Newsletter 28

Newsletter 28

May 2001

Contents

Outgoing Chairman's thoughts

The Birmingham Conference and AGM for me summed up NFBR's activities over the five years since I became Chairman: busy, with important developments, and with me/NFBR just about keeping up with events! I must apologise for my finely timed arrival at the start of the Conference, for those who were there. We also had some last minute quick changes to the programme that turned out very well in the end. I hope everyone enjoyed the end product as much as I did.

One point came out of the Conference in particular which interested me - Patrick Cloughley's assurance on behalf of English Nature that EN were considering a systematic use of Local Records Centres for the management of their data, and that there was (some) money available to do so. It may not have looked to be much money, but the idea is there. Over the five years of gestation of the National Biodiversity Network, perhaps the greatest hurdle has been, and still is, the crystallisation of where LRC's fit into the picture and how. The Wildlife Trusts have led on this, and done great things in developing a more systematic consideration of what ought to be at the heart of LRC development. But there is much to do.

An important part of this, though, is the general understanding of just how the local networks of specialists, natural history societies, recording groups etc. work, and how this picture is changing, partly in response to NBN developments.

Twenty years ago, a lot of the energy and enthusiasm behind biological recording, especially of difficult species groups, was focussed around the activities of local museum biology units, many of which became the "local records centre". This "professional" input was often carried out as a side-line to more orthodox museum work, but was important because it focussed on data quality, the back up of records by voucher specimens and the linkage between local amateurs and a hidden network of museum and similar taxonomic specialists. Hardly any of this work was officially recognised, let alone specifically budgeted for.

Many Local Records Centres have developed out of this background, but there has been a parallel loss of many of the museum-type posts because their work has been seen as of low priority in the Museum profession, and especially by many local authorities. At the same time, the LRC's have raised their profiles, but often lack both the expert links and the scientific resources to ensure that their data are as scientifically valid as they could be. A way forward has often been to rely on local "experts" - sometimes the local representatives of national recording schemes. This is all very well, but the institutional support available from some Local Records Centres is not of the same calibre as that which was quietly provided by the museum natural history unit. Large reference collections, taxonomically trained staff, access to scientific libraries, links with national institutions, facilities for properly managed archives of historic manuscripts etc. were the norm.

The Local Authorities that sponsor LRC's also want their pound of flesh much more clearly delivered. There are business plans, performance targets, and, now, Best Value. Delivery of data may not be enough to secure LRCs' futures in the bleak world of "Community Benefit", no matter how LRC's re-package their roles in relation to the latest political concepts. So, for EN to flag up the potential role of LRC's as data managers could be a significant change of emphasis. It would represent an official recognition of the role of LRC's beyond their merely local remit, and their answerability to local sponsors' needs. We will need to see what EN might expect for its contribution. There would be a limit to how much could be expected of already over-stretched units to deliver "high quality data" on demand without a substantial increase in resources.

More importantly, though, we need to be aware of the potential impact of such official recognition on the local networks that ultimately underpin much of the real biological recording across the country. If the demands on an "officially recognised" LRC have the effect of undermining the LRC's remaining capacity to link with all those amateur groups which form the bedrock of real recording, then the victory would be pyrrhic. National Recording Schemes, that other major constituent of the NBN's expectations, would probably be one of the first to suffer, as the material, local support for their data gathering withers away.

This all shows the delicacy of the system that the NFBR has been trying to uphold since its inception. In developing officially recognised infrastructures, we must always be careful that we don't throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. So, when the NBN produces its "accreditation" scheme, and when EN sorts out its recommended Service Level Agreements with LRC's, we must ensure that volunteer support, data quality, links with taxonomic resources, etc. are written in there too. It may not appear to be very relevant to local authority sponsors, but without these things, there will be very little worthwhile data to record! As they say, garbage in equals garbage out.

Good luck to Bill Butcher for his sojourn in the hot seat. May all his conferences be relevant!

Trevor James
Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre

Incoming Chairman's thoughts

I take over the chairmanship of NFBR from Trevor James with some trepidation, but a great sense of honour. Under Trevor's leadership, the organisation has consolidated its position as the independent voice of biological recording in the UK, and has extended its influence at the heart of the emerging National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

I am fortunate to be elected at a time of considerable strengthening of NFBR Council through the recruitment of a number of enthusiastic new members. Council is also now very evenly distributed geographically, and has the potential to effectively tap into grass roots feeling in the recording community. Local Record Centre Managers are also beginning to meet regularly on a regional basis. Taking these two new trends together, Council has agreed to receive regional reports, covering both LRC and general recording activity at its meetings, and to include short regional reports in the Newsletter. We hope that you will find these useful new means of communication.

The new team would like to spend a short while reflecting on the role of NFBR and its potential for increasing effectiveness. NFBR's strengths include our independence, our historical contribution to the development of biological recording, our conferences, our inexpensive membership, our connections to the wider biological recording community of both professionals and volunteers, the strength and geographical breadth of Council and the extent of our influence within the NBN. The principal constraint is the lack of time of officers and members to take action on behalf of NFBR, distracted as we all are by more than full-time jobs. We need to find the most effective ways of applying NFBR's limited resources to achieve our objectives. I would be very pleased to hear members' views on the strengths and weaknesses of NFBR, and especially any positive ideas on new initiatives (somerc@iname.com). Council has discussed some ideas, and has set up a working group to initiate a special project. I will feed all comments received into that group.

2001 is already proving to be an interesting year for biological recording. Within the NBN, we have various significant developments. These include the development of the electronic Gateway, new DETR funding, the end of the Linking LRCs Project, the start of the National Schemes and Societies Project, the start of the South-West Pilot and, perhaps, at long last, the start of Heritage Lottery funding of LRC projects. In mid summer, we anticipate the consultation draft of the revised Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 9 on Nature Conservation, which could have very significant effects on our work. NFBR will, of course, be seeking to influence the outcome.

The publication of the Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland by Butterfly Conservation, launched at the Linnean Society on 24th April, seems to me to be a new landmark for biological recording of great significance. The atlas and the dataset behind it demonstrate what can be achieved when professionals and volunteers work together for a common purpose. The project draws on fourteen times as many records from 1995-1999 as were collected for the previous atlas covering the period 1970-82. Furthermore, the records are of far higher quality, in terms of geographical precision, date precision and measures of abundance. For these reasons, and also because most of the records were collected through locally organised groups and schemes, the data can be applied to local conservation action measures and the planning system as effectively as providing the national overview.

The comprehensiveness and quality of the data allows in depth scientific analysis and hard conclusions to be drawn about the state of butterflies, changes and reasons for change. While some positive messages emerge, the overall picture seems fairly grim, a reminder, if any were needed, of the urgency and importance of the work that we are all engaged in. If anyone needs convincing of the value of biological recording, just show them a copy of this magnificent work!

This has now been achieved for butterflies; birds are well covered and the plants atlas will be published in 2002. Can we achieve similar excellence for all other taxonomic groups over the next few decades?

Biological recording is also, of course, critically about habitats. I was not surprised to see that it is now officially recognised that the greatest needs for effective BAP implementation, apart from extra resources, are more research and survey, and better access to information. The review of progress for implementing Action Plans ("Sustaining the variety of life: 5 years of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan"; Report of the UK Biodiversity Group to the UK Government, March 2001) found that biological status was still unknown for over 70% of habitats. The generation of dynamic inventories for all priority BAP habitats is a major focus for the NBN South-West Pilot led by English Nature, 2001-2004, but there needs to be urgent action in this area across the UK. This report should strengthen arguments for resourcing this work.

As most of us contemplate the dreadful prospect of a whole spring without exploring a woodland, or even a whole summer without walking in the countryside, the long term effects of the Foot and Mouth Crisis on biological recording merit some consideration. Future data analyses will need to take account of the paucity of records from 2001. Late 2001 and 2002 could be a very busy period as funding programmes and projects with deadlines readjust. Will landowners' attitudes towards access for field survey change? Much depends, of course, on the outcome of the promised Great Debate on the future of the countryside. A silver lining of the crisis could well be the clarity with which the access ban has shown up the enormous value of an attractive countryside, including its biodiversity, to local economies. Whatever the outcome, we should ensure that critical decisions on the future of our countryside are made with the benefit of reliable information on our wildlife.

Bill Butcher, Chairman
Somerset Environmental Records Centre

Regional Updates

Wales: a LRC UPDATE

The first LRC in Wales, The Biodiversity Information Service for Powys and Brecon Beacons National Park (BIS), is now more than halfway through its establishment phase. Good progress has been made in establishing IT systems, building relationships with key organisations and individuals, and obtaining data sets. The establishment phase ends in November 2001, so efforts are now being focused on establishing Service Level Agreements with existing funders, and in meeting other potential users to promote the services that BIS will be offering. Additional funding from external sources is also being sought.

Elsewhere work is underway to establish LRCs in other parts of Wales:

Steve Lucas of The Wildlife Trust West Wales has produced a draft development plan for a potential LRC in West Wales, covering the former county of Dyfed (now Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire).

Discussions are underway on the possibility of establishing an LRC to cover the Glamorgan and Gwent areas of South Wales. Local BAPs in the twelve Unitary Authorities covering the area have provided the impetus and focus for LRC discussions through the Glamorgan and Greater Gwent Biodiversity Action Groups.

If you have any news on progress towards establishment of LRCs in Wales please contact:

Adam Rowe
Manager, The Biodiversity Information Service for Powys and Brecon. See Committee page for address.

The Yorkshire Naturalists' Union (YNU)

The Yorkshire Naturalists' Union (YNU) is one of many county natural history societies, located across Great Britain, often founded in the 19thCentury, which have concentrated on the scientific study of natural history and in some case archaeology. Many of these societies have been involved with the formation of museums throughout the country, although it is now rare for a society to operate a public museum as well. The Dorset County Museum, in Dorchester, is one example of a museum which is still operated by, in this instance, The Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society.

The County Conservation Trusts were formed in the 20th Century as a result of needing a charitable company organisation to hold land. The YNU is both a Federation of natural history societies of the historic county of Yorkshire, and a society of individual members who have an interest in the geology, plants and animals of the area. It holds both indoor and field meetings throughout the county. The Union is organised into sections, in the style of the British Association, to cater for naturalists with special interests that include: Mammals, Birds, Molluscs, Insects, Plants, Mosses, Fungi and Freshwater Ecology. A new section is presently being formed to deal with the historical aspects.

Whilst many members of the YNU are amateur naturalists, a number of members work professionally for statutory bodies, universities, museums or in consultancy. This mixture of interests and knowledge encourages all involved to develop skills in their chosen field. Members undertake individual studies on many aspects of natural history, and are encouraged to publish their results in the Union's publications.

Field meetings

Each year the Union organises five field meetings in different parts of Yorkshire. These are especially beneficial to an individual with a basic grounding in fieldwork and wishing to learn more. By working in the field with fellow naturalists, skills can be developed and identifications can be checked. Experience is gained of species and habitats not found nearer home. In addition, each section holds field meetings at places of particular interest to its own members, which assist landowners in conservation and land management by identifying important species. Following fieldwork, there is often an indoor meeting for verbal reports and records.

Principal indoor meetings

There are two important meetings held for members and guests. Each year, on the first Saturday in December, the Union holds its Annual General Meeting. This is the one formal business meeting of the year, when members are able to receive the Union's Annual Report and vote for officers. The sections nominate the President. Following the meeting, the retiring President gives an address on a significant aspect of Yorkshire's wildlife. The choice of topics is varied and wide ranging.

In recent years it has been the Union's practice to hold a Spring Conference. This usually concerns an aspect of natural history of topical importance. At the turn of the millennium, conferences were held on themes relevant to recording biodiversity and natural areas. The conferences are usually organised on the basis of four key speakers, followed by syndicate sessions or Poster Exhibitions and Conversazione. The Conference is usually held at the Swallow St George Hotel, Harrogate, on the last Saturday in February. The theme on February 23rd 2002 will be Monitoring Biodiversity at Mineral Extraction Sites. The cost will be around £14. It is attended by many of the amateur and professional naturalists working through the county and usually attracts an attendance of over 100.

Using the records gathered

The YNU through its recorders, members and publications supplies information and reports, to English Nature, other statutory bodies and to landowners and voluntary organisations involved in nature conservation, such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Our members support a number of local and national schemes, which record the county's rich and varied flora and fauna. The Union records on the Watsonian Vice County system and by 10km squares. Many of our members work closely with local record centres, especially in the south of the county. The Union employs no professional staff. The method of data collection is the responsibility of the individual. There is no formal organisation to the keeping of records. Some recorders use a computer database, whilst others use a card index. Yet others rely on their field notebooks. We do, however, have a code of conduct for our recorders and members, which reflects the charitable status of the Union. Union members have gathered a large amount of information, since 1861, but many of these records are only available to the public domain via our principal journals and books. For further information on the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union, please contact:

The Treasurer, Mr J.A. Newbould
Stonecroft, 3 Brookmead Close, Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth, DT3 6RS
Tel: 01305 837384 (a call minder service is available).
Email: janewbould@aol.com.

Report from South West Region

The seven South West local records centres (covering Gloucestershire, the Bristol Region, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) have been meeting regularly for a number of years now. These quarterly meetings allow us to share ideas and experience regarding all aspects of running a local record centre (LRC).

Our last meeting in February 2001 focussed on the proposed South West Pilot Project. This project is being led by English Nature, with the purpose of trialing the ideas of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) on a smaller, regional scale. The seven LRCS will be working together to obtain complete coverage of Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats in the South West using geographical information systems (GIS) to map the extent of each habitat and related species. This information can then be linked and exchanged, as proposed by the NBN. Other organisations, such as the Environment Agency, are also getting involved. The project is due to start in May 2001 and run for three years. We are also in the process of setting up an information technology group, to discuss the use of databases including Recorder 2000, GIS etc within LRCs. The first meeting of this group will be in May 2001.

Sarah Myles
Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall & Isles of Scilly

Spring 2001 Report from BRISC

"The collection and use of biodiversity data" was the subject of a conference held by BRISC (Biological Recording in Scotland) at Inverness Museum on Saturday 17th March. Various aspects of the topic were addressed, including presentations on the verification of records, how data can be accessed through the National Biodiversity Network, community involvement in data collection, recording bumblebees in Highland, and doing research on stranded cetaceans.

There was a lengthy discussion of "The needs for biodiversity data: the economics of collection and use". This took place as a question and answer session, with a panel consisting of Ross Andrew (Orkney Biological Records Centre), Duncan Bryden (Scottish Wildlife Trust), Andy Dorin (Highland Council), Hugh Morison (Scotch Whisky Association and Scottish Biodiversity Group), and Jeff Watson (Scottish Natural Heritage), and expertly chaired by Michael Scott (Plantlife)

Questions ranged from whether it is reasonable to expect volunteer recorders to hand over all their data to others for free, to the responsibilities of Government, national as well as local, in helping to fund biodiversity data collection and management. It was suggested as desirable to at least pay expenses to volunteer recorders, especially if they were expected to record away from home, and also provide other payoffs in kind, such as assistance or jointly produced products. It was generally thought that access to biodiversity data should be free for all, albeit at different levels of detail. However, raw data are often of little use, and the analysis required for making them useful needed professional expertise that should be paid for by the users.

The need for good biodiversity information was agreed to be essential for all decision making, and key players therefore needed to provide adequate financial support for a system that could deliver high quality data. The perennial under staffing and financial plight of many Local Records Centres figured largely in the discussion. A good LRC, which had the support of the local community, was considered by most of those present to be the best way to deliver high quality data. Partnership with business needed to be sought, but how? The idea that Government should shoulder some of the responsibility for costs was generally applauded, as Government ultimately requires data to fulfil its commitment to sustainable development and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, though that too could have drawbacks. These include having controls imposed over what data to collect and how. It was also held that local authorities and national conservation agencies both have a serious responsibility here, because they need data to carry out their statutory duties. Pump-priming by SNH had been used with some success but, as pointed out, a period of ten years would be more realistic than the present three years, because partnerships take a long time to build. There is little commercial value in biodiversity data - at least so far.

It was acknowledged that an LRC is a valuable local resource and as such needs the support of key partners. However, a good business plan for the LRC would be required. Towards this end, it was important for all interested parties, including the recording community, to come together and discuss possibilities. A fuller report has appeared in the BRISC Recorder News No 41 (April 2001).

Annual conferences also provide the occasion for our AGM, and this year a strategic document to guide activities over the next three years was the main item for discussion. The document had been posted out with a previous mailing inviting members' comments, and the amended version was presented for approval. The main proposals are to set up three sub-groups of BRISC, namely a Recording Group, a Computer Skills Group, and a LRC Group. It is anticipated that email or fora via BRISC's website will play a central role in communication and activities.

A date has already been fixed for the launch of the LRC group, which will meet on 17 May at Fife House. The Recording Group will kick off with a Scotland wide survey on bumblebees - in conjunction with BWARS, who will receive all the data in due course. Initially, all data collected should be submitted to the Local Record Centre. Only where there is no such Centre, should the data be sent to Murdo Macdonald, who is the Scottish organiser, or to BRISC who will forward all data to Murdo. An annual report will be produced and posted on the BRISC website at www.brisc.org.uk

Anne-Marie Smout,
Chair of BRISC

North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre

Readers may be aware that work has begun to establish a local record centre for North and East Yorkshire, after many years of hard work by English Nature, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, North Yorkshire County Council and others. The idea had been around for a while, but the story began seriously in 1995, when SERC were commissioned to produce a feasibility study. The North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Trust, under whose auspices the record centre will operate, was eventually established as a registered charity in 1999.

The Centre will be known as the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre (NEYEDC). The centre aims to improve the quality and quantity of information relating to wildlife and countryside in the region (the administrative areas of North Yorkshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston-upon-Hull and York), to make such information more accessible and to provide interpretation of the data. Funding for the initial establishment of the centre has been provided by English Nature, North Yorkshire County Council, York City Council, East Riding Council, Harrogate Borough Council, Ryedale District Council, North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Forward, Yorkshire Naturalists' Union and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

I was appointed in March 2000 to set up the Centre, and have spent much of my first year meeting clients and users across the region, raising funds and producing a development plan using both the information from this process and the NBN guidance. The development plan is complete, so now comes the hard bit! As yet we have very little data, have only just acquired Recorder 2000 and are intending to purchase a GIS over the next few weeks. Consequently, over the next few months I will need to focus carefully on our main priorities of acquiring and incorporating data, so that we can begin to offer services to our partners and securing serious funding. At present there is enough money to employ me until the end of the year, which tends to sharpen the mind somewhat!

We have managed to raise a small amount of money to purchase a second computer, and have taken on a volunteer to compile a metadata database, so we can gain some idea of what's out there before we start trying to take in data on a large scale. We have also been supplying copies of R2000 to many naturalists in the region. If anyone would like a copy of our development plan or our newsletters (four to date), or any other information, please contact me at the address below. I'm particularly keen to hear from any recorders in our region with whom I've not yet managed to make contact.

Lisa Kerslake,
Director, NEYEDC
St William's Foundation, 5 College St, York, YO1 7JF
Tel: 01904 557235
Email: lisa@neyedc.co.uk

NFBR on the Web

The NFBR is now on-line on the world wild web with a site of its own at WWW.NFBR.ORG.UK. The issue of the Federation lacking a web presence was raised at the last AGM, and in the resulting silence, I foolishly offered to help. A preliminary version of our site was prepared and tested last summer, and uploaded to our new domain last autumn. I intend that the NFBR site will eventually contain a number of pages, including membership and committee details, news of forthcoming events and seminars, together with an on-line version of the current newsletter, and past issues too. By the time you read this, much of that work will have been done. Other exciting material which you might eventually see includes annual reports and committee minutes - but this will come later, as it's possible to have too much of a good thing all at once!

Whilst I'm no great webmaster, I do hope NFBR members will visit the new site and that you like what you see. Of course, I welcome all practical suggestions for improvements or additions, and to receive reports of any problems in viewing the pages. Our site has been prepared using NetObjects Fusion Ver2.02. This has also been used for a work website at www.dbrc.freeserve.co.uk. It is quite simple and intuitive to use, and makes creating and updating a basic website a relatively simple task.

NFBR Committee members should be warned - I will be asking them to dig out a suitable photograph of themselves (recent and recognisable, please) which can be included with the committee details. It's all too easy to assume that everyone knows who's who at AGMs and conferences, but this is rarely the case. I hope no one will be embarrassed to do this, and will see it as a way of being more approachable to our membership. I also aim to include a list of institutional members and links to their web sites. Contact details for personal members will obviously only be included if you specifically authorise me to publish them, clearly specifying what details you are prepared for me to reveal. So, if you would like a link to your organisation, or for personal contact details to be included on a members page, please email me at under the subject header "NFBR Link" to nick@nmoyes.freeserve.co.uk.

Please include some or all of the following:

  • Organisation Name or Personal Name;
  • Organisation Address (or Personal Address);
  • Tel/Fax
  • Email;
  • Website URL;
  • Contact Name:
  • Summary 40-60 word summary of your organisation; website, or personal interests relating to biological recording.

Remember that personal phone numbers and addresses become available for all to see on the Web, so consider carefully what information you want made available.

Nick Moyes
Derbyshire BRC,
Derby Museum & Art Gallery, The Strand, Derby, DE1 1BS.

The Flora of Northern Ireland web site

The Flora of Northern Ireland web site has been developed within the Ulster Museum, under contract from the Environment and Heritage Service, to provide a way for the public to access some of the vascular plant data held at the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR).

The Flora of Northern Ireland web site is online with just over 300 species represented, providing species accounts, 10km distribution maps and, in most cases, images of the plants.

Work is now underway to increase the number of species represented on the web site to cover the majority of wild plants in Northern Ireland, provide an identification key and to make the site searchable by keywords. The URL is http://www.ulstermuseum.org.uk/flora

Fiona Maitland
Flora of Northern Ireland Web Site Co-ordinator
Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB
Tel: 028 9038 3118
Email: fiona.maitland.um@nics.gov.uk

DragonflyIreland - an update

We expect that the News page will be up and running in the next few weeks. As spring advances, dragonfly activity will resume, commencing with the larvae, which will move into shallow water prior to emergence. Last year saw some very early emergence dates, but that was after a mild winter. This winter has been the hardest for many years, with many lakes and ponds remaining frozen for several weeks, so early emergence dates are unlikely to be repeated. Whether any fieldwork will be possible will entirely depend on the Foot and Mouth situation. The advice of the relevant Government Departments (north and south) should be heeded.

Over the winter, a steady stream of cards have been received. The data from these have now been entered on our database, and we have updated our maps on all the species pages. We are aware that some records have not been forwarded to us on cards and consequently cannot be shown. If you have any outstanding records can you please send them in before the start of the next field season. We would also be pleased to receive any records from earlier years. Should you require any cards then please get in touch with one of us.

The following is a summary of highlights from the records. In total, records were received from 270 10km squares. This has been a magnificent start to the mapping project, and we wish to express our sincere thanks to all our recorders for their hard work. To set the first year in context, the land area of Ireland is covered by approximately 1000 10km squares, so coverage has been 27%. The previous Atlas (Merritt et al. 1992) received records from 676 10km squares, which is a target we would like to exceed. The cards contained 1,574 individual species records. These have been added to the 11,287 previous records.

Dragonf2.gif

Relatively even spread of coverage is noticeable, but one of the most encouraging aspects of the first year has been the extension of coverage into previously unrecorded areas. Limerick and north Kerry together was one of the biggest gaps, but this has been one of the best-covered areas so far. Some parts of the midlands still have surprisingly large gaps. The counties from Laois north to Monaghan should have many good dragonfly sites, and we are keen to get coverage extended through this area.

As well as increasing the general coverage, we need to address some key species. Last year the news was dominated by the finding of three new species. Now that the maps have been updated, we can see that there were interesting records for many of our established species. These are highlighted at the DragonflyIreland website: www.ulstermuseum/org.uk/cedar and click on the DragonflyIreland icon.

If you would like to participate in the scheme contact the DragonflyIreland co-ordinator:

Robert Thompson
8 Weaver's Court, Banbridge, Co. Down BT32 4RP
Email: rst@bann8.fsnet.co.uk

If you want to discuss specific issues about species and habitats contact:

Brian Nelson
Department of Zoology, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5ABEmail: brian.nelson.um@nics.gov.uk

If you have comments or corrections for this website contact: Christine Morrow Email: zoology.um@nics.gov.uk

DMAP Version 7.1

Version 7.1 of the DMAP for Wndows software package for distribution and coincidence mapping has recently been released. The new features added since the release of V7.0 include:

Frequency Mapping. This new facility displays a distribution map which show the number of records per Grid Reference or Grid Square. These frequencies are coded as Quantity Symbols, and a Key is automatically generated which relates these Symbols to the actual frequencies.

User-defined Symbol Priorities. In earlier versions of DMAP, the Symbol Priorities for duplicate records were fixed. In V7.1, users can, if they wish, modify these priorities.

Maps can be saved as GIF Image files for displaying on Internet Web Sites. In earlier versions of DMAP, maps for Web sites needed to be converted from BMP or WMF files to GIF or JPG format. V7.1 allows the saving of DMAP maps directly as GIF files, removing the need for any conversion.

UK PostCode interpretation. Within the UK, the location of species records can be given as PostCodes as an alternative to (or in addition to) Grid References. The Postcodes are automatically converted to Grid References by DMAP. This facility is available in all copies of V7.1, but it requires an additional database and associated linking software available from AFD Software Ltd. Further details about this are available on request.

For the British Isles maps supplied with DMAP, the co-ordinate display in the DMAP Status Bar can now be in alphanumeric format, displayed as British, Irish, or Channel Islands Grid References when the mouse is over these areas. Further details about implementing this are available on request.

DMAP and Recorder 2000Recorder 2000 provides two ways of producing distribution maps:

An in-built mapping tool, MapServer, which has some basic distribution mapping functionality.

DMAP support via a DMAP Data Export Module. This gives access to DMAP to provide some more advanced features for species and biotope mapping, including Distribution Mapping, Quantity Mapping, Frequency Mapping, Coincidence Mapping, Multispecies Mapping, Biodiversity Mapping, and a variety of ways of getting publication quality maps into documents, reports, and biological atlas publications. The DMAP Export Module is able to export data to DMAP for a single species, a group of species, or all species in the database.

DMAP itself is not supplied with Recorder 2000, but the DMAP Export Module is supplied as part of the Recorder 2000 package. Recorder users who already have DMAP can continue to use their version of DMAP or can, if they wish, upgrade to the latest version of DMAP. Recorder users who do not have DMAP can obtain it via the contact information given at the end of this article.

A Web page specifically for people who are interested in using DMAP with Recorder 2000 has now been set up on the DMAP Web site, and can be accessed by following the links: How to... Use DMAP with Recorder 2000, or, http://www.dmap.co.uk/rec2000.htm.

This page will be updated periodically and it contains useful information including any DMAP-related add-ons available from Recorder 2000 resellers, like the one already described there for advanced distribution mapping from Thurner Automation.

Dr Alan Morton,
Blackthorn Cottage, Chawridge Lane, Winkfield, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 4QR.
Tel: 01344 883929. Email: info@dmap.co.uk
For further information about DMAP, visit the Web Site: www.dmap.co.uk

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey - the story so far

Since 1994, a vast army of voluntary fieldworkers have been setting their alarm clocks for dawn in order to get up and out into the countryside counting birds. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and joint funded by BTO, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). It was set up to monitor the population trends of common and widespread breeding birds. The quick and simple methodology has enabled over 2300 people to take part. Now, following seven years of fieldwork, we are starting to see some interesting trends developing. With a successful survey framework in place, a simple mammal-recording sheet was added in 1995. With 85% of all fieldworkers completing the form, some useful mammal data has been collected.

How the survey works

All survey plots (1x1km squares) are chosen at random by computer to ensure that there is no bias in the areas and habitats surveyed. Each surveyor then has to visit the plot on three occasions, once to work out two 1km routes across the square and record the habitat, then two further visits between April to June to count the birds and mammals. Coverage of squares is organised by the BTO Regional Network who liase with local fieldworkers and organise the distribution and collection of forms. Each completed set of survey forms is then sent away to be input ready for analysis the following spring. The resulting annual report is then sent out to all participants.

As each new year is added to the dataset, the more we are able to do with the data collected. Since all the data are coded by county, species and habitat type, it is relatively easy to analyse results from different geographical areas or habitats. The most recent BBS Annual Report details the results from 1994 to 1999, and includes breakdowns of the data for the UK and all constituent countries. We have also published regional results for England.

The survey has proved popular, and there are now around 2300 1km squares covered annually. With this level of coverage, we are able to monitor around 100 species of bird with a sufficient degree of accuracy.

Results - birds

The results from the BBS backed up the findings of the long-running Common Birds Census (CBC), with the biggest declines occurring in farmland specialists. Birds such as Grey Partridge, Skylark and Corn Bunting continue to do badly with significant declines in the UK. There are also worrying signs that even familiar species such as Starling and House Sparrow are declining. Results from other parts of the country show that, almost without exception, these declines are widespread. There are interesting exceptions, however, such as House Sparrow - actually increasing significantly in Wales. Our regional analyses of England show Starling to be decreasing in all regions except the East Midlands, where it is increasing significantly! Identifying declines in common birds is very important in order to prioritise conservation action. Geographical variations in results are also very interesting, and may provide vital clues to some of the problems that our breeding birds are facing.

Mammals

The mammal recording within the BBS was very much an add-on to the bird survey. It has, however, proved to be very popular with our fieldworkers. In fact, mammal recording was introduced following fieldworker suggestions. In 1995, with advice from the Mammal Society, we introduced a mammal-recording sheet. Since the main focus of the BBS is birds, we were keen not to add in any element, which would detract from the bird monitoring. We also realised that the habits of most mammals would mean that they are unlikely to be seen at all. There are however, several species (mainly the larger mammals) which can be seen easily. In addition, we ask observers to note signs of mammals (e.g. Moles and Badgers are unlikely to be seen but their signs are often very obvious). Observers may also have knowledge of a mammal's presence from previous sightings or from other observers. In order to keep the mammal element simple, observers are just asked for the total number of each species for the early and late visit.

Results Mammals

Around 85% of all BBS participants completed a mammal survey. So far only a limited amount of analysis has been carried out on these data, but some work has been carried out to see what sort of results we can expect in the future.

Looking at the most recent set of results for 1999, only 9% of surveys recorded no mammals but in the remaining 91%, forty species were recorded. These range from common species like Rabbit and Grey Squirrel to rarer species like Common Dormouse and Leisler's Bat. It will come as no great surprise to see that Rabbit was by far the commonest mammal recorded in 71% of surveyed squares. The next four commonest mammals were Grey Squirrel (36%), Red Fox (34%), Brown Hare (34%) and Mole (25%).

Although mammal monitoring in the UK isn't undertaken at the same scale as bird monitoring, there have been recent efforts to co-ordinate mammal surveys by a partnership of interested conservation organisations. This partnership is setting out to identify priority species for monitoring, and assess species coverage using different methodologies. The BBS mammal survey was identified as a good source of data for easily seen mammals. Good news indeed!

Taking part

A project such as the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is only possible because of the large number of volunteer fieldworkers able to take part. The success of the scheme depends on high-level survey coverage. Currently there are over 2300 1x1km squares covered, but it is vital that we maintain this level of coverage. In most areas of the UK, we have reached optimum coverage but there are still some areas where we need more volunteers. In Northern Ireland we have around 100 squares covered, but 25-30 of these are covered by a professional fieldworker funded by the Environment and Heritage Service. We are very keen to find volunteers for these squares since the funding for this fieldwork cannot be guaranteed indefinitely. If you have a short amount of time to spare each year and would like to take part in this important survey or would like some more information, please contact the BBS National Organiser:

Richard Bashford
BBS National Organiser, British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU.
Tel: 01842-750050. Fax 01842-750030 Email: Richard.Bashford@bto.org

A Handbook for Biological Recorders

A manual for recording plants, animals and their habitats in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Edited by Mary Atkinson, Ian Bennallick, David Holyoak, Derek Lord & Paul McCartney

The Handbook for Biological Recorders is a new publication resulting from a collaboration between the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Federation of Biological Recorders (CISFBR) and the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS). The aim of this Handbook is to promote and assist biological recording in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - by stimulating recording; passing on existing experience of surveying techniques; and to encourage standardised record gathering for the various taxonomic groups. It begins with some introductory sections about recording, introducing the reader to the general standards that are expected in recording. For example, there are sections on what and how to record, and what you should do with records once you have collected them.

The majority of the Handbook deals with individual plant and animal groups, with each section having been written by a relevant expert. The species groups covered include vascular plants, lichens, bryophytes, fish, birds and mammals, together with a wide range of invertebrates. The last seven sections deal with various aspects of marine recording covering such groups as sponges, molluscs, marine fish, cetaceans and seals.

It has been designed as a loose-leaf format held within an A4 folder, to allow for the possibility of inserting section updates or new sections.

The Handbook is available from the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at £12.00 each (plus £4.70 postage and packing) or £10.00 to CISFBR members (again plus postage and packing).

Sarah Myles
ERCCIS Manager, Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Five Acres, Allet, Truro, Cornwall TR4 9DJ.
Tel: 01872 240777

NBN - Information Day

The NBN Trust was invited to give a presentation of its work to a distinguished audience at Stormont, Belfast on 21 March 2001. The Minister for the Environment in Northern Ireland, Mr. Sam Foster MLA, found half a day within his busy schedule to host the presentation, and was very supportive of the NBN's development within the Province.

Following the address to the meeting by the Minister, and our Chairman's resume of the NBN today, the audience received presentations on the developing NBN, the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) run by the Ulster Museum, and Dragonfly Ireland (visit: www.ulstermuseum.org.uk/cedar/). In the afternoon, the NBN Trust gave demonstrations on the Gateway, the Species Dictionary and Recorder 2000. Our thanks go to the Environment Heritage Service (DoE (NI)) and Ulster Museum staff who organised the venue, agenda and domestic arrangements, as well as to those who gave talks. The Trust's thanks also go to Stuart Ball (JNCC), Steve Wilkinson (JNCC), Dorian Moss (NERC) and Neil Caithness (NHM) who supported Sir John Burnett and James Munford in presenting the NBN Trust to Northern Ireland.

NBN Trust Secretariat

Charity Commission News

Conservation of the Environment

The Charity Commission has formally recognised conservation of the environment as a charitable purpose in its own right. In the past this recognition has only been via informal advice. The news will clarify the position as many charities supporting environmental aims have used other aims such as education and/ or publication of research to achieve this status. For those record centres and societies who have charitable status, could I draw your attention to an article in NGO Finance (February 2001) which states that trustees are not doing their job properly if they don't recognise and protect their charity's intellectual property rights. These intellectual property rights are intangible assets, but databases of biological records can have an economical value. Trustees and staff are cautioned to ensure that such assets are used appropriately and protected. This summary only covers a small section of the problems that may be encountered and careful reading of the article is essential.

Charities carrying out, funding or commissioning research

In December 2000, the Charity Commission published a draft paper on the above subject. It can be downloaded from the Charity Commission web site charity-commission.gov.uk. The paper gives some useful guidance on principles that are to be adopted to ensure value for money. For those organisations that sell the results of research as a trade, guidance is given on forming a trading company. There is also a definition of private gain. The notes are useful for any organisation collecting biological records in the public domain whether a charity or not.

John Newbould
Stonecroft, 3 Brookmead Close, Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth DT3 6RS janewbould@aol.com