Newsletter 29

Newsletter 29

October 2001


Contents

Chairman's thoughts

Local Authority Resources for LRCs

Finding the resources to establish and maintain Local Records Centres capable of delivering high quality services to users has been a challenge for many NFBR members for years. Local authorities represent the major user group that in theory should be able to fund the bulk of core costs, but understanding of information needs and levels of commitment are hugely variable among local authorities across the UK. Although local government has the backing of empowering legislation the lack of clear statutory duties has resulted in differing levels of service and different local policies and priorities being applied by individual authorities. However new duties, government policies and audit requirements, all underlined by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan process, have encouraged the clarification of the biodiversity needs of local communities and the necessary responsibilities of local government in pursuing and delivering Government policy.

A significant part of the problem has been that local authority spending on biodiversity has never been explicitly included in the Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) used by government to determine resource needs of local authorities. It is therefore an encouraging development that the Local Government Association (LGA) has asked the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) to make a costed case for biodiversity spending that can potentially be included in the LGA's bid to government for the 2003-2006 spending review for England and Wales. NFBR has been very pleased to work with ALGE on developing this case, including Local Records Centres alongside other biodiversity work such as the provision of ecological advice, management of Local Nature Reserves, Local Wildlife Sites advisory systems and contributions to the preparation and implementation of local Biodiversity Action Plans.

The paper divides the resource needs of LRCs into one-off establishment costs, including development of existing small LRCs where required, and ongoing and maintenance costs. Using work recently completed by the Linking LRCs Project, including assumptions of 40 LRCs in England and Wales normally based on counties or large metropolitan areas, one-off establishment and development costs were estimated at £1.65 million. Ongoing costs were estimated at £4.4 million per annum. The development of baseline habitat surveys is also listed under required LRC resources. These were estimated at £5 million per annum for three years reducing to £2.5 million per annum thereafter. Requirements for re-survey of local Wildlife Sites, which in many cases would be undertaken by Local Records Centres, was estimated at a further £0.8 million.

The total package of biodiversity spending needs is assessed by ALGE as £35 million per annum, a sum considered to be around four times current expenditure in this area. Of course the LGA bid may well get reduced through competition with other spending priorities and there is absolutely no guarantee that the bid will be accepted by government. Nevertheless the fact that the process is happening at all must be positive. ALGE, who stress that the paper is somewhat hastily prepared and often based on sketchy information, would welcome comments and suggestions for refinement.

Bill Butcher
Somerset Environmental Records Centre

National Biodiversity Network (NBN) News

Running a Local Record Centre

The long awaited guidance on Running a LRC has now been published by the Linking LRCs project. The guidance has been developed throughout the work of the Linking LRCs project, in particular the work of nine demonstration LRCs, The good practice they have developed and documented forms the basis of much of the guidance that is given. Workshops have also been used to allow participants to discuss the issues, with a view to reaching a consensus on best practice on a national level.

The guidance is made up of two volumes: Volume 1: Business Management and Volume 2: Biodiversity Information Management Systems. The volume on Business Management considers how to run an LRC as a small business, covering planning, measuring performance, links with Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) and Wildlife Sites, developing relationships with users of the LRC, and managing staff and volunteers. The second volume, Biodiversity Information Management Systems, provides guidance on developing policies and procedures for the full range of an LRCs work. It also advises on IT systems.

Several of the subjects discussed in the handbook are reliant on ongoing work being carried out as part of the development of the NBN and will no doubt evolve. However, it provides valuable guidance to new LRCs and to existing LRCs looking to develop further. The guidance given in this handbook needs to be regularly reviewed, and updates will be produced as necessary, particularly when developments within the NBN result in improved guidance or new standards being available.

This handbook is primarily aimed at people working in LRCs. It should be a source of information not only for LRC managers but also for other members of staff, such as IT officers and biological recording officers. However, it will also be useful to members of staff from organisations who work closely with LRCs and who wish to gain a better understanding of the work of an LRC. Copies of the two complementary volumes have been sent to all LRCs, Wildlife Trusts and local teams of the statutory conservation agencies.

Further copies can be purchased from The Wildlife Trusts' UK office for £30 including postage.

The development of an NBN Gateway how will LRCs fit in?

The development of the NBN has been based on an assumption that there would be some degree of internet access to the data held by different data custodians working as part of the network, including LRCs. However there has not yet been a clear evaluation of the needs for internet access, whose needs it might service and how the roles of different types of data custodians would link into internet provision of data. Effectively what is lacking is a business case for providing internet access to data that is integrated with the business case for the development of different data custodians especially LRCs and national schemes and societies.

While it might be seen as a failing of the NBN not to have completed such work at the outset there are valid reasons for letting this evolve alongside other development work. What is possible through the internet has progressed rapidly, even during the short period that work on developing the NBN has been underway. However people's ability to understand and visualise the possibilities have moved at a slightly slower pace. Discussion on these issues is usually constrained by our current ways of working not allowing us to perceive a new way of working. The development of a prototype NBN Gateway and index have helped considerably with this thinking by giving real examples to facilitate discussion (see www.searchnbn.net).

Considering this issue from the perspective of LRCs, it is important to note that much progress has been made over the recent years towards developing both a model for LRCs as service providers to local organisations and in building local partnerships to develop and run LRCs. It is widely perceived, by LRCs and their partners at a local level, that the need for the NBN Gateway is being driven by organisations who have a national or UK remit, and generally need high level strategic data, based on an assumption that LRCs would be willing to make their data widely available through the Gateway. It appears that relatively little consideration has been given to benefits that an NBN Gateway might accrue to local users, such as local authority ecologists and planners or local staff in statutory conservation agencies and national schemes, proposals for how large organisations with a national and local remit (such as statutory conservation agencies, environment agencies) might chose to manage and use data in the future to develop a business. A high priority must be to undertake market research into the needs and preferred ways of working within a wide range of potential users of the Gateway.

This must then be brought together with the proposed model for LRCs case which should drive the future development of the Gateway. It will then determine what type of access is needed and how this should be resourced. If this is successful it should increase the business case for a range of data custodians by supporting their role, both in terms of demand and in terms of resourcing.

Once this work is completed policies and procedures must be developed to ensure that any internet access to the data held by NBN data custodians is properly controlled, and systems for presenting data or information products are developed to meet users' specified needs. An assumption is made here that NBN will have developed access terms, which include definitions of sensitive data and processes for controlling access to these, that are widely supported and adopted.

These issues are explored more widely in a report The NBN Gateway and LRCs - how can they complement each other? (June 2001) which is available from The Wildlife Trusts' UK office.

Exploring the link between LRCs & The NBN Gateway

The Wildlife Trusts will be leading a new project "LRCs & the NBN Gateway" over the coming months. Funded by DEFRA through the NBN Trust, the project will operate in parallel with other work to explore and develop and NBN Gateway. The project will also work closely with English Nature's NBN project in south west England building on work carried out to date and providing a rapid evaluation of processes for use by the south west England LRCs.

The project is devised to further evaluate the relationship between LRCs and the proposed of the NBN Gateway. The aim is to evaluate:

  • the needs of LRCs that might be met through a NBN Gateway
  • the needs of LRCs core users' that might be met - through an NBN Gateway
  • technical solutions to linking LRCs to the NBN Gateway
  • how the NBN Index can be used to promote LRCs products and services

The project relies on a suite of LRCs working in partnership with the project. Their role will be to evaluate and test using both the NBN Index and Gateway as means of providing access to their data. It is essential that this is seen as a partnership project, while the project will provide some resources for the LRCs to carry out some of the required work, for example, catalogue their data, the LRCs must seen using the NBN Index and Gateway as a potential solution to meet their own needs for the evaluation to be effective. Six LRCs will be asked to identify data-sets that can be indexed.

The LRCs will document the data for their own use as well as the selected data-sets will be included in the NBN Index to promote the availability of these data. The LRCs will monitor any requests for data generated through the Index or any requests that could have been handled by users using the Index. The process of documenting data and making it available to the index will be documented for other LRCs. Three of the LRCs will identify a number of data-sets that will be made available through the NBN Gateway. The data will be available alongside other data in generic products but will also be directly accessible to core users of the LRCs. This project will assess how LRC can use the Gateway to deliver data to users as well as addressing issues such as security.

The business case for the NBN Gateway needs to be developed alongside consideration of the business case for the data custodians it will rely on. The 6 LRCs involved in this project and other LRCs and their core users will need to define how they wish to work with the Gateway and means of resourcing both the Gateway and data custodians needs to be developed. The six LRCs will come from outside English Nature's south west England pilot area to maximise the number of LRCs involved in the development of the NBN. These LRCs will work closely with the project officer, Alan Cameron. If you would like to know more about the project or would like to be one of the six LRCs involved directly then get in touch with Alan. He will be working from The Wildlife Trusts' UK office in Newark and can be contacted on: acameron@wildlife-trusts.cix.co.uk.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Update

This is really an update since my article in the December 2000 newsletter regarding HLF, but also really a message to everyone to enter into discussion with HLF regarding funding LRCs. In theory HLF will now accept applications from LRCs, however the response you get may vary considerably from region to region. HLF are still looking at preparing internal guidance on working on NBN related projects which once available might help make progress easier as your local HLF contacts may be better briefed to work with you.

They have not revised their grants programme to remove the restriction on revenue projects being no larger than £100,000 and it is very difficult to predict when this might change. This leaves you in a quandary as to whether to apply now for smaller grants or to and wait to see if a scheme is introduced which might allow you to apply for a larger grant. This is a very difficult judgement call that you will have to make according to your own circumstances. HLF have, however, launched "Your Heritage", a scheme for grants of £5,000-50,000 for projects of up to £100,000. This is supposed to be a simplified method of applying for money, with a shorter form and quicker assessment times - time will tell if this is the case. The scheme may be of use to LRCs wishing to make more modest applications, without all the usual hassle of the larger forms. It might also be suitable for applying for grants to help with building partnership and preparing development plans.

I would encourage you to talk to your local HLF staff as early as possible to get their support, but remember to be clever in presenting your ideas to them. They want to hear about engaging volunteers and increasing the audience for data, not data management issues. Collating and managing data is the supporting work enabling these other activities to happen. We have clearly been told by HLF that they will only fund data management work as part of a wider project.

It would be helpful if the NBN Trust was kept informed of either plans to submit applications to HLF or progress with applications, hopefully we can share intelligence both on successes and problems. Please keep Rosie Garwood, NBN Trust Business Development Manager, up to date, perhaps with a copy of your outline proposal or pre-application form. Rosie can be contacted on rosie.garwood@btclick.com.

Sarah Hawkswell
Wildlife Trusts

Database and Atlas of Freshwater Fishes (DAFF)

Introduction

Freshwater and migratory fishes are the only vertebrate group for which there is not an up-to-date collated source of information on the distribution of species in the UK. Currently 10 British native freshwater and migratory fish are listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One, (Acipenser sturio, the Sturgeon) is ranked 'Critically Endangered' and is believed extinct in the UK. Three species are listed as 'near threatened' while the remainder are data deficient, highlighting the need for collated information. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Biodiversity: the UK Steering Group Report, London, HMSO, 1995), using a combination of national and international criteria, has 18 identified freshwater and migratory fish species for special attention. Information on the present status and changes in the distribution of these listed species, as well as of more common species, is therefore of great interest to many different groups of people such as those with legal obligations, conservationists, naturalists and anglers. The most recent distribution data were published by Peter Maitland in 1972 (Key to British Freshwater Fishes. FBA publ. no.27. 1972). The DAFF project was set up in order to provide a much-needed up-to-date collated information source on the distribution of all freshwater and estuarine fish species for the UK.

History of the project

In 1995/96 a feasibility study on the preparation of a national data set and Atlas of freshwater fishes was carried out by staff at the national Biological Records Centre (BRC), Monks Wood, and the Institute of Freshwater Ecology. The study concentrated on the potential for collating relevant data from existing data sets and making greater use of these data.

The study concluded that it would be practicable to compile a national summary database and prepare an Atlas, given the willingness of the potential sources of data to contribute at least summary records and sufficient resources to carry out the work over a period of 3 to 5 years. It was agreed that the project would not initiate new surveys of freshwater fishes, but would draw instead upon existing, dispersed data sets. The aim would be to collate a minimum set of data to answer a limited range of questions about where and when freshwater fishes have been recorded in the UK. Funding was obtained for the project, and after a period of time spent locating and obtaining suitable data sources, data collation began in earnest in 1998 and is currently nearing completion. Given the coverage achieved by Maitland in 1972 and the amount of survey work done since then, it is not unreasonable to expect that coverage obtained by the completed DAFF project will be at least as good as that achieved for other 'popular' groups.

The project is funded by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Environment Agency until March 2002 when the final report will be prepared. It is hoped the data collation phase will be complete by mid-2001, leaving adequate time for validation, mapping and analysis of the data.

Data sources and fields

BRC is collating existing sets of data rather than individual records. For rare or alien species, however, individual records will also be included as long as they meet minimum data criteria. The Environment Agency is making available for inclusion all survey data and as such have provided the bulk of the records for England and Wales. Other major data suppliers are the Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Fisheries Co-ordination Centre, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and Peter Maitland. Water Companies, Universities, Museums and private individuals are among the other contributors.

For records to be included in the DAFF database, a certain minimum standard of data is required. Species name, grid reference, locality (water body name and / or location name) and date (at least year) are the minimum requirements. As records must be validated rather than anecdotal, the name and address of the person or organisation who supplied the information and confirmed the identity of the species is also essential. Most data points are identified to 0.1km square, but the facility exists to collate data where the resolution is to 10km square only.

Population data are included within many of the data sets supplied, as is information about the habitat. Where possible these data are included in the database. There is also a wide range and variety of associated environmental data held by potential contributors of distribution data which are not being collated as part of the DAFF project, but a summary index to relevant data (a form of metadata) is being compiled as each contributing source of distribution data is examined.

Database content

The database currently holds in excess of 23,5000 records for approximately 70 taxa. The majority of records are identified to species level, but some records for subspecies and hybrids are included. In addition, some records are to genus only where a specific identification has not been possible or was not required for the original purpose of the survey. For example, larval lamprey species are often not separated.

There is a good spread of historical data from the 17th Century through to the year 2000, although the bulk is for the 20th Century. The earliest records held in the database are for Chub (Leuciscus cephalus) and Eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Sheffield District in 1637. All the data used to produce the maps published by Maitland in 1972 will be included so that data can be 'time-sliced' to examine changes in distribution over time. The most commonly recorded species in the database (greatest first) are:-

Trout (Salmo trutta), European Eel (Anguilla anguilla), Roach (Rutilus rutilus), Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Perch (Perca fluviatilis), Pike (Esox lucius), Dace (Leuciscus leuciscus), Gudgeon (Gobio gobio), Bullhead (Cottus gobio), and Stone loach (Barbatula barbatula).

Publication of atlas and database

The project is working towards the publication of a book containing a set of distribution maps with associated text and colour photographs. The main thrust of the book is likely to centre on current distribution of species, interpretation of the data and analysis of changes in distribution. Negotiations with commercial publishers are in progress based on a detailed synopsis and some example text produced by the project team. The project will also produce a digital database to provide a coherent national summary with an associated data catalogue. This will probably be managed by BRC as a National Custodian in the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). The NBN will also provide opportunities to link in to data sets owned and managed by other organisations. Updating and maintaining the national DAFF summary data set would become that much simpler if it forms a constituent part of the NBN. Interactive mapping can be carried out and other digital data sources can be linked through the NBN Gateway while maintaining the level of confidentiality required by individual contributors.

Cynthia Davies BSc MSc CBiol MIBiol
CEH Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambs. PE28 2LS
Tel: 01487 772409 Fax: 01487 773467 E-mail cd@ceh.ac.uk
For further information, visit the following Web links:

Access and Accreditation for the NBN

The access and accreditation projects are working to develop part of an overall data quality framework being built by the National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBNT). The aim of this quality framework is to raise technical and operational standards in the collection, collation, management and dissemination of wildlife data to be made available through the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBNT) is a partnership of local and national custodians of wildlife information working together to deliver wide and ready access to this information within an agreed framework of operating standards. The product of this work will be the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). By making wildlife information more widely and readily available through the NBN, the NBNT partnership hopes to facilitate more informed decision-making at all levels, and in all sectors, of the UK. This is the objective, but in order to make this happen the NBNT must overcome a number of practical and technical problems.

There are a huge number of different organisations and individuals that collect, collate, manage and disseminate information about wildlife in the UK. These organisations and individuals differ in size, resource, operation, expertise and motive. Some have built themselves reputable status as a source of useful and reliable data, whereas others are less known and understood. These differences influence the manner in which each collect, manage and disseminate data. Some may collect detailed records of species identification, location, and time, and may include details about the methodology used to compile the dataset. Others may only be able to provide a list of species spotted in an area over the last six months. Some custodians may use extensive verification and validation processes, whereas others may not. One custodian may make their data freely available, whilst others restrict or charge heavily for their use. Some custodians may deliver datasets in widely compatible electronic formats, some may use less compatible systems, and others may only provide paper records. The perceived and actual quality of data available and its usability can differ greatly between various custodians.

The NBNT is working to unite this diversity of organisations in common agreement over generic aspects of best practice in wildlife data collection, custodianship and dissemination. These generic aspects are being identified to help form a framework of common principles and operational standards for custodians partaking in the NBN to work to. It is hoped that these common principles and standards will help the NBN partnership deliver data that is widely compatible and serviceable. It is important that users are able to determine the quality and suitability of data in regard to its intended use.

In working to deliver the above, the NBNT has already identified seven high-level principles by which biodiversity data should ideally be exchange from collector, to custodian, to end user, within the NBN. These seven generic principles are intended to represent sound practice in the exchange of biodiversity information, such as the inclusion of metadata, regulated release and legal compliance. All data custodians wishing to contribute to the NBN will be asked to commit to these seven principles which are available on the NBN website (www.nbn.org.uk). These principles are currently being packaged as the Version One Access Terms of the NBN and are to undergo practical testing in various trials about the UK.

The principles of data exchange are broad high-level ideologies. Their practical application will be left largely to the discretion of individual recorders and custodians. However, there remains a need to clearly show which custodians provide datasets of a reliable quality. The method that has been selected to achieve this is accreditation. NBN accreditation is being developed to assess the quality of data management employed by any data custodian making their data available through the NBN. Accreditation will not be compulsory, however it is hoped that the associated benefits will encourage most to undertake assessment. Accreditation will be used to encourage the uptake of standards and provide a basis upon which data providers and users can found trust in a custodian. Accreditation will enable some level of comparison between data users.

The Linking LRC Project, run by the Wildlife Trusts, has proposed a prototype accreditation system for the Local Record Centre (LRC) sector. The project has identified a series of scaled criteria that gradually focus down through three levels, from generic aspects of data management, to those specific to LRC operation. The system is intended to be flexible and adaptable for use by other types of custodian. The approach focuses upon aspects of data management rather than the datasets themselves. It is believed that in this way trained assessors will be able to gain an accurate indication of the quality of data being held. Data from an accredited custodian will be Kite-marked. The process of developing operational standards for data custodians is a long-term and evolving one. Provisional standards have been identified by various NBN projects and these have provided a basis for the development of the proposed accreditation approach. It is important to be clear about the purpose of both access and accreditation and how the various data custodians are to benefit from them.

The next phase of development will be one of practical trial and targeted consultation. The Version One Access Terms of the NBN are to be practically tested in trials around the UK, including the southwest trial being organised by English Nature. In addition to these practical trials there is likely to be a phase of targeted consultation. The proposed accreditation system is likely to advance more slowly as the problems posed by organisational diversity are likely to take time to resolve. The NBN does not wish to exclude anyone from the accreditation process. The first step will be to investigate and consult on the proposed generic criteria to be the focus of accreditation for all types of custodian. The NBNT needs to determine whether they are truly generic and applicable to all types of custodian likely to supply data to the NBN. Work is likely to be carried out with individual organisations to identify any potential problems and pitfalls. The process will be long and arduous, but the potential rewards are great.

Oliver Grafton
Access & Accreditation Projects Officer, NBNT

Regional Reports

News from BRISC

BRISC has made the important decision of trying to recruit a Development Officer. Over the last couple of months we have been struggling with an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a revenue grant toward a three year post, to be submitted end of June. We have already obtained a promise of matching funding from Scottish Natural Heritage, as well as an offer of assistance from St Andrews University Biology Department to manage the grant for us, and we are in discussion with Butterfly Conservation (Scotland) regarding office space, so here is hoping.

Two bumblebee survey packs have already been successfully launched. One targets all 17 species found in Scotland (£2.50), the other concentrates on species predominantly found in our gardens (£1.50). Both packs are available from me. The charges just cover the cost of colour photocopying, laminating, and p+p, but it is hoped eventually to have all the material available on BRISC's website for downloading, free. Mike Edwards of BWARS (Bees, Wasps, Ants Recording Society) tells us that these attractive insects are very poorly recorded in Scotland, and it has long been BRISC's intention to try and remedy this regrettable situation. The survey material includes colour illustrations and keys, and has been developed over the last few months with the help of Murdo Macdonald, bumblebee recorder for Scotland, who is also collecting data for bumblebee atlas in Highland.

Promoting these surveys throughout Scotland, including schools and colleges, will form part of the Development Officer's job. The intention is that all resulting records should be sent to the appropriate LRC, though failing this they can also be sent to BRISC and we will act as a clearinghouse. LRCs will be asked to pass on all their bumblebee records to Murdo Macdonald at the end of each year, eventually to end up with BWARS. If any difficulties arise concerning electronic processing of data, BRISC will do our best to help out. Feedback to participants will be posted via our website and in BRISC Recorder News.

As proposed in our strategic plan, three subgroups for members have now been set up, one for recording, one for LRCs, and one for computer skills. Communication between members of each group mostly takes place electronically, via e-mail fora and our website, with the success of the groups largely depending on the input from members. However, if we eventually do get a Development Officer, supporting the activities of each of these groups will also form part of the workload. The Recording Group has been activated with the bumblebee surveys, but exact details of how this group will operate still needs to be worked out. The LRCs group was launched with a meeting hosted by Fife Nature on 17th May, where those present agreed on the format the group should take. The computer group is still to be got under way, most likely with one-day courses in particular skills and software, and 'Recorder 2000' is obviously an immediate candidate.

For the autumn, BRISC is planning to produce a new edition of the Source Book for Biological Recording in Scotland, this time on CD, and another project will be to publish a companion volume containing information and contact details for all natural history societies and allied organisations in Scotland. There are about 100 contacts to be made, so it will be quite a research project - when we have time and money!

Anne-Marie Smout
Chair of BRISC

Regional report for Yorkshire (excluding South Yorkshire) and the North East

North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre (NEYEDC) has now been in operation for just over a year. We've compiled a database of metadata for our area, based on MS Access, have managed to raise enough money to purchase MapInfo GIS and have started to acquire priority datasets including Phase 1 maps and North Yorkshire County Council's computerised SINC system. As a result work is beginning to come in at a frightening rate and consequently we are just about to establish our first paid post (other than the Director). Strong links are being forged with local recorders and we have issued a number of satellite copies of Recorder 2000. One immediate challenge (and one faced by many LRCs) is the issue of linking R2000 with GIS theoretically perfectly possible but no-one yet seems to have done it. Funding remains uncertain but we are beginning to set up service level agreements with key partners and are becoming involved in a number of exciting biodiversity initiatives. We are also playing a key role at a regional level, including coordinating work for the regional development agency on biodiversity indicators. Contact Lisa Kerslake neyedc@cix.co.uk

West Yorkshire Ecology, based at Leeds City Council, continues to supply the record centre function and ecological advisory services for the metropolitan authorities of West Yorkshire, under the management of David Knight. Mike Gray (previously a volunteer with NEYEDC) has just replaced Rachel Cartledge who has moved to a new job in Nottinghamshire. WYE is just about to embark on the second phase of its water vole survey, started last year. Contact David Knight david.knight@leeds.gov.uk

The north east of England (Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Co. Durham and the county formerly known as Cleveland) still has no staffed record centre as such but it does have a large and well-established database, based on Recorder 3.3. This is run by Alec Coles at Northumberland Wildlife Trust with satellites at Durham Wildlife Trust and the Hancock Museum. Data is still being entered on an ad hoc basis. English Nature has agreed to fund a feasibility study to establish a staffed centre, a brief will be prepared for this shortly and will be reported to both EN and the regional BAP group. Contact Alec Coles alec.coles@northwt.org.uk

Lisa Kerslake
Director, NEYEDC

Staffordshire Ecological Record

At the beginning of this year the Staffordshire Biological Records Centre was reborn as Staffordshire Ecological Record (SER). Originally started in 1974, the Staffs BRC was based at the Stoke-on-Trent City Museum, part of Stoke City Council. This role has now been developed into a partnership of English Nature, Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, lead by the Museum, with additional funding from the majority of the other Staffordshire local authorities. This has resulted in the employment of an Ecological Records Officer, Craig Slawson. Nominally this is based at the Wildlife Trust, but additionally work is progressing at the museum to reduce the backlog of paper based records from almost thirty years of active recording. The establishment of SER has also incorporated the Geological Records Centre, originally also based at the museum, but since SER has no geological staff, geological expertise is supplied by the museum or the North Staffordshire Group of the Geologists' Association (NSGGA). Keith Bloor, Senior Museum Officer, responsible for establishing the partnership, now Chairs the Steering Group which oversees the strategic direction of SER.

One of the aims to increase public access has been given a boost by the success of a recent New Opportunities Fund Lottery Grant for a two year project to digitise and add value to the extensive environmental data held by SER. The project, called 'Sense of Place', is part of a consortium with other museums and content providers in the West Midlands. SER is based around Recorder 3.3, MapInfo and Microsoft Access, all species records are stored in Recorder, but the Sites System, for both biological and geological sites is based in Access, linked to both Recorder and MapInfo by unique site IDs. For further details about SER please contact Craig on either 01889 509800 or info@staffs-ecology.org.uk

Since Craig left EcoRecord in Birmingham, this has now been ably taken over by Sara Carvalho from Portugal, all other contact details for EcoRecord remain unchanged.

Craig Slawson (Ecological Records Officer)
Keith Bloor (Chairman) Staffordshire Ecological Record

Update from the East Midlands

LRCs in the East Midlands have been meeting to develop a vision for the next 5 years. Their goal is to establish a comprehensive network of local record centres each meeting local needs, and co-operating to improve efficiency and to provide data at a regional scale. Each LRC will have a secure funding base and be operated on a partnership basis involving all major stakeholders. Each LRC will work towards accreditation by the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) and exchange data through the NBN Gateway and regional observatory. The vision statement identifies minimum services, data quality and data holdings which all LRCs should aim to develop across the region over the next four years. It is endorsed by the East Midlands Biodiversity Forum, which represents conservation agencies, local authorities and other interested parties within the region.

Nick Moyes
Derbyshire BRC

Update from rECOrd, Cheshire LRC

Since winning the right to be the pilot Local Record Centre for England under the National Biodiversity Network, rECOrd has been very busy. The manager, Steve McWilliam, was appointed in October, and rECOrd now consists of two further staff (Biological Recording and Information Technology Officers) and a full-time volunteer. rECOrd now has over 330,000 biological records inputted for the Cheshire region. As a result of this, rECOrd is involved with the production of two major distribution projects running in the Cheshire region: Amphibian & Reptile, and Mammal Atlases. We will soon be increasing our database by gaining access to other large data-sets, most notably from English Nature, Cheshire Wildlife Trust (e.g. BAP data, SBI recording, etc.), Environment Agency water quality surveys, Liverpool Museum and CAWOS ornithological records. We are also securing future funding by starting to set-up Service Level Agreements with most of our partners.

Since starting in my post as Biological Recording Officer my main task has been to try to raise awareness of rECOrd. I have been contacting local naturalists and groups and have been getting a lot of positive responses including a number of signed Data Transfer Licences. In addition, I have recently been working on getting a number of articles published in both local and national press, and giving Local Record Centres a general plug! On the computer side, Simon (IT Officer) has been testing out the spreadsheet import facility in Recorder2000, and we have resurrected the North West Recorder User Group (NWRUG). This is a self-help group for users of the JNCC Recorder biological recording software package but we have now opened the forum to users of all biological recording software e.g. MapMate, BirdRecorder, etc. For more information on NWRUG please visit www.consult-eco.ndirect.co.uk/lrc/newslett or follow the links via the rECOrd webpage www.record-lrc.co.uk In addition, we have set-up a Local Record Centres egroup for record centre staff and interested partners to supplement the bulletin board approach of the NBN forum. If you haven't already joined please sign up at www.egroups.co.uk/group/rECOrd-lrc

Finally, as rECOrd is in temporary accommodation, we are currently negotiating for permanent accommodation at Chester Zoo. We are really looking forward to moving there as the Zoo is committed to biological recording and is active in asking visitors to send in their records. When we are in permanent accommodation (hopefully towards the end of the summer) we are hoping to have a media-oriented launch. This will also give us chance to thank the many individual recorders, and our partner organisations, that have already committed considerable time to the project: Cheshire County Council, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Chester City Council, Chester Zoo, Congleton Borough Council, English Nature, Environment Agency, Halton Borough Council, National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, North West Naturalists Union, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Vale Royal Borough Council, Warrington Borough Council and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

Louise Gentle
Biological Recording Officer

Amphibian Records in Local Records Centres

(Please note - the following section is awating correct layout - website manager Sept 23rd 2002)

My recent requests for amphibian data to illustrate the large amount of biodiversity data held in Local Records Centres met with a small response but it is adequate to prove the point that NBN would be ill advised to ignore our potential contributions. The returns from seven LRC's show that they hold c.10,500 computerised records plus over 700 manual ones. The vast majority of the computerised records are post-1950 (10,250) while almost 9,000 are post-1975. This is a very up-to-date dataset.

The breakdown of records is:

Species Computerised records Manual records
Common Frog 4779 310
Common Toad 2338 94
Natterjack 910 c.10
Midwife Toad 25 -
All newts 2811 -
Smooth Newt 1225 3
Palmate Newt 294 341
Great Crested Newt 741 7
(Others) Hellbender - 1
Japanese Newt - 1

3,300 records (from 5 returns) contain information on breeding status, which is particularly significant in conservation terms. While it would be naive to extrapolate from this small sample to the whole of Britain, this self-selected group holds an average of 1,500 computerised records and 100 manual records. 85% of these records are from the last 25 years and 31% record the presence of breeding sites.

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Martin Sanford at Suffolk Biological Records Centre within Ipswich Museum, Craig Slawson at EcoRecord in Birmingham, Patricia Francis at Bolton Museum, Steve McWilliam at rECOrd for Cheshire, Halton, Warrington & Wirral, Mark Simmons at Perth Museum & Art Gallery and Stephen Hewitt at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle

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

Book Reviews

The Larger Moths of Staffordshire by D.W.Emley and R.G.Warren

Published by Staffordshire Ecological Record 2001
(Biological Recording Scheme Publication No.16). ISSN: 0309-2100 ISBN: 1 874414 20 3

Some people may remember a series of atlases of the Lepidoptera of Staffordshire written by Richard Warren 1976-81. These were a mammoth undertaking before computers and since their publication Richard has tirelessly been working towards a review. Unfortunately Richard didn't live to see the completion of his dream, the reins being amply taken over by David Emley, who has already been responsible for checklists of aculeate Hymenoptera and Diptera for the County. This book makes a fitting tribute to one of Staffordshire's leading entomologists and also to the vast army of Lepidopterists in Staffordshire who have helped to produce such a comprehensive atlas.

The whole of the book is written in a pleasant "chatty" style, informative without being overwhelming. The introduction starts with an obituary to Richard Warren, going on to describe the book's coverage and how to find moths, where to find them and how to identify them. It finishes with details of how to record moths, where to send records and the targets for the future.

The bulk of the book is taken up by the species accounts, some 111 pages. Most species are covered by a map and the less common ones have details of their occurrence, both historically and in the period since the publication of Richard's first series, together with details of habitat and county status. Interspersed throughout the book are colour photographs showing the range of moths found in Staffordshire. Finally the book finishes with lists of unconfirmed species, those lost to the County since 1960, the commonest species and the most restricted, together with a list of useful contacts.

All in all I found this a valuable addition to the series of Atlases of the Staffordshire Fauna and it will definitely find a place on my bookshelves - it also encourages me to find out what moths are visiting my garden - to see if I can fill in some of the blanks! The Atlas can be obtained directly from the Potteries Museum or Staffordshire Wildlife Trust for £10, or by post from Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, Coutts House, Sandon, Stafford, ST18 0DN for an additional £1.50 P&P (cheques for £11.50 should be made payable to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust).

G.Craig Slawson
Staffordshire Invertebrate Group

Exploring Irish Mammals

By Tom Hayden and Rory Harrington, illustrated by Billy Clarke.
Published in 2000 for Duchas The Heritage Service by Town House and County House Ltd, Trinity House, Charleston Road, Ranalagh, Dublin 6, Ireland. pp 381.
ISBN 1-186059-093-4. Price £20 or Euro 25.40.

This is my kind of book! Written by well-informed enthusiasts for those with an interest in learning something new to them. Well written, attractively illustrated, on good paper and in a serviceable binding, it is all that a book of reference should be. It is not an identification guide, ecological monograph or atlas, but it combines the essentials of all into a pleasing format.

It is over 15 years since a book on Irish mammals was published, the last being by James Fairley in 1984. This is perhaps not surprising because, compared with western mainland Europe, Ireland has a relatively impoverished mammal fauna, if you discount cetaceans. According to the authors 'Ireland has acquired more species of mammals during the last millennium than in the previous 9000 years'. I like the fence-sitting use of 'acquired'. As with much of the flora and fauna of Ireland (and Britain), we can be pretty sure that the species we have now are not what we started off with before humans intervened, but we cannot be sure how most of them got here! As the authors observe, this adds an interesting dimension to study of the ecology of individual species and assemblages of species.

Each species is treated similarly with English, Irish and scientific names, a portrait, text on identification, distribution, habits and habitats, reproduction, watching the species, conservation and management. The distribution section includes a generalised world range map and a map of Ireland showing records summarised at the 20km square level. Most species also include a line drawing of the skull. There is a simple dichotomous key to Irish bats. The black and white portraits are also reproduced as attractive colour paintings in a 24-page section. The first two chapters introduce mammals in general and sketch in the history of Irish mammals. There is a good

glossary (although technical jargon is kept to a minimum), 12 pages of bibliography and a thorough index. A quarter of the book is taken up with the 24 species of cetaceans recorded in Irish waters. All too often the marine mammals are overlooked and it is good to have so much general information on these 'Irish' mammals. To claim the Beluga Whale as Irish may be stretching the category a bit, but two confirmed sightings are mapped! I am pleased that the newly discovered Soprano Pipistrelle already has a name in Irish, even though it is not yet known from the Gaeltacht! Whilst on the subject of bats, Nathusius' Pipistrelle was found in Ireland for the first time in 1996, and the authors claim that Ireland has Europe's largest population of Leisler's.

If I have one criticism, it is a pity that extinct species were not covered, other than in passing in a introductory chapter. Ireland has lost four species, wolf, wild pig, roe deer and muskrat, the last two having been introduced. There is a good story associated with the history of the wolf, and the control measures that led to the extinction of muskrat are a classic. I wonder what happened to the wild pig and roe deer?

Paul T Harding

Provisional atlas of the longhorn beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) of Britain.

Twinn, P.F.G. and Harding, P.T. 1999.
Huntingdon: Biological Records Centre. 96 pages A5 softback. ISBN 1 870393 40 0

Provisional atlas of British hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae).

Ball, S.G. and Morris, R.K.A. 2000.
Huntingdon: Biological Records Centre. 167 pages A4 softback. ISBN 1 870393 54 6

These are two more additions to the list of provisional atlases produced by BRC. They differ in scale reflecting differences between the two schemes in terms of number of taxa covered and the number of records received. The latter is clearly related to the accessibility and popularity of the two groups amongst the recording community.

The longhorn beetle atlas is a sparse publication. It is A5-size and covers 59 native or established introduced species. It is the product of the Cerambycid recording scheme which has been in operation since 1982 and has gathered approximately 13,000 records. The introductory text deals with the standard topics of taxonomy, nomenclature (important here as many species names have changed) and scheme organisation. There is also discussion of data validation and the limitations of the dataset. A startling statistic given in the introduction is that 150 species additional to those mapped have been recorded in Britain, mainly as accidental introductions. One of the main limitations of the dataset is that most published records and museum material have not been included as many remain unvalidated. In the atlas section each species is devoted one page. Most of this is taken up by the map. Text is limited to a listing of important references under the subheadings (Threat status, Illustration, Description/key, Distribution and Biology and habitat) followed by a very brief account, usually 2 or 3 lines, sometimes less. In the introduction the authors says that they do not wish to repeat statements made elsewhere and direct readers to the papers for more information. This is not the case with presumed extinct species which are given quite lengthy accounts in the introduction, even though the status of some is dubious. There is no interpretation of species distribution and the maps are left to speak for themselves. This also is frustrating as some show such distinct distributions patterns that some hypotheses must exist to explain them. Why, for example, is Pyrrhidium sanguineum virtually confined to Wales?. And what is reason for the distribution of Agapanthia villosoviridescens? Overall then this is a disappointing atlas, not providing much more than the most basic of information.

The hoverfly atlas is a more substantial A4-sized book. It includes maps for 266 taxa. This scheme (Hoverfly Recording Scheme) has gathered 364,784 records since 1976 which clearly places hoverflies in the premier league of insect groups. Coverage over England and Wales was virtually complete, but in Scotland large gaps are still apparent. Like the longhorn atlas, Ireland is not covered. This atlas did not extend to the Channel Islands, though they were included in the longhorn atlas. The introductory text covers the standard topics of organisation and history of the hoverfly recording scheme and the extent and limitations of the dataset. There is a discussion of species found only in Ireland and declining and extinct species. In the atlas section two species are covered on each page, showing for each a map, a phenology chart and a discussion under the subheadings of biology and distribution. These accounts vary in length with more text devoted to the scarcer species.

Despite some minor irritations with the layout of the maps, both atlases are competently produced. Few errors were apparent, the most serious noticed being that in Table 2 of the hoverfly atlas which lacks entries in two of the columns. They will be of most interest to those who participated in the respective schemes and those requiring to put their records in context. Both are termed provisional atlases, which suggests that they will be followed by a final atlas, but neither gives any indication when this will be. Clearly the longhorn beetle atlas is much more provisional than the hoverfly one, and having read it, I was left wondering why this volume had been produced at this stage in the scheme's development. There seemed to be too many gaps with regard to published records, as to question how accurate the maps were. With the advances in the web, it may have been better to produce these maps on an electronic platform, then tackling the issue of data validation, which the authors state is a major deficiency with their data, before producing a hard copy volume with a more thorough text.

Brian Nelson
Curator of Freshwater Invertebrates, Ulster Museum