a good bit slower than R3.3. The latest Recorder newsletter tells us that JNCC are also addressing this area of functionality with some urgency.

It is just about possible, with quite a lot of shenanigans, to get one's data across from existing R3.3 datasets (via an update to R3.4) into R2K. The first release version of the translation programme can however seriously damage your data. Unfortunately, this is the version that is included on the installation CD ROM. To be fair it does give a serious health warning on the accompanying 'readme' file, and this is stressed on the Recorder website too. A second version is already there for download.

The main species dictionary, claimed to be derived from R3.3 but in fact very much modified, and some of the ways the programme deals with it, are, to be frank, a bit of a pig's breakfast. This needs to be addressed by a combination of some reprogramming, and a revamp of much of the dictionary itself. This was, in any case, well overdue in R3.3. The future of this area of the NBN is the responsibility of the Natural History Museum. The programme can deal with multiple taxon checklists, one of its real strengths and also, sometimes, one of its more frustrating features. Examples of problems (unfortunately undetectable) include the transmogrification of the grayling butterfly into a fish or the redshank bird into a plant when entering data via English names. I'm assured these are being fixed in the next update. The white butterflies have been genetically modified into plants in the Ericaceae. There has also been an unfortunate, if well meant, translation of every initial 'L'. for any species' author's name to Linnaeus - for example, Segestria bavarica C.Linnaeus Koch. Whoops!

So - what's new and really good about R2K?
Well, an awful lot actually.

First - it's part of the NBN and will eventually let everyone share data with others and see how theirs fits into the bigger picture. It will lead, at long last, to outflows of information from those current black holes in the conservation agencies, from BRC, the LRCs and the myriad of local and regional natural history societies. Many of these have long gobbled up our records and output little other than dots on maps. I've already mentioned its transparency to other software - to spreadsheets, GIS and databases. Incidentally, beware - the use of Access 2000 rather than Access 97 with R2K can seriously damage your data. Never let Access2K update your R2K data. So much more has now become possible because data can be shared between applications. This accessibility to other programmes must not, however, be allowed to remain a substitute for adequate reporting facilities within the programme itself. These are currently pretty limited, although the latest R2K newsletter says this i s also being addressed. Limited they may be, but they are very flexible and very neat to use. I remember the sighs of admiration from the audience when Stuart Ball demonstrated some of the report formatting at the pre-launch at the Natural History Museum. Those bells and whistles are all there and usable with experimentation, but are, sadly, currently undocumented. This is another indication of the rather unfortunate premature release of the programme.

R2K at last allows data to be entered via a map. JNCC is negotiating wonderfully cheap-rate raster map tiles from the O.S. The potential to be able to say "I recorded that beetle ... <mouse-click> ... there, at the junction between those two rides" and get a completely accurate grid reference, not subject to the inaccuracies of human grid reference estimation, is really great. This should prevent future occurrences of things like the pillwort growing 30 km out into the North Atlantic (vide the NBN map via the Gateway). The NBN certainly encourages you to clean up your data. R2Ks own mapping is a peculiar halfway house between PLOT5 and a GIS. Its sophistication invites one to expect more of it than it can actually do. For example, I'd love to change my records from an invisible dull purple! But it's really cool to be able to drag In' drop the entire contents of a county wide survey onto a map and see it instantly mapped against a quarter-inch O.S. backdrop. This is a part of the programme that R3.3 lags like me will really like, and would repay further development to bribe us all to come on board.


I think I have worked out now what I can and can't do with the programme, and what I'd like the programme to be able to do in the future. I've passed on a myriad of ideas and suggestions, and a good few criticisms, across to JNCC. Inexplicably they e-mailed those suggestions along to all and sundry, so you may already have had a copy! No doubt I'm wrong in my interpretation for some of the things I think it can't do. In some cases, I should really have R.T.F.M. Except for its report formatter, R2K has excellent on-line help and a good manual available for printout straight off the CD. In others, I, along with other users, have identified some real glitches that are now being addressed, or have -come up with ideas that might usefully be incorporated.

Will I be using R2K for personal and professional work? Well... yes and no.

  • Yes? I'm already experimenting hard with it. I've managed to copy 70,000 Lincolnshire beetle records across into it to play with, and I'm working on getting English Nature's Invertebrate Site Register into a decent enough state to push it across. Another great strength of R2K is that it forces you into very good data entry practices, but one's former short-cuts in R3.3 catch up with you when readying data for the transfer process!
  • No? On the home front I'm urging patience. I am waiting for a maintenance upgrade or two and a few more standard reports before recommending that the seventeen users of R3.3 in our dispersed Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union Recorder Group switches to R2K for real. This will allow us to use the data that matters and leave behind poor old AREV for good.

Be patient with R2K. Some of the criticisms have been really unfair, others, justified. Think back to all the grizzles about AREV Recorder back in the early 90s. All the things it couldn't do. All the bugs, or all the bugs in every new version of Windows, when it comes to it. I put in over 80 pages of comment and suggestion about R3.3 and its predecessors to poor old Stuart and have now got up to 30 pages with R2K. It took 15 years to develop R3.3 from its ancestor, the Invertebrate Site Register, and R2K, like any bit of software, is now going through the same process.

I'm sure it will be worth it.

Roger Key - variously: first and foremost - amateur naturalist and wildlife recorder

exec member, NFBR

beetle Recorder and botanical project Recorder co-ordinator, Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union

scheme organiser, BRC scheme for Cleroidea and Heteromera

invertebrate ecologist and Invertebrate Site Register custodian (England), English Nature

The National Biodiversity Network Trust

I expect you are all familiar with the basic ideas behind the creation of a National Biodiversity Network, but just to make sure....

The UK has a long tradition of wildlife observation, which the members of the NFBR are ensuring will continue and flourish in the 21St Century. It is often said that this tradition goes back to the days of the Victorian naturalists and their desire to see a 'well labelled world'. (I always think this is somewhat akin to medical doctors and their ability to diagnose and name maladies, not necessarily understand the cause or have a cure, just to have a handy name, preferably Latin, to reassure the patient that all is well).

To an extent, this link to the Victorians is true, but I think it is important to recognise that this paints a somewhat quaint picture that is very far from the present reality of biological recording. I guess from the sixties onwards (if a general date has to be set), the gathering of field data has been a well organised and professional endeavour carried forward by enthusiastic, well-trained and well-informed volunteers, experts in their self-chosen specialities. The CCBR report on the subject gave a figure of 60,000 people actively engaged in this activity, although the suspicion is that this is an under estimate. Data on the nation's biodiversity are held by many separate organisations, and may exist as simple field notebook records, card indexes or, at best, as an electronic record such as a database. This is a valuable resource.

There is clear motivation on the part of the Government and its agencies to capture and use as much of these data as possible. The information is of direct use in monitoring and reporting upon the natural heritage, for example as part of the obligations arising from the Convention on Biological Diversity. Furthermore, measures of biodiversity also feature in the Government's own Quality of Life Indicators. The data that are used to report on and monitor biodiversity can also be used for planning and management in the countryside or for education in is most general sense.

The NBN is a mechanism whereby the data collected by local recorders and the members of national societies and recording schemes can be used by those that need access to this data resource. The chosen medium for the mobilisation of these data is the Internet.

And what of the National Biodiversity Network Trust? The NBNT was set up as a company limited by guarantee on 31st March 2000 to promote and co-ordinate the creation of the Network. It brings together those organisations that are most actively engaged in the creation of the Network, remembering that the partnership may change over time as the development of the Network progresses.

In general terms, the work programme of the Trust addresses the problems of data capture and collation to known and agreed standards, access to the data using the Internet and some aspects of end use. The programme is well publicised and can be viewed at the NBN web site www.nbn.org.uk, so I will concentrate on what is happening now or we anticipate will happen in the very near future.

The NBNT partners are using their own funds to drive forward the work programme. However, we have received a commitment from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the development of some aspects of the NBN over the next ten years. This is very welcome news, and will be of particular benefit to recorders. The HLF want to fund those aspects of the Network that involve the public. This might be enhancement of public participation in data collection through training and outreach by societies and schemes to encourage and develop new recorders. The HLF also want to promote public use of the information through enhanced access and education. We are also in discussion with DETR to secure the extra funds Michael Meacher announced last Christmas. These would be injected into the NBN development programme to secure additional benefits for his department, and to ensure adequate funding of the technological development needed for an Internet gateway. But there is no need to wait for the outcome of this new funding to see NBN products - Recorder 2000 has been released through a network of Value Added Resellers who will be able to offer support to users. The pilot NBN Gateway is has been made available for evaluation since the end of August. The JNCC has written to NBN member organisations, which of course includes the NFBR, asking them to use the pilot Gateway and comment on its design and functionality. As a hint, the best features are password protected - not because they need protecting, but to demonstrate how passwords can create a hierarchical system of access to data.

The NBNT has also recruited an Access and Accreditation Officer to work with data suppliers, and to develop our understanding of these key areas for the Network's development. The officer will be housed in' Northminster House to work alongside English Nature's NBN team, although the Trust's employee will work over the whole of the UK. We are also securing funding for a National Society and Schemes Development Officer who will work with societies and schemes to facilitate their entry into the Network.

So there is a lot happening at present. We are laying the foundations for a Network that will take biological recording well into the 21St Century - Victorians indeed!

Dr. James Munford
NBN Programme Director NBNT,
11 Windsor Crescent, Berwick-upon-Tweed TDI 5 1 NT. TelIFax: 01289 304504
Email: jim.munford@btinternet.com

Biological Recording In Scotland

It is with great sadness that I write to announce the tragic death of Bill Brackenridge, BRISC's membership secretary. He was killed in a car crash on the night of 4th November when on the way back from a conference in Speyside. Weather conditions were apparently to blame. Many of us are devastated - not just because it is a serious blow to BRISC and all the other organisations he had a hand in, but we have lost a dear friend.

For the past few months, a subcommittee has been working on a Development Plan for the next three years, which will see major changes in the way BRISC is organised. I will report on this in more detail, once the DP has been approved by the membership at our AGM, which will be taking place as part of the annual conference.

The theme of the annual conference, which will take place at Inverness on Saturday 17th March 2001, will be 'Biodiversity Data'. The morning will concentrate on the technical side, and the afternoon will have talks illustrating some of the recording schemes currently on the go in the Highlands. A preliminary programme may be found elsewhere in this newsletter.

Our biggest project at the moment is running a series of demonstrations on Recorder 2000. This software has so far had very little airing in Scotland, with most demos taking place in the south, and many potential users up here are still to see it for the first time. With generous financial support from SNH and the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust, BRlSC will be able to put on demonstrations in eight venues throughout Scotland, namely in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hawick, Inverness, Kirkwall, and Perth. The demos are also advertised in the most recent issue of the Recorder 2000 News. The organisation is in partnership with the relevant LRCs. The demos are aimed at any potential user, professional or amateur, and will be carried out by Richard Weddle on behalf of BRISC.

In 2001, it is planned to run proper training courses. To facilitate this, we hope to put together a portable computer lab, with 6-7 high-spec laptops and a PPT projector, so that we can take computer courses out to the people, rather than asking them to come to us. Many fieldworkers live in very remote parts of Scotland, including the islands, and experience tells us that the cost of travelling to the central belt often prohibits recorders from attending any courses or events. Again, this project depends on BRISC being successful with our grant applications.

As many NFBR members will be aware, BRISC produced a 'Source Book for Biological Recording in Scotland' at the end of 1999, with a grant from Scottish Natural Heritage. The purpose of this publication was to make information available which is not easily accessible elsewhere. In addition to a brief overview on 'purpose and techniques of biological recording' and 'standards and principles in data collection', there are chapters with details on all active Local Records Centres in Scotland. These include contacts, activities, facilities, data holdings, and on the state of local Biodiversity Action Plans in Scotland, support from the Scottish Biodiversity Group as well as a contact for each LBAP.

What will be of most interest to NFBR members is the section on national recording schemes, which is also the largest. For each of the hundred or more schemes listed, there is a contact name and address. Other details include; how long the scheme has been going for, data holdings and how the records are kept (manually or electronically), how people can get involved, activities such as workshops, outings, etc., publications such as newsletters, articles and atlases. It concludes with recommendations for field guides to assist with the identification of particular groups. Seven appendices include tables of priority species and habitats, useful addresses and a bibliography relating to developments within biological recording in the last twenty years or so. Everything is, of course, indexed. Every copy comes with an insert of all updates, which have been brought to the editors notice since the publication.

A number of people in England and Ireland have already' obtained a copy, and some have even joined BRISC, as we are offering the Source Book free with all new subscriptions till the end of year 2000. The publication costs £10 plus £1.50 postage. If you join BRISC (annual sub £10 for individual membership), you get the publication post-free (as well as four informative newsletters a year). Please write to me at the address below if you want a copy, or alternatively, if you already own a copy and wish to obtain the most recent list of updates.

In many ways we are living in very exciting times for biological recording, with the NBN Trust having become a reality and all the various projects this has entailed, including Recorder 2000, and at least some sign that the Government is taking its commitment to biodiversity seriously. It is therefore doubly aggravating that many Scottish LRCs, who after all provide the main focus locally for recording and recorders, as well as essential information for local biodiversity action plans, are still struggling to stay in business. Thus, two long-established centres may be going to the wall. However, the good news is that we now have one new LRC, covering North-east Scotland, while another one is under way, in Dumfries and Galloway. Our very best wishes to them for a successful future.

Long-term funding has always been a hurdle for LRCs. The NBN's Linking LRCs project advocates partnership funding, but as everyone knows, these partnerships are not easily established. At the NBN's LRC conference in Edinburgh in July 2000, it was clear that the NBN and SNH want to see a full coverage of Scotland by viable LRCs. The thorny question, however, remains - how? To obtain various people's opinion, the NBN LRC support officer in Scotland circulated a questionnaire with a series of options - from three (based on area divisions of large bodies, such as SEPA) to 24 (based on LBAPs). I am still to see an analysis of the replies. BRISC very much supports a solution where the LRC is truly local. It is a focus for all wildlife information in the area, provides a forum and support for the local recording community, has the trust of everyone, and the ability to supply good scientific information to whoever may require it.

Anne-Marie Smout
Chair of BRlSC
c10 Chesterhill, Shore Road, Anstruther, Fife KYlO 3DZ

 

NFBR Website

It has long seemed odd that the NFBR, with a membership so heavily involved in information technology, should not have an internet presence of its own. Perhaps it reflects the high workload we all have, rather than lack of desire to create a web presence.

That situation is now changing. At the last AGM, your committee raised the need for an NFBR website with the members present, and the preparation is now under way for a separate NFBR site. When completed, the site will contain an on-line version of this newsletter, together with past issues; details of forthcoming events and meetings; contact details for committee members, and links to institutional members.

We will bring you more details in the next issue.

Nick Moyes,
Derbyshire Biological Records Centre, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, The Strand, Derby DE1 1 BS Tel: 01 332 716655; Fax: 01 332 716670 Email: nick@nmoyes.freeserve.co.uk

- - - -

BRISC RECORDER 2000 Demonstrations

For anyone interested in seeing this important new specialist software for biological recording, the following events are available - free:

  • Aberdeen 2/12/00 Conoco Centre -

contact Andy Ferguson NESBReC, tel. 01224 273633

  • Jedburgh 17/12/00 Harestanes Visitor Centre -

contact Dan Watson, Scottish Borders BRC, tel. 01835-830-306

  • Kirkwall 18/1/01 Orkney College -

contact Ross Andrew, Orkney BRC, tel. 01856-875-127

  • Perth 24/1/01 Perth Museum -

contact Mark Simmons, Perth Museum BRC, tel. 01738-632488

All demonstrations will be carried out by Richard Weddle, Canto Information Ltd.

BRISC is organising the above events in cooperation with Local Record Centre managers throughout Scotland. It is essential to get in touch with the LRC of your choice to book a place in advance, as numbers may be limited. Entry is free, but bring own lunch, unless otherwise advised.

BRISC gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage and the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust, without which the above could not take place.

An outline of the R2K demo programme is as follows: (Richard Weddle and the LRC managers may have arranged a slightly different schedule)

Start about 10.30 with refreshments. Handouts describing the software and what it will do.

11.00 Introduction and demonstration of R2K on the big screen by RW. This will cover some background information including the NBN, special features of the new software, and how R2K differs from R3.3, followed by discussion.

13.00 Lunch-break. Some participants can have a go at using R2K themselves on the laptops.

14.00 RW outlines further developments, the possibility of add-ons; how to obtain R2K, costs, support level, any other questions about the software, training, etc.

c. 15.00 Further chance to try out software on the laptops.

16.00 Finish

 

A Biological Records Centre for Hampshire

A partnership-led Biological Records Centre (BRC) for Hampshire is at last nearing reality following the completion of a development plan by consultants Environmental Information Management. The plan was commissioned by Hampshire County Council, funded by a number of partners in the Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership, and overseen by a small advisory group comprising representatives from most sectors of the biological recording community.

The Plan documents the history of biological recording in Hampshire, the availability of data and how they are managed, the needs of key partner organisations and suppliers, and the benefits of working in a partnership. It then sets out the required functions and services of the Records Centre and examines various management and operational models, before putting forward a series of recommendations based on the option viewed by the advisory group as being the most appropriate for Hampshire. The main recommendation proposes that the Biological Records Centre should be hosted by Hampshire County Council and be developed from the existing Biological Record managed by the County Council. It will have its own name, logo and accounting system, and should have operational independence through a BRC Advisory/Management group comprising representatives of funding partners and data suppliers. The Advisory Group would be fully involved in all strategic aspects of the BRC operation and would oversee compliance with national standards and policies. It would not be involved in the day-to-day management of the BRC. The BRC would not be the sole manager of data in the County, but would be the focus for a network of data custodians which would see organisations such as the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Hampshire Ornithological Society and Hampshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation continue to manage their own database. These bodies could then pass non-sensitive copies of their data to the central database managed by the BRC on behalf of all partners.

The new BRC will be developed with a view to it becoming an accredited node within the National Biodiversity Network, and so will have to demonstrate its independence of action and impartiality, and subscribe to NBN principles on data access and exchange. The use of Recorder 2000 or a customised application based on the NBN data model should help overcome many of the current problems associated with data exchange. Due to the lead-in time needed for partner organisations to plan their yearly budgets, and the number of activities that need to take place in order to establish the LRC (including possible bidding for HLF funding), it is proposed that the BRC is established at the start of April 2002.

Nicky Court

Hampshire Biological Record, Environment Group, Hampshire County Council

 

Butterflies for the New Millennium - a record project

Thanks to the help of thousands of recorders and hundreds of organisations, the Butterflies for the New Millennium (BNM) survey has been a phenomenal success! BNM is now undoubtedly the most comprehensive survey of butterflies ever undertaken in Britain and Ireland, and has generated over 1.6 million butterfly records since 1995 (more than 10 times the total collected by the previous survey during the 1970s, and in under half the time).

ButtertlyNet, the project's network of local co-ordinators (representing Butterfly Conservation's local branches, local biological records centres and county wildlife trusts) has built partnerships with many conservation and land-management organisations, and has involved some 10,000 individual recorders. Almost half a million recording visits have been made, resulting in over 98% coverage of 10 km squares in both Britain and Ireland, a great improvement on the situation at the beginning of 1999. The final BNM coverage is considerably better than that achieved in the 1970-82 survey (92% and 86% of 10 km squares in Britain and Ireland respectively). Not only are the overall coverage figures extremely impressive, but the precision of the records gathered also represents a great improvement over the previous survey. Over 90% of BNM records can be pinpointed to a 1 km square and have a precise date, and most records also have information on the number of butterflies seen.

This amazing database has already yielded a wealth of new information about the distributions of our butterflies. The forthcoming Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland will highlight these results, together with information about changes in abundance (as measured by the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme), movements of migrants, phenology and recent ecological research. The new book will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2001 and will be an attractive, hardback book packed with high quality illustrations and a text which will, I hope, be worthy of the huge efforts that recorders and co-ordinators have made over the last 5 years.

It is clear from the survey results that many species are still declining fast, whilst others have shown dramatic and rapid expansions of range. This makes further recording and monitoring all the more important. The BNM survey has given us a detailed new baseline - a powerful tool with which to measure future changes both locally and nationally. We cannot conserve species unless we know where they are and the BNM survey has led to the discovery of many thousands of 'new' colonies of scarce and rare species. In under-recorded areas, the impact of increased survey effort has been astonishing. For example over 350 'new' 10 km squares (many in Scotland) have been recorded for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, by comparison with the 1970-82 survey, despite the species undergoing a clear decline in England. Previously unknown colonies of even the rarest species, such as the Heath and High Brown Fritillaries, have been discovered in the last few years. There is an undoubted need over large parts of Britain and Ireland for continued general survey work.

It is essential that recording continues, and that the enthusiasm and momentum of recorders is maintained. The new Atlas itself will hopefully spur even more people into recording butterflies, and all those involved with the collation of biological records should be ready to capitalise on the increasing interest.

Richard Fox,

Butterfly Conservation, PO Box 44, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5YA
Tel: 01929 400209
Email: rfox@butterfly-conservation.org

Spiders on the Web

Readers may or may not be aware that spiders have been inhabiting the Worldwide Web for several years. The British Arachnological Society (BAS) has a web site, and there is a very large resource of arachnological data at Arachnology. At the end of 1999, the BAS finished the fieldwork for their long awaited atlas. In Staffordshire, these data have been used to produce an online Millennium Atlas of the Spiders of Staffordshire. At present, all maps are available, but the accompanying text is still being produced. The production of an online atlas has a number of important advantages over traditional paper publishing:

  • Once the data is computerised, the published product can be produced very quickly.
  • The atlas can easily be kept up-to-date when new data is received.
  • The information is instantly available anywhere in the world.

Obviously there are a few drawbacks:

  • It doesn't make any money.
  • It doesn't look very good on the bookcase!

Spiders on the Web

With the ideals of the National Biodiversity Network, the easy access to distribution maps is very important, and an essential tool in the development of biodiversity action plans and other strategic documents.

The Atlas contains maps for just over 400 species found in Staffordshire, and accompanying notes for all species except for the money spiders (Linyphiidae). These are all readily accessible from an alphabetical index. The Checklist of Staffordshire Spiders, previously published by the Stoke-on-Trent City Museum (1991), has been updated and included within the atlas, together with notes on where and when to look for spiders. At the end of 2000, I am intending to review the Atlas, including all the records for spiders found during 2000 - this includes two new county records!

For the technically minded, the Atlas was produced from data exported from Recorder v3.3, and processed through MSAccess, with maps produced using DMap. For people wishing to develop an online atlas, please contact the author for further details.

Craig Slawson

EcoRecord, 28, Harborne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B1 5 3AA


Relevant Web-sites:

 

DragonflyIreland

Dragonflies and Damselflies are amongst the most beautiful insects in the lrish fauna. Their jewel-like colours, their speed and precision of flight and their watery environments always excite interest in the casual observer. Yet few people can identify them and even fewer are aware of just how little we know about them. Casual observations of these species are therefore of considerable importance.

The Dragonflylreland Project (2000-2003) is a partnership between the Ulster Museum, Environment & Heritage Service in Belfast, and Duchas The Heritage Service in Dublin. The broad aim of the project is to encourage recording of these species in Ireland. In the process of achieving this aim, Dragonflylreland will facilitate the demands of current amateur recorders, and perhaps, more importantly, awaken previously unknown interest. To achieve this, publicity material has been circulated and items have been published within local and national newspapers. Feedback to date, both from sponsoring bodies and the wider biological recording community, has been favourable.

The main instigators of the project are Brian Nelson of the Ulster Museum, who is coordinating the species accounts, and Robert Thompson, an amateur naturalist, who is coordinating the collation and computerisation of all dragonfly records for Ireland. Bernard Picton (Ulster Museum) and Christine Morrow have provided design and technical support.

The current public interface of the project is an attractive website. It has been constructed around 100 large and colourful images depicting the currently known lrish species. It contains a wide variety of information, most notably how to determine species. The male, female and larval forms of species are represented, and there is also helpful information on where to look for dragonflies and the seasonal spread of species.

The money that has been released by the current sponsoring bodies has been used to publicise the scheme, construct the website and to carry out a limited amount of fieldwork. Already, more than 11,000 historical records for these species have been stored on the Recorder database at the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) (Fig. 1). However, this figure does not include records that have been collected during Year 1. Once verified, these records will be stored on the database. Interestingly, three new species to Ireland were recorded within the last year. It is thought unlikely that these would have been noted without the emphasis provided by the project.

Year 1 has highlighted the need for more fieldwork, both for the collection of specimens and the requirement for photographs. These photographs will be used for the current website, and in the final publication. There is also a need for residential training courses and an All-Ireland field guide. Both of these requirements were stimulated by public demand.

Darnian McFerran
Records Centre Manager, CEDaR, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB
Figure 1.10km square distribution of Odonata records in Ireland.

Amphibian Records

In Newsletter 26 (May 2000), I suggested that it was in our collective interest to demonstrate we hold such a vast amount of biodiversity data that NBN must take us into serious consideration. I suggested that a pilot demonstration using our amphibian data should be carried out. The following organisations have responded to the questionnaire:

  • Suffolk Biological Records Centre
  • EcoRecord c10 Wildlife Trust, Birmingham
  • Bolton Museum

I can put together a report using the data sent in by these three LRC's but our case would be much stronger if we had your data also. If you were going to send it, but forgot to do so, then you have a second opportunity to have your information included. Look at p.17 of Newsletter 26 for details of the questionnaire and e-mail them to me today!

Bill Ely
Rotherham Biological Records Centre e-mail: bill.ely@rotherham.gov.uk

NBN Gateway Evaluation

JNCC recently announced the launch of its pilot Gateway to the NBN. This can be found at www.SearchNBN.net. They have also produced a leaflet to introduce potential users to the pilot and are requesting that a broad scale evaluation be undertaken on this pilot. The Wildlife Trusts have proposed that a co-ordinated evaluation be carried out through the Local Records Centre Project. This evaluation is being specifically targeted at LRC potential usage.

NFBR encourages all members to undertake their own, detailed evaluation of the Gateway. It is important that NFBR are kept informed of the opinions of those organisationslindividuals that decide to carry out an evaluation. It is also important, though, that everyone is encouraged to evaluate the Gateway with a view as to what they would like the Gateway to do for their potential use.

In undertaking an evaluation, please do not concentrate on what is wrong with the system as it appears at the minute!


Trevor James
Chairman, NFBR

 

Selection of screen images downloaded from the NBN pilot Gateway website

Estuarine & Coastal Sciences Association

Local Meeting 2001
MARINE BlODlVERSlTY IN IRELAND
AND ADJACENT WATERS

Ulster Museum, Belfast 26 & 27 April 2001
This meeting will be for two full days, and will focus (although not exclusively) on marine biodiversity around the coasts and shallow waters of the island of Ireland. There will be a field excursion for those interested, on Saturday morning (28th April) to the Strangford Lough MNR in Co. Down.

Provisional presentations include:
Michael Guiry The marine macroalgae of Ireland: biodiversity and distribution
Richard Hartnoll Eutrophication in the lrish Sea - a threat to biodiversity?
Brenda Healy Diversity in coastal lagoons
Jim Wilson The marine biodiversity of sediment shores
Andy Mackie & lvor Rees Benthic biodiversity in the southern lrish Sea
Jim Ellis Macrobenthic fauna of the Celtic Sea
James Bell Lough Hyne: a marine biodiversity hotspot?
Karin Dubsky Indicators of biodiversity in the intertidal - public participation in survey and historic records
Pippa Morrison Importance of marine protected areas in maintaining marine biodiversity
Mike Armstrong Fisheries and biodiversity in the lrish Sea
Stuart Rogers Fish diversity in the offshore waters of the east and south coasts of Ireland
Simon Berrow Cetacean soup: chowder or consomee?
Anthony Grehan Deep sea biodiversity in lrish waters
Dan Minchin Aliens biodiversity

Preliminary registration of interest in attendance, and submissions for papers and posters broadly within the above theme (including ecology, fisheries, aquaculture, biogeography, taxonomy, conservation, management etc.), should be sent to the organiser, Dr. Julia Nunn at the address below. It is hoped that all presentations will be published in a peer-reviewed Proceedings from this conference. Posters written up as short communications will also be incorporated.

Further information and registration forms with costs will be available before Christmas. However, it is anticipated that the conference fee will not exceed E50 for the two day meeting, and will include refreshments, Abstract Booklet and the Proceedings Publication.

Dr. Julia Nunn
Centre for Environmental Data & Recording, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB Tel: 028 90 3831 53. Fax: 028 90 3831 03.
E-mail: julia.nunn.um@nics.gov.uk