Newsletter 35



At the AGM I took over the role of newsletter editor from Nicky Court. Nicky has done a fantastic job and I echo Charlie’s thanks expressed in his Chairman’s report. As you will see from the AGM minutes I am filling a gap between Nicky and Adam Rowe, who hopes to take over as Editor later next year.

It has been a while since the last newsletter so this one is particularly full with reports from the AGM and conference plus the usual book review and other articles. Given the number of pieces ready for inclusion I have limited the official papers to the most recent. If anyone would like a copy of the AGM minutes for 2006 or the 2005 accounts they can be provided by John Newbould. We hope eventually that these will be available to download from the NFBR web-site.

Articles for the next newsletter are very welcome, particularly updates on recording schemes, new ideas and news from Local Records Centres. Please email any articles and accompanying pictures to me at DERC by the 31st January 2008 or contact me if you have any queries.

Carolyn Steele

Sir John Burnett – an Appreciation

Paul Harding & Charles Copp

Sir John Harrison Burnett died at his home in Oxford on 22nd July 2007, aged 85, after a short illness. Several formal obituaries have appeared in the national press recently.

Sir John was the founder of the National Biodiversity Network Trust and its first chairman from 2000 to 2005. Short, stocky, with thinning grey hair, normally in suit and tie, John had been a familiar figure at NBN and other biological recording meetings and conferences for over a decade. He was a very welcome delegate at the NFBR Conference in Oxford in May 2007, where, characteristically, he was seen in animated conversation with several groups during the buffet lunch.

Initially, John was possibly as surprised to find himself taking a leading role in what was to become the NBN, as were those that had been attempting to get biological recording taken seriously since the early 1980s. Subsequently, it became clear that this was an inspired choice. Late in 1989, he had been invited to “chair a few meetings of a small committee” – the Co-ordinating Commission for Biological Recording (CCBR). The invitation had come from Bernard Tinker of NERC, as a consequence of a meeting, chaired by Tinker, held earlier that year at The Royal Society. John once joked that he was slightly unsure if this invitation had been a favour repaid or a old score settled, because John, when he was Professor of Botany at Newcastle University, had given Tinker his first academic post.

After a distinguished career, John had retired in 1987 from the highly influential position of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, which he held throughout the troubled years when the Thatcher government was ‘reforming’ higher education. He then served as Deputy Chairman and Acting Chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), when the same government was splitting NCC into three country agencies. Despite government opposition, he took a leading role in ensuring that a new body, JNCC, was established with UK-wide responsibilities.

But John was not a battle-weary academic looking for a quiet retirement in Oxford. A month after his 68th birthday he chaired the first meeting of CCBR and within a month CCBR had produced its Statement of Intent. John brought much needed political awareness, and a very extensive network of influential contacts, to the work of CCBR. He was a calm, attentive and decisive Chairman. The alarming frequency of meetings in 1990 and 1991 demonstrated his commitment, and the commitment he expected from the other members. CCBR meetings were usually held at NERC’s small London office, then at Covent Garden, and often in the afternoon. This venue and timing enabled John to indulge (his word!) his taste for a dozen oysters and a glass of Guinness for lunch.

The success of CCBR was predicated on conducting a comprehensive review of biological recording in the UK and producing an authoritative report. Funding for the review was secured, due in no small part to John’s persuasiveness in high places. Although six tenders were received, CCBR eventually sub-contracted the review to Environmental Information Management, the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and legal advisers in Oxford. The resulting report i owes much to John’s guiding hand regarding the overall structure, his skilled drafting of some parts of the main text and the Summary Report and for his overall editorial control. John’s hands-on contribution was as unexpected as it was welcome to us as the sub-contractors and his co-authors of the report. His gentle but firm approach, always mindful of the other demands on us, ensured a truly effective partnership between all three.

Although probably few have read the CCBR report in detail, its impact and influence on policy regarding biodiversity information in the UK (and abroad) has been profound. A draft was used in preparing the relevant chapters and recommendations of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan published in 1994. Its comments and recommendations regarding local records centres formed the basis for work initiated by the Wildlife Trusts, even before the report was published. The CCBR recommendations were, of course, central to the process that led to the development of the NBN concept, which, in 2000 was formalised as the NBN Trust under John’s chairmanship. Throughout the next 5 years he also chaired or attended many meetings of the separate committees and working groups established under its aegis. Decades of practice made him an excellent Chairman – prepared to listen and to offer wise counsel, but only rarely to dictate. He appreciated politeness and awareness of and respect for others, and would actively encourage anyone who, for whatever reason, had been ‘a bit quiet’. But he did not appreciate those who were too fond of the sound of their own voice, or pomposity, and dealt with both tactfully.

John brought many other valued attributes to his entirely voluntary work with CCBR and NBN, and as Chairman of the BRC Management Advisory Group (1999-2004). He professed to be “one of the first friends of fungi” and never missed an opportunity to stress their importance to all other life forms. His final book Fungal Populations and Species (2003) returned to the topic that had been a cornerstone of his research throughout his academic career. Another attribute was to convince and encourage others to set, achieve and even excel objectives and standards that they would not necessarily have recognised as being possible. His Preface to The Vegetation of Scotland (1964), which he initiated with a group of younger Scottish botanists, and edited, describes the same motivations he used so effectively decades later with CCBR and NBN.

To have known John and to have worked with him was a privilege. He brought a breadth and depth of vision and knowledge, a thorough approach and personal commitment to everything that he was involved with. And he was always good company, with a diverse range of interests, a host of stories and a little name-dropping (of the highest-quality) for almost any occasion. He engaged with life and sought to enjoy it, particularly through a strong sense purpose and service to others. His long and happy marriage to Margaret was a great comfort to them both. Although their sons, Andrew and Nick, may have been a bit mystified by their father’s frequent trips to NBN meetings in later life, they know that his contribution to the development of NBN has established an honourable memorial to his intellect and personal commitment.

N35 SirJohn.jpg

NFBR Conference 2007

Getting the best out of records, recording and sampling strategies

Held at Oxford Brookes University, 11th May 2007

Part 1 Chairman’s Introduction:

A Historical Perspective on Biological Recording and Sampling Strategies
Charles Copp, NFBR Chairman

We are not the first people to know or care for the plants and animals around us. A reading of Midsummer Nights Dream shows that Shakespeare had a good knowledge of the names and habits of birds and flowers, as do the poems of John Clare and Robert Burns but theirs was knowledge gained by familiarity not systematic survey.

The earliest recorded natural history society in Britain, if not the world, was the Temple Coffee House Botanic Club founded in 1689, although the Society of Apothecaries had been organising 'botanizings' for many years prior to that. It was the apothecaries that collected 'simples' – these were the drug plants that they used in their work. Organised collecting and training events were called 'simplings' and presumably called for at least a plan of where they were going and what they were looking for and so that might be called the first 'organised simpling strategy' .

At around the end of the 17th century, William Stukely founded a natural history society in Boston, Lincolnshire and went out simpling with the local apothecaries about once a week. Already at this time great strides had been made in the cataloguing and description of the flora and fauna of Britain, in expensive works such as Ray's Catalogus Plantarum Angliae and his three volume Historia Generalis Plantarum, and others like Willoughby's Ornithologia. Thanks to Ray and later, in the mid 18th Century, Linnaeus, these early naturalists also had workable schemes of classification that enabled them to systematise their discoveries. Ray was also important because he was an observer and experimentalist who refused to supplement his observations with speculation, a lesson which is still of value in these times of climate change debate.

By the early years of the 18th century, the butterfly net, vasculum and geological hammer were all in use, although bird recording was mostly done with the aid of a gun – perhaps hence the saying “I wish I had known it was rare, I would have shot it!” The general lack of well illustrated and affordable books meant that collections were important as repositories of knowledge and for training in identification but it also meant that the study of nature and collecting was essentially a pass-time of the wealthy.

The early 18th century was marked by a mania for collecting that developed amongst the wellto- do. The desire for novelty and the naming of 'species' after friends and patrons often led to both unnecessary creation of names and even forgeries. The strategy became one of searching out the new and ostentatious, ignoring the commonplace and inevitably looked overseas.

Thus much of our early knowledge of the fauna and flora of the wider world was gained from specimens returned to dealers and prominent collectors by captains of sailing ships – a pattern that continued if not accelerated well into the 19th century, especially relating to shells and plants. The desire for novelty and also the fashion for establishing stately gardens furnished with exotic plants soon gave rise to the professional collector, some like the Hookers of Kew, who were plant collectors of independent means and others like Hugh Cumming (1791-1865), remembered mainly as a shell collector, became enormously knowledgeable and helped create the great hordes of systematic collections that ultimately came to fill our national and provincial museums and gardens - collections which laid the basis of systematic taxonomy upon which much of our current field recording rests.

In Britain the study of natural history developed slowly because in the 18th century there were only crude maps to work from, few reliable books and communication was principally by letter with unpredictable delivery systems.

The 19th century saw a huge blossoming in the desire for knowledge and the rise of the self-educated man (and woman). The Ordnance Survey was beginning to produce accurate maps and William Smith had produced the first geological map of England and Wales by 1815. The first 30 years of the 19th century saw the foundation of many 'philosophical societies' and museums, the members of which were often professional men and merchants, made wealthy by trade in comparison to the aristocratic and clerical origins of many 18th century notables. Some of these societies employed professional curators who although poorly paid were able to carry out systematic study of rocks, plants and animals in their areas. Their legacy remains in the many new species that they discovered, their descriptions of landscapes now all too frequently lost and in collections, many of which survive to the present day (sometimes in a dire state).

The first half of the 19th century also saw a huge increase in the number of available publications including local journals that served to disseminate knowledge and encouraged further survey and recording. The big change had been technological with the invention of the steam printing press and offset-lithography but was helped 'politically' by a drop in the formerly huge taxes on paper. As the Victorian era progressed there was a great growth in interest in birds and insects among men whilst for some curious reason botany became increasingly promoted as a study suitable for ladies, a distinction that I can still remember from my own school-days in the 1960s! Botany was, however, a prerequisite for all practising physicians and so guaranteed a continuing supply of male students.

Geology and entomology were the really 'hot' subjects amongst naturalists in the first half of the 19th century and entomology became big business; even Darwin was an enthusiastic coleopterist! The business saw the rise of professional natural history dealers and the emergence of the middle-class, fanatical collector, obsessed with aberrations, variants and rarity, often at the expense of recording or even honesty! The mid 19th century did, however, see the development of many new ways of collecting and preserving specimens, including moth traps, killing bottles and dredges. It also saw the development of field glasses and cameras which heralded the first change from shooting birds to watching them. It was in the 1830s that H.C. Watson (1804-1881) emerged as a leader in thinking about information exchange and systematising survey. One of his early achievements was the encouragement of botanical exchanges, initially through the Botanical Society of Edinburgh and London, and the development of a catalogue of British plants. A record of all plants collected and exchanged was kept with a view to informing local floras and ultimately a national one. This was the start of organised distribution survey in Britain.

Watson was not only interested in listing the plants of Britain, he was actively researching the factors that controlled their distribution and this in its turn led him to devise the system of Vice Counties. Among other achievements he introduced a rigorous system of validating specimens through national experts and the production of a catalogue of standard names. He even fore-saw the dot distribution map although from his perspective in the first half of the 19th century thought that it was not attainable. It is somewhat ironic then that the Watsonian vice-counties came to dominate biological recording in this country until well into the second half of the 20th century and probably held up the development of dot distribution maps, long after they had made their appearance on the continent. The vicecounty recorder system remains, however, one of the cornerstones of biological recording in Britain.

The foundations for the systematic recording of British Natural History were all well-laid in the first half of the 19th century but that period continued to be dominated by egos and collections to the extent that it inhibited concerted joint efforts. The period did, however, see the rise of the field club, less stuffy than the old literary and philosophical societies and more open to ordinary workingclass people. Field clubs really took off in the latter part of the century and to them we owe much for the publication of local lists and the rise of the local flora. By the 1870s there were more than 100 field clubs in existence and towards the end of the century as many as 50,000 active naturalists and collectors. Many of these clubs still survive. Where did they all come from?

The latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century, although still marred by dehumanising poverty in many areas, saw a rise in education and living standards for the lower middle classes and gradually the working classes and this coupled with the growth of education and provision of libraries brought natural history to an ever growing number of people. New colour printing technologies brought exciting and popular natural history books within their reach.

This period also saw the expansion of railways and invention of motorised road transport, greatly enhancing accessibility to the countryside. In earlier times it had been positively dangerous for individuals to go wandering in the countryside outside of their own parish not to mention logistically difficult and expensive. The invention of the bicycle and its proliferation in the early 20th century also did much to mobilise naturalists whilst keeping them close to nature.

One feature of the development of science in post-Darwin Britain (the latter half of the 19th century onwards) was the rise of laboratory based biology and the subsequent demise (which continues) of field-based study. The bitter disputes between the old academic naturalists and the new biologists, who won the day and the rigour and expense of the new disciplines led to an estrangement between academics and amateurs that still continues, although luckily in each generation there are enlightened individuals with feet in both camps. One of the obvious effects of this split is the extreme reliance on amateurs in field recording in Britain, somewhat tempered in the last 30 years by the rise of the 'consultant' and the development and professionalisation of the Record Centre movement.

The latter half of the 19th century also saw the rise of an awareness of the need for conservation. It had long been observed that the unchecked shooting of wild birds, not just predators but sea birds and plumage birds together with trapping for fashion, collections and table was having a drastic effect on their numbers. The first wildlife legislation, the Wild Birds Act, was passed in 1880 and by the end of the century the call for protection was transformed into a movement, pioneered by women, resulting among other things in the foundation of what is now the RSPB. The role of women is important because although there were exceptions, women were often excluded from any meaningful roles in scientific societies and institutions, in parallel with their general need for emancipation.

The first half of the 20th century continued the rise of the conservation movement, the establishment of nature reserves and for birds, at least, the growth in observational recording. The entomological world continued a strong rear-guard action as the preserve of male, obsessional collectors, although the First World War took a heavy toll on their numbers and natural history study in general did not recover to any vigour until the 1930s. The number of active naturalists at this time may have been only a quarter of its pre-war high and numbers probably did not reach that peak again until the late 1980s. (Coincidentally this mirrors the number of active naturalists recorded in the CCBR Report in 1995).

Interestingly, the Second World War actually increased popular interest in natural history in some areas, as unprecedented numbers of people travelled to sometimes exotic places and encountered wildlife first hand. The great feature of natural history in post Second World War 20th century Britain was the advance of the conservation movement with the foundation of the Nature Conservancy Council in 1949 and subsequent development of the Wildlife Trusts. This marked a major change in interest away from disinterested science, collecting and cataloguing to practical action, action that could involve people of many skills but needing new kinds of knowledge over and above the purely distributional or morphological. The rise of television and the popularity of nature programs has had a continuing and growing influence on public attitudes to conservation on local and global scales.

The big changes in recording and survey had to wait until the availability of new technologies which only really accelerated in the late 1970s. The seminal Atlas of the British Flora first published in 1962 was the epitome of concerted, mainly amateur, effort and was put together by hand, a gargantuan task. When the first local record centres got going in, they also kept their records on file cards and only the newly available photocopier saved some of the eternal drudge of transcription. At the end of the 1980s affordable computing was appearing and the 1990s ushered in the era of the PC. So much has happened since then it hardly seems possible that it was so recent. The PC and the database changed our horizons forever. The story of biological recording has in part been one of improving the means to manage and publish information. Great breakthroughs have come with the advance of new technologies that have enabled more people access to what was once privileged information. Without doubt the truly world-changing development arising from the computer revolution has been the growth of the Internet. In my first draft of the CCBR report written in 1993 I had put in a section on how the world wide web would become the predominant means of communication and data exchange and this was rejected by one reviewer as gobbledygook. History shows different.

The Internet and the incredible price drop in sophisticated technology has utterly transformed how we learn, how we communicate, how we disseminate knowledge and how we shape public opinion. It has opened up the world and challenges the bastions of elitism but of course, there are accompanying dangers. The old vice-county recorders and refereed periodicals attempted to ensure the quality of information that was distributed; the need for such caution remains but there are no such limitations on putting material on the web unless we choose to implement them. This does not mean the end of either the book or quality. We will still publish carefully researched, beautifully bound floras and avifaunas because we love them but at the same time we can make data quickly and cheaply available through our local LRCs and the NBN. We simply need to adopt new conventions.

The ease with which anyone can publish blogs, logs and papers is at once liberating and dangerous. In just a few years we have seen the growth of thematic networks of recorders linked worldwide, publishing amazing photographs and data in a way never before known. In a handful of years we have established a global biodiversity information network that is linking specialists world-wide, who for the first time can actually undertake the listing of all known species and collate information on scales barely imaginable even 15 years ago.

All this frenetic activity brings its own problems. We are constantly encouraging more and more people to get involved; for example, the BBC Breathing Spaces campaign and the huge OPAL project (Open Air Laboratories in the Changing Spaces Programme) aim at involving people in conservation, development and recording. Not all of these projects will be thought through or well linked to existing efforts like the NBN and the Trust movement. We could be in danger of choking on a flood of dubious data and thrown off-course by misplaced effort but then again we may find new ways of putting all that unprecedented effort and knowledge to good use. We need to be actively involved in the development of standards applicable to this new environment.

So what does the preceding ramble mean for a conference on getting the best out of records? Technology has clearly been a driving force in opening up new avenues of endeavour and making information manageable and shareable but it does not work in a vacuum. What can be achieved is not independent of the social and economic development of society. We have seen the study of natural history develop from an elite activity linked to professional interests to a fashionable pastime of the gentry, become popular as a reflection of earnest learning and self betterment in new professional classes then transferred in turn to others through the betterment of education and employment. We have seen how its scope has been extended by changes in emphasis, through both popularisation (by books, then television and now the Internet) and through new ideas like conservation.

We are involved in an ongoing process not at the end of it. In the UK we still have many vested interests, disenfranchised groups and cultural groups who have little or no connection with wildlife, nature, conservation or recording. They have their own priorities and there is little sign that we are reaching them, yet in a small, crowded land it is vital that we do. Among our own priorities should be understanding current and future needs, being sensitive to society's changes that ask new questions – we cannot afford to fossilize in the stereotypes of our predecessors and equally we cannot abandon their hard won achievements for the sake of fashion.

Further reading:

One of the best sources on the history of natural history study in Britain is The Naturalist in Britain by David Elliston Allen 1976 Penguin Books, reprinted in 1994 by Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691036322.

Part 2 Contributions and presentations

Trevor James, Conference Organiser

The 2007 Annual Conference of the NFBR was on the topic of recording and sampling strategies, with the aim to focus on the need to “up the act” of bodies and individuals involved, and to get people thinking about the different approaches that might be needed.

Contributions to the conference were deliberately selected to reflect a wide range of both biotopes and approaches. Some 76 people arrived at Oxford Brookes University for the event, which was hosted by Pond Conservation. As a result, we were initially welcomed by Jeremy Biggs of Pond Conservation, who stressed in his brief introduction the importance of effective sample data in having demonstrated the value of ponds for biodiversity, an essential first step in their recognition as a habitat in need of specific protection.

Charles Copp, as NFBR Chairman, led us into the day by reviewing the historic background to our desire to document the natural world. His theme was the dual one – of not needing to be swamped by data of dubious quality, but at the same time, recognising that real conservation needs to be built on the basis of sound information, based on sensible recording strategies. He also pointed out that, in the modern world, there is a tendency for this kind of rational approach to be becoming less well-favoured by some, which poses a problem for people involved in biological recording.

N35 conf07.jpg

Freshwater Recording Strategies

Anita Weatherby of Pond Conservation

Anita started by saying that the topic of the Conference was central to Pond Conservation’s objectives. She re-iterated the point mentioned briefly by her colleague that the real value of ponds as a wildlife habitat had been soundly demonstrated by comparative data, carefully collected from a range of ponds surveyed by Pond Conservation and its partners. The importance of this is underlined by the demonstrable and continuing loss of ponds, against which Pond Conservation is attempting to get a Pond Habitat Action Plan accepted. However, even now, we have far too little data on ponds, and the National Pond Monitoring Network has aimed to address this by co-ordinating the collection of data, identifying important ponds across the country, and being able to report on the status of ponds. Standard methods of recording are the key to this.

In terms of conservation action, the background is that increasingly ponds are being managed inappropriately: they may be neglected, or over-managed, misguidedly planted with introduced species, over-stocked with ducks, or given over to fish. There is also a basic problem that ponds can appear and disappear rapidly. Many are not even figured on Ordnance Survey maps. The proposed Habitat Action Plan, which is near to being realised, aims to prioritise ponds, for which objective criteria are required. More work on this is needed. The identification of these ponds is being linked with the work of Countryside Survey 2007, and 300 sample sites related to this have been identified across the UK, for which detailed data are to be collected, using standard methods. These data will then allow trend information to be developed.

In Oxfordshire a pilot project has begun to identify ponds and collate data. There is often a problem with much local data in that they may be imprecise, with, for example, inaccurate grid references or non-standard habitat information. Records will often also not be collected using standard sampling methods. Sampling procedures have been developed by Pond Conservation, and details are now available on its website. A further step is to develop a suite of standard reference sites for recorders across the UK. These would need to be accessible and able to receive repeat visits for recording purposes. Identifying them and their boundaries would involve working with other interested parties, such as local records centres. The aim would be to make these available for use through the National Biodiversity Network. Pond Conservation will also need to work with national taxonomic specialists and organisations, to identify important pond sites, and to collect data on the important species in them.

As an addition to the advertised programme, Anita Weatherby then introduced Melanie Findlay and Simon Pawlson of the Freshwater Biological Association, who gave a brief introduction to their newly-launched project to develop capacity in the recording of freshwater species groups in the UK. They gave a short Photograph provided by Anita Weatherby account of the establishment of their project, funded through the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and summarised some of their objectives. They intend to develop “How to…” guides for different species groups, and also on topics such as using data, how to collect useful data, and how to disseminate data. There is a great need to raise awareness of the value for this kind of work. In addition, they also drew attention to the existence of their “small grants scheme” for encouraging and helping people involved in freshwater recording.


The next presentation was at the macro-scale, given by Mike Morecroft of the Environmental Change Network, run by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Oxford.

Monitoring cause and effect: the UK Environmental Change Network

Mike Morecroft, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Mike emphasised that a primary aim of the ECN was to get the best out of data, with a focus on whole ecosystems, both detecting change, and also trying to attribute change to specific factors.

A variety of factors are causing changes in ecosystems, including changes in land management, air pollution and, increasingly, climate change. The UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) was set up in 1992 and currently there are 12 terrestrial and 42 freshwater (river and lake) sites in the network, in contrasting habitats across the UK. At each of these a wide range of physical, chemical and biological variables are measured (Table 1). It has been hard to develop recording protocols, but where possible these measurements have been standardised with other national monitoring schemes, such as the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, Breeding Birds Survey and the Rothamsted light trap network. The ECN sites are operated by different organisations but there is a central database and the network is coordinated from CEH Lancaster.

The results from the network are analysed to identify trends, relationships between different variables and the impact of extreme events, such as droughts. They also provide data for indicators used by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Terrestrial Meteorology Atmospheric chemistry Surface water flow & chemistry Soil solution chemistry Precipitation chemistry Soil surveys Vegetation surveys Vertebrates (birds, rabbits, deer, bats, frogs) Invertebrates (butterflies, moths, ground predators, spittle bugs, crane flies) Site Management Freshwater Surface water chemistry River discharge Continuous pH, temperature, conductivity & turbidity Temperature and dissolved oxygen profiles for lakes Chlorophyll a Invertebrates Macrophytes Zooplankton Phytoplankton Diatoms


As an example Mike presented the decrease in carabid beetles in the north and west of the UK, which may be associated with rising temperatures. A series of studies had shown the effects of drought:

  • An increase in the number of short-lived, fast reproducing ruderal species in some grassland communities (particularly agricultural and recently created seminatural ones) had been identified. Older, relatively undisturbed, nutrient poor communities showed little change after drought.
  • Butterfly, moth and carabid species adapted to dry habitats or with high mobility and with a southern distributions, increased during drought. In northern species, those of wet places and those of limited mobility had decreased.
  • A temporary increase in soil nitrate concentrations had also been shown during drought periods.

In carrying out these studies, “unusual years” had caused some problems of data interpretation.

Future plans include a proposal to extend the network to include 40-90 new terrestrial sites. These will be mostly National Nature Reserves where a reduced range of variables would be monitored to allow more opportunity to compare different habitats with adequate replication. This could involve the voluntary sector in recording.


There was a last-minute change to the programme when Nicky Court had to withdraw through illness. In the event, Martin Hicks of the Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre stepped in and gave us a very thought provoking and wide-ranging examination of the effectiveness of biological recording in being able to deliver what users need and want.

Our Herts in Biological Recording

Martin Hicks, Hertfordshire Biological Records Centre

Our hearts may be in biological recording, but is what we are doing sufficient?

Martin started off by quoting from Max Nicolson, who, in 1928, had pointed out that the lack of information on the occurrence of species over time was an increasing problem.

Biological recording has been carried out for a wide range of reasons, ranging from personal interest through conservation to the requirements of legislation. The result, in Hertfordshire at least, is the gathering of a lot of detailed data on sites and species, which has enabled the development of information on wildlife sites, allowed the provision of detailed advice on protected species etc., and the development of strategies for conservation. More recently, specially commissioned surveys have examined specific issues, such as the importance of ‘brownfield’ sites, and the effectiveness or otherwise of mitigation measures for specific groups, such as bats affected by barn conversions.

Martin then went on to highlight a number of key issues:

  • The age of records.
  • Increasing change at the local level.
  • The relationship between available data and the ability to protect the environment.
  • How to use data to influence or affect land management.
  • The plethora of requirements, needing data in different ways.

Ultimately ‘sustainable development’ needs to be measured by results, and biodiversity is now seen as a fundamental component of sustainability assessments. Examples of output indicators might include:

  • Local Performance Indicators e.g. land designated as an SSSI within a Local Plan Area. Available information? Yes – but this is not an indicator of performance.
  • Regional Environmental Strategy e.g. increase in important habitats such as Wildlife Sites and Local Nature Reserves. Yes – but these may not reflect an increase in the resource.
  • Regional Spatial Strategy e.g. target to maintain 100% of lowland grassland. Potentially yes, if there has been sufficient survey effort to identify both loss and degradation.
  • Local Biodiversity Action Plan e.g. data input to the Biodiversity Action & Reporting System. Yes, if data or information are actually fed in, but this is primarily a process-driven reporting system, not a real reflection of success.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment with biodiversity data requirements – set the environmental context, set constraints, develop objectives, test the plan, mitigate adverse effects, monitor the implementation of the plan and develop appropriate indicators to assess. Finally, ask the question, are targets being met?

Most of these directly require biological data. Given biological recording activities and the millions of records that this has generated, there is a significant expectation appropriate data exists. But does it? How many local records centres have provided satisfactory data for Annual Monitoring Reviews?

As an example, the following AMR information can be provided by Herts Biological Records Centre:

  • The extent of/change in SSSIs (by area) within each District.
  • The condition of SSSIs within each District.
  • The extent of/change in extent of Wildlife Sites within each District (compared with 2005).
  • The ‘condition’ of Wildlife Sites.
  • Changes in priority species – birds.
    • Historic changes to national BAP bird species occurring in Hertfordshire. (This is background information and can only be updated when new Atlas survey work is undertaken).
    • Wild birds (County priority Red List species), changes in Hertfordshire distribution.
    • Wild birds (indicator suite for Farmland, Woodland and Urban birds) changes regionally and within Hertfordshire.
  • Changes in priority species – butterflies
    • Average number of butterfly sightings at each transect site within each District;
    • Average number of species recorded at each transect site within each District.

Even these data do nothing to directly support output indicators.

In order to meet these requirements, data need to be relevant, sufficient, and related to aspects of significant effect. Data categories include species and assemblages, habitats, designated sites, hotspots and factors affecting ecosystems. Gaps need to be identified.

But can we meet this challenge? Apparently no one is collecting the kind of data required even to assess the effects of e.g. planning decisions. There is also a difficulty in extrapolating from broader scale (UK-wide) survey and trend data to needs at the local level. Herts BRC attempts to meet the challenge by prioritising its work towards “core data”. These are data representing an important ecological resource or an indicator of fundamental importance. All statutory requirements are included. This is regarded as the minimum information resource expected to be available from a local records centre, and would include data on bats, great crested newts and BAP habitats as defined through draft Regional AMR indicators.

“Supplementary data” are biologically valuable data for enhancing understanding, but not (yet) considered critical in being required for reporting mechanisms. Their availability is dependant upon outside support or ‘quick wins’ from useable datasets.

So, in summary, Martin concluded:

  • The recording network is vital for the identification, protection and monitoring of habitats and species.
  • Formal frameworks now require understanding of the natural environment, providing a significant opportunity to apply biological records. This is new! We need to make the most of it.
  • Data need to be fit for purpose. Despite exhaustive datasets, there may still be a significant lack of suitable information in some areas. Traditional biological recording was not designed to answer the questions now asked of it. Might this require different recording and data management strategies?
  • ‘Joined-up thinking’ appears to have been lacking in understanding the availability of appropriate data.
  • If there is such an increased demand for quite sophisticated, accessible data, where is the guidance or funding to help deliver it?
  • How will we know if ‘Sustainable Development’ – in its broadest sense
  • is really working?


Following this challenging contribution from local records centres, Sandy Coppins from the British Lichen Society showed us some of the recent work that they have been undertaking to make information available on lichens in Scotland in particular. This was an interesting contrast in talks, because lichens, as a subject, are specialist, and only about 30 people across the UK are actively recording them, so sampling strategies, as such, may appear to be way down the list of immediate priorities. In this case, Sandy was introducing the Scottish lichen database that had just been loaded on the NBN Gateway.

Lichen data at last: a Scottish lichen database on the NBN

Sandy Coppins, British Lichen Society

The Project started in September 2003. In September 2006, the funded project came to an end, and input into the Society’s BioBase database was halted, with the bulk of the available data now entered. It contains 8,670 sites and sub-sites, from 10,591 cards containing 256,318 records of 1,945 taxa. The seven months from the end of September 2006 to May 2007 were very intensive, involving work on conversion of the database from BioBase to Recorder 2002, then to Recorder 6. This was largely carried out by the BLS Data Manager, Janet Simkin on a voluntary basis, and by Andy Brewer, Technical Liaison Officer for the NBN Trust.

Sandy gave a brief historical overview of the British Lichen Society’s recording scheme, which had started as a 10km mapping exercise, that had led to the development of the Lichen Red Data Book, identification of BAP species, and the production of “A conservation evaluation of British lichens” (Woods & Coppins, 2003). The Mapping Scheme helped target and focus effort into lichen conservation, and is still invaluable today for considering how climate change may affect the lichen flora of the British Isles. However, the drawing up of lists for individual sites, and getting detailed information on threatened or bio-indicator species caused problems, and led to the decision to invest in a second system that could be site-based. BioBase was selected, and the challenge to convert BLS members to using this database was taken up by Janet Simkin in the Society in 1999.

N35 MapA.jpg Map a) Records on the Society’s database March 2004

In the summer of 2003, the Society had an unexpected grant of £90,000 from Scottish Natural Heritage for a 3-year project aimed at producing a site-based Scottish lichen database, together with training of young lichenologists. At the time, Sandy was President of the Society, and resident in Scotland, and (coincidentally) married to Dr Brian Coppins, UK’s leading lichen taxonomist. Together, they constituted a good team, which was just as well, as they were the only two active lichenologists resident in Scotland. The Project involved training a team of data inputters to take data from the 10km mapping scheme original cards, input these into Excel spreadsheets, for importing by Janet Simkin into BioBase. To these were added data from other sources (e.g. herbaria and notebooks). The data were then checked and converted to Recorder 6 format; NBN species name issues were sorted out in collaboration with the NBN Trust, and finally the data were supplied to the Gateway.

N35 MapB.jpg Map b) Records on the database, September 2006

As for the training of lichen apprentices, this ranks as one of the huge successes resulting from the SNH grant. At the start of the project, in September 2003, there were virtually only two active lichenologists in Scotland. By the finish of the project, there were three additional professional lichenologists, carrying out commissioned lichen surveys in not only Scotland, but in England, Wales and Ireland. In addition, there are at least three other professionals who now bring lichens into their work. An example of the use of the data has been a study of the protection of lichens through the Scottish SSSI network. This has found that in only 56% of cases does the relevant SSSI citation mention the lichen interest. This has serious implications when it comes to effective management plans, as only “features” mentioned in citations are ear-marked for effective management, such as regular Site Condition Monitoring.

What now? A database is never “finished”. It is always evolving, living, as new records are made, and new and unique demands are made upon it. There are at least 13 main areas where there are opportunities for Scottish data to be added, including Brian Coppins’ determination books, and specimens held in lichen herbaria at the Natural History Museum, Edinburgh, and the National Museum of Wales.

We have come a long way since the 18th century, when precision as to localities was not necessarily deemed important. Today, handheld GPS has revolutionised field recording, enabling considerable accuracy in location of individual populations of species, with 10-fig grid references.

The theme of the conference was recording and sampling strategy – getting the best out of records. The presentation had hardly touched on the theme, but Sandy said she and Brian were grateful to have had a platform from which to launch the Scottish Site Lichen Database.

However, they wanted to finish with a slightly different slant on “getting the best out of records”. The basis of “getting records” is complex. There has to be a body of people keen enough to go further than just casually “looking” at a particular group of organisms that they find attractive or fascinating. There has to be access to literature, at least good identification guides. One does not – very often – find that studying alone is sufficient, and it helps enormously to collaborate with like-minded individuals. There are obvious advantages to this, and hence learned societies are formed: the so-called “voluntary sector.” This is fine, and often societies are peopled not just with enthusiastic amateurs who enjoy field work and the challenge of identification and collating good records, but there are a smattering of “professionals”, the experts in the group of organisms, or at least professionals that have developed a strong interest and involvement with the study of the group. But, if there was no “expert” that one could go to with problems, or to check identification, no-one who was professionally employed as an “expert” in the field of study that related to that organism, no-one who could write the identification guides, no-one who was maintaining a national collection, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, or with access to these international journals so as to keep abreast of the latest developments in species concepts and species/genera revisions; then, pursuing the study of that group of organisms would be hard work indeed.

This is the taxonomic impediment we hear about – the dire shortage of taxonomists in our national institutions, the fact that taxonomy is becoming a lost art, not taught any more in schools or universities. So, while there is a tremendous surge of data collection and collation, with commendable and exciting developments in web-sites and databases with access for all – it’s a bit like skating over thin ice, as validation of the quality of the data amassed is so dependent on those few professional taxonomists, guiding and checking, maintaining herbaria, updating checklists, publishing revisions, providing expert back-up to all branches of research and endeavour around particular groups of organisms.


The lunch time break allowed people to take a look at the displays and demonstrations that had been put on, notably from the British Lichen Society, where Janet Simkin, with Brian and Sandy Coppins, demonstrated in more detail the Scottish lichen database on the NBN Gateway. The Freshwater Biological Association also were able to talk at greater length about the Freshwater Recording Project.

The afternoon session was launched by Chris Gleed-Owen of the Herpetological Conservation Trust, talking about their plans for the newly-launched National Amphibian & Reptile Recording Scheme.

Recording strategy for the National Amphibian & Reptile recording Scheme

Chris Gleed-Owen, Herpetological Conservation Trust

Chris started by mentioning the range of initiatives on recording scarcer amphibians and reptiles that the HCT has initiated over the years, including the ‘Add an Adder’ Project (, which not only gets the public involved in submitting reports, but also encourages sending in of negative reports from sites where these animals once were. Other initiatives have included a Slow-worm Compost Survey, and the Alien Encounters website (, which aims to alert people to the extensive list of non-native species of amphibian and reptile that have been reported from the country. These, together with the long-standing detailed work the HCT has been doing on rare species, have now been supplemented by the launch of the National Amphibian & Reptile Recording Scheme, with the help of some funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The aims of NARRS are as follows:

  • To build a national picture of ‘conservation status’ for all species;
  • To promote cooperation and good practice in survey and data exchange;
  • To generate public involvement & awareness;
  • It does not aim to replace existing local projects.

NARRS data will be widely available to all, including Local Records Centres, NBN and local Amphibian and Reptile Groups. The Project has developed a targeted sampling strategy for the more common species:

  • Setting up random 1km Ordnance Survey grid squares for recording;
  • Developing standard methods for recording different species and promoting these;
  • Developing standard suites of skills among volunteer recorders who have expressed an interest in being involved;
  • Focusing recording not only on presence, but also on absence as well as the level of occupancy of sites;
  • Getting recorders also to record details of habitat quality;
  • Ensuring that annual repeat sampling is carried out where possible.

Advice on setting up the strategy was obtained from the British Trust for Ornithology, particularly defining the number of stratified random squares for sampling. The BTO recommended a minimum of 400 squares, but in the event 500 have been defined. Initial consultation of interested groups suggested that it might be hard to get this level of coverage, but the HCT have been surprised by the level of take-up. So far 843 people had signed up across the UK, with most areas covered at least adequately.

N35 NARRS.jpg

Training is a very important part of the strategy. A series of over 50 training events have taken place, and materials were developed for these. Training packs were made available to other organisations who then carried out the training themselves, dispersing the effort across the whole of the UK. These events enable people to focus clearly on the key features and habitat characteristics. Survey protocols were developed for people to use, and the HCT provides background support, especially on things like licences, necessary for these groups, and Health & Safety advice. The result has been the effective roll out of a standardised recording programme, for which the results are awaited.


Richard Jones, a consultant entomologist then gave us a talk around a series of slides, looking at “brownfield” recording for invertebrates. The work had been carried out for BugLife (the Invertebrate Conservation Trust), in an attempt to help conservation of rare species in these unlikely surroundings, especially in the Thames Corridor.

Wasting time on wasteland: the problem of recording invertebrates for conservation on brownfields

Richard Jones

Although rather cynical, the title of this presentation reflected the real fact that there are some compelling arguments why trying to record insects and other invertebrates on brownfield sites is a waste of time. For a start, a large majority of people will insist on telling you that it is a waste of time.

Trying to explain why these, often ugly, derelict plots are important for nature conservation is sometimes a difficult message to get across. Brownfields have a serious image problem. It starts with the name: brown is the colour of dirt, the colour of excrement. Green on the other hand, has been usurped beyond its description of lush growth and is now used to brand anything as good and worthwhile: environmentally friendly, ecologically sound, sustainable, life promoting and spiritually enhancing. With bulldozed heaps of rubble and twisted metal, half demolished buildings, burnt-out cars and fly-tipped rubbish, brownfields do not meet the normal aesthetic expectations of a place where wildlife abounds. This is definitely not anyone’s idea of the rural idyll of rolling green hills, grazing meadows, woods and picturesque hedgerows where nature might normally be studied.

One of the first problems to overcome is access to sites. Brownfields are dangerous places. They are often boarded up and fenced with razor- or barbed-wire. Inside they are full of trip hazards, sharp metal shards, pot holes and shifting piles of rubble, not to mention the more sinister threats of dumped contaminated rubbish (including asbestos and clinical waste), discarded hypodermic needles from local drug users and the possibility of Weil’s disease, a nasty and sometimes fatal jaundice caused by a spirochaete passed in rat urine.

Then there is the problem that the landowners and the developers don’t want visitors. They don’t want any liability from trespassers injuring themselves, they don’t want travellers to set up camp and they don’t want fly tipping. Some sites, like railway lines, power stations, gas storage and oil refineries, are especially protected because of fears of damage through vandalism, sabotage or terrorism. Usually the only way to get on site is to take part in an environmental impact assessment. Ironically, landowners don’t really want naturalists there either, because if someone finds badgers or nesting birds or a colony of reptiles it might stop the development in its tracks and have major cost implications.

Cost is another argument why nature conservation on brownfields is a waste. These derelict sites are seen as having value only in commercial financial terms of regeneration and redevelopment. Their ‘worth’ for wildlife is not appreciated. This is despite the fact that brownfields are extraordinarily rich in their invertebrate faunas. An estimated 12–14% of Britain’s nationally scarce and Red Data Book invertebrates occur on brownfield sites. This is more than occur in ancient woodlands, chalk downs or lowland heaths; habitats very much more greatly appreciated for their valuable wildlife.

Many of these unusual insect species are associated with the typical brownfield habitat: sparsely vegetated, well-drained, dry and warm, with areas of bare ground. These are often warmth-loving (or heat-tolerating) species with a rather Mediterranean distribution in Europe, right at the very northern and western edge of their ranges in Britain. They are often species which, elsewhere, are associated with sandy heaths, chalk downs, coastal cliffs, dunes and duneslacks. These semi-natural habitats are now under severe threat from scrub invasion, agricultural ‘improvement’ or urban development. It is now time to recognize that brownfield sites are important for wildlife, yet they too are under imminent threat from destruction by redevelopment.

Surveying brownfield insects is also a waste of time because redevelopment almost always happens. Political pressure from local and national government to provide new homes and businesses and to regenerate run-down areas is intense. And the financial clout of the national and international development companies is immense. To many people, from politicians and planners to the general public, trying to stop or alter a brownfield development because of a few insects is laughable. And those trying to do the stopping or altering are often faced with the unstoppable juggernaut power of that political and financial strength.

But maybe things are changing. The environmental movement has now become an environmental industry, with its own political and financial power. It can now try to influence the opinions of policy makers and the general public, when it comes to brownfield biodiversity. In 2005 Buglife launched the ‘All of a buzz in the Thames Gateway’ project, a 3- year study of invertebrates on brownfield sites in the Thames Gateway — a large area of proposed regeneration and redevelopment including roughly East London and the Thames Estuary coasts of South Essex and North Kent. The project is co-ordinated by Buglife, and funded by an award from the ‘Countdown 2010’ grant system, through Natural England. Data are being stored and analysed by the Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre in Maidstone, run by the Kent Wildlife Trust, whilst the project is sponsored by Natural England, the Environment Agency, The Wildlife Trusts and the Greater London Authority. These are all major environmental players and as well as giving the project financial strength, they give it political authority and credibility. Over 1000 brownfield sites have been visited and assessed; some of these by detailed surveys, which have continued to find the rare and unusual species associated with this unusual habitat.

Stopping redevelopment is still a daunting and usually impossible task, but influencing its outcome has now become a more optimistic reality. By demonstrating how important brownfields are for insects, Buglife hopes to guide developers and planners when they are considering mitigation for loss of habitat, and perhaps actually improve designs and landscaping to enhance the local biodiversity.

One of the key arguments to be put forward is that tree-planting is not a universal panacea when it comes to environmental improvement. ‘Greening’ the environment has become a ‘greenwash’ as exclusive and expensive developments are landscaped with lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs. But all this quick gardening fix brings is a bland and uninspiring uniformity — green deserts with virtually no insects where previously there was a huge diversity of those unusual and scarce insects.

There have, however, been a few tentative expectations of success. At some key brownfield sites local planners, and the development companies, have been encouraged (or in some cases required) to leave alone parts of the site because of the wildlife interest. Elsewhere ‘ecoroofs’ (also called green roofs or living roofs) have been constructed to mimic the lost brownfields on top of the new buildings. And in one landmark case a brownfield ‘ecozone’ is to be created so that a colony of rare beetles can be relocated from one part of the development site to another.

We still have a long way to go in encouraging an appreciation of brownfields for the value of their invertebrate biodiversity. Messages are slowly trickling through to the media, to the planners, to the developers, to the politicians and to the general public that brown does not always mean dirty and ugly. Brown is extremely important for a huge range of scarce and unusual invertebrates. The distinction between green and brown is not black and white.


Continuing the invertebrate theme, Zoë Randle of Butterfly Conservation rounded off the presentations by sharing with us the ideas being put into practice in setting up the new Moths Count Project, under the National Moth Recording Scheme.

Developing moth recording for the National Moth Recording Scheme

Zoë Randle, Butterfly Conservation

Zoë started by informing delegates that Butterfly Conservation’s initial consultation to explore the setting up of the NMRS had established that there were an estimated 18 million existing moth records available in the UK, waiting to be brought together. There was also already evidence for an almost exponential growth in records. For example, there had been an increase in moth records in Suffolk alone of some 30,000 between 2000 and 2002.

The principal aim of the NMRS is to encourage the recording of more detailed data. To achieve this, the Project is developing “best practice” in recording moths, including recommendations for trapping methods and timing. Because of the amount of existing recording already going on, the Moths Count project faces quite a challenge in integrating its objectives with the existing structure of recording. To achieve this, an extensive round of consultation had taken place already, and Butterfly Conservation were very pleased to find that 100% of existing County Recorders expressed a willingness to take part.

The flow of data through the Project is also a major issue, and here the Project is taking a “bottom up” approach, rather than trying to dictate a system from above. So, the existing County Recorder structure is vital for the effectiveness of the Project. These will act as the focal point for collating data for their areas, which will then be submitted to the NMRS database centrally. Effective feedback is also seen as essential for success, based on the experience of the Butterflies for the New Millennium Project.

The Project is developing on-line recording in parallel with the activities of the local groups, to encourage public involvement. This is being organised initially through a dedicated adjunct to the Moths Count Project website where the public are being encouraged to take part in garden moth events (

Data contributed to the Project will eventually be fed through the NBN Gateway and disseminated in accordance with the NBN Data Exchange Principles.


Round-up discussion

The round-up discussion was themed as “Developing best practice in sampling and recording”. Charles Copp led the debate, by noting that there was a continuing need to free up access to and the use of wildlife data; that there were a very wide range of reasons for carrying out recording; but that we must not lose sight of the broader potential to use data for things other than that for which it was first collected. However, there is a discrepancy often between the need for detailed data applicable for specific uses, and the broader approaches to recording.

A comment in relation to the objectives of the Moths Count Project was that field recorders need to be encouraged whenever possible to be precise about the records they are making – especially grid references, because while it is easy for detailed data to be summarised for more general use, it is impossible to extract detailed information from a poorly-made record.

In response to Martin Hicks’ presentation, a comment was made that it is “time to grasp the nettle of expectation, that data will just be there”. However, if users, particularly statutory users, want to get detailed data, then they should be encouraged to give proper support. The NFBR may be in a position to help in this. In relation to this issue, it was also pointed out that the expectation stemming from statutory requirements that data must be less than five years old to be of any use was actually a fallacy, and was “selling short” the work of all existing recorders, especially when it comes to more difficult taxa. However, we also have to be aware that not all data are usable for all potential uses, and that, ultimately, this may not really matter.

On a different note, the quality of “professional” data was also questioned. There was often a need for improvement in the standards of professionally collected data from consultants for example, as well as an issue about their not being willing often to enable their data to be made more widely available. However, the Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management is pushing to encourage freeing up access to data, and issues good practice guidance to this end. The desire to produce “best practice” guidance on sampling and recording may not have been achieved through the outcome of these discussions, but a greater awareness of the complexity of both demands and methods available was successfully aired.

Formal recognition for biological recording? (i)

Paul T. Harding (ii)

“There appear to be no explicitly formal or binding obligations under present or European legislation, or through international agreements, which require any organisation in the UK to make, compile and maintain biological records (Burnett, et al. 1995)”. (iii)


This carefully worded statement of fact in the CCBR Report is as true today as it was in 1995. However anodyne it may be, this crucially important statement avoided the main issue: whether or not legislation should be introduced to formalise biological recording. The main sponsoring organisation (DoE) would not sanction any suggestion in the report regarding the need for legislation. The subsequent establishment of the NBN Trust, the NBN Gateway with over 27 million biological records, and NBN’s developmental work with local records centres (LRCs) and national societies and schemes, have done little to improve formal recognition of any form of biological recording, including LRCs.

This issue was certainly not new in 1995 and the need for a legislative basis for biological recording has been repeated many times, and in many places, in subsequent years. The whole edifice that is biological recording in the UK is built on the sands of informal relationships and trust. Although typically British, this is not a sustainable, 21st century approach to the supply and delivery of biological records.

Comparison with other environmental information (iv)

In the UK, information is collected, compiled, maintained and disseminated, as a matter of explicit governmental policy (usually formalised by legislation), on all aspects of the environment. For example, these include agricultural production, archaeological features, cartographic information, human demography, land ownership, protected wildlife sites and habitats, and weather records. The list is almost endless, but notably excludes conventional biological records.

Perhaps the most appropriate comparisons to biological recording are the maintenance both of archives and archaeological Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs). The maintenance of archives has always been a statutory function, including those held at a county level, surviving through many changes in local governmental structures. The existence of SMRs (also known as Historical Environmental Records - HERs) is enshrined in separate legislative instruments for England and Wales, and for Scotland. However, as Fraser (1993) (v) observed, “the structural weakness of SMRs is that they are dependent on the continued existence of their parent authorities, and local government is in a continual state of review.” The same weakness applies to LRCs, but without even the benefit of a legislative basis. Country and national organisations are also in a continual state of review leading to similar structural weakness with regard to their own databases and those that they may sponsor or support, such as LRCs. Whether the forthcoming White Paper Heritage Protection in the 21st Century will improve the lot of HERs has yet to be seen, but it certainly provides a model for how biological records should be considered in legislation.

Demand, but no supply?

A need for biological records is increasingly enshrined in legislation in the UK, but only rarely is the supply of such information even considered.

Defra recently published their Guidance for Local Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty. Appendix 2 of this Guidance lists 29 separate items of legislation relating to the Biodiversity Duty (2 International, 7 European, 20 England and Wales). In the section on Forward Planning (4.5) the need for local authorities to develop a good evidence base recognises, albeit tangentially, that Local and/or Regional Record Centres can provide a vital role in enabling local authorities to obtain good quality baseline information on habitats and species. This is probably the most explicit statement to come from any governmental source regarding the existence of LRCs in relation to local authorities! The same section (Box 4.2: Useful Sources of Baseline Information) states that Local and/or Regional Record Centres provide information on local biodiversity and goes on to state that NFBR provides a UK wide organisation for those involved in biological recording.

Another recent (2006) Defra document Local sites: guidance on their identification, selection and management, similarly identifies a role for LRCs in this context, but avoids placing a commitment on local authorities to have any responsibilities for biodiversity data.

Opportunity for action?

There has probably not been a better time to attempt to raise again the issue of the need for a legislative basis for biological recording and, especially, for LRCs. NFBR should take a lead on this, preferably in close association with NFBR’s natural partners, including ALERC, BRISC and ALGE. In the case of LRCs, important aspects should be that LRCs must be user-driven, and the desirability and benefits of common standards for LRCs.

What NFBR will do

At a recent meeting of NFBR Council it was agreed that a small working group would be formed under the chairmanship of Paul Harding. The objective would be to inform NFBR (and partners) on opportunities to target action, based on a joined-up approach to piecemeal activities. The working group will:

  • include representatives of partner organisations and call on other advisers as necessary;
  • promote the need for formal recognition for biological recording;
  • prepare or commission a concise review (vi) of current activities in this and related areas;
  • seek advice on the most suitable ways to approach governmental organisations to lobby for action.

Can you help?

Offers of help or advice or constructive comments would be greatly appreciated.

Please contact Paul Harding by email


i - "Biological recording” as defined in the CCBR Report (Vol. 1, p 145), with the products being “biological records”.

ii - I am very grateful to Charles Copp, Martin Hicks and Trevor James for their help in developing this paper.

iii - Burnett, Copp & Harding (1995) Biological recording in the UK: Present practice and future development. Summary Report. Department of the Environment. [The CCBR Report]

iv - Environmental is taken here to mean anything relating to the natural or anthropogenic environment.

v - Fraser, D. 1993. The British archaeological database. In: Archaeological resource management in the UK: an introduction, edited by J.Hunter & I. Ralston, 19-29. Stroud: Alan Sutton.

vi - As a minimum the review should cover: Defra’s recent guidance documents (see above); several recent reviews relating to LRCs and biodiversity data needs; the results of and response to the LRC funding petition; forthcoming Heritage White Paper; NBN related documentation on LRCs, including proposals for accreditation.


John Newbould, Yokshire Naturalist Union

By the early 1980s there had not been a flora produced for any of Yorkshire since F Arnold Lees published his Flora of the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1888. CA Cheetham and WA Sledge had produced a supplement to this in 1941. Elsewhere in the county, Dr Eva Crackles produced a Flora of the East Riding of Yorkshire, which was published in 1990 by Hull University Press.

Phyl Abbott became vice-county recorder for v.c. 64 around 1980 and began work on the current flora. Early on, Phyl decided to record by tetrad. Gradually word spread around the YNU and BSBI and other botanists began providing records, some on a casual basis, others by faithfully recording a tetrad for many years. The terrain covers some of the highest peaks in England, together with the associated sub-artic flora, the upland fen systems of Malham Tarn and associated limestone pavement. There are hundreds of hectares of moorland, moving eastwards across the Magnesian Limestone belt to the Vale of York and parts of Leeds. The Flora lists contributions by 119 botanists and 18 organisations. Recording took around 20 years with over 900 tetrads visited. By 2000, Phyl started to assemble the text and produce distribution maps using dMap software ™ by Alan Morton.

In late 2004, the Flora was nearing completion, with the tedious jobs of indexing and proofreading underway. Phyl’s husband, Cedric worked hard to ensure that the associated maps fitted into the text and also researched their photographic library for suitable images. It was now time to decide on the method of publication. At this time I, as the YNU Treasurer, became closely involved sorting out the finances and organising the distribution. In recent years, the Union had published a small number of books. They had all been A5, soft-backs. We looked at what other authors of floras had done and came to the conclusion that the Flora should be A4 and hardback. For the past 15 years, the Union has had its quarterly journal The Naturalist printed by Titus Wilson of Kendall. Here David Poynton was a tower of strength with the project advising on what was possible and providing consistent pricing quotations over a twelve-month period. Phyl also managed to raise £1000 sponsorship from the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. This was useful, as we needed to cover the cost of complimentary copies to the statutory libraries and non-members who had written the sections on geology and soils etc. as well as printing and promotion.

We had around 10,000 fliers printed which were distributed by a number of organisations including the BSBI and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. We decided to print just 500 copies, but also bought at a discounted rate around 40 over-runs. We have an established bookselling arrangement and contacted many of the literary agents such as NHBS who distribute natural history books. In addition, Summerfield Books the BSBI Bookseller bought over 10% of our publication run at a discounted rate.

At the time of writing, we are £150 short of going into surplus. This will be reduced when I go down to the County Court to do the paper work on a debt, which a book-reseller owes. You need to be rigorous on credit-control. In 2008/9 the YNU are planning the publication of a Plant Atlas of South Yorkshire. The Flora of Mid-west Yorkshire is published by the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union and available c/o J. Newbould, 3 Brookmead Close, Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth DT3 6RS Price £21 plus £7 carriage.


Reviews by Paul Harding (

The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland.

Robert Thompson & Brian Nelson. 2006. (MAGNI Publication no.018) Published by National Museums Northern Ireland, Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast BT9 5AB. pp xii + 428. Softback. ISBN 0-90076-147-4. Available from Blackstaff Press at £25.00 plus £9 UK postage ( p).

My review of The Natural History of Ireland’s Dragonflies, by the same authors (NFBR News 32), highlighted Robert Thompson’s excellent photographs and the thoroughness of their text. Thompson and Nelson have done it again - this time for butterflies and larger moths in the six counties of Northern Ireland. The majority of this large format book is taken up by short (200 to 300 word) accounts of almost 500 species of butterflies and larger moths, describing the distribution, habitat and flight period, and with useful tips on field characters and life stages. Each account is augmented by a distribution map summarising records at the 10km square scale within three date periods, the most recent being 2000 to 2004. Thompson’s photographs illustrate about 250 species and there are a few charming paintings by Richard Lewington. All species are shown in apparently natural surroundings. Thompson has succeeded in demonstrating the cryptic coloration and behaviour of many species – some of these are classics, for example the Scalloped Hooktip under a yellowing birch leaf (p 75) and the Pine Beauty on a developing pine bud (p 269). Many of these photographs should considered as species as ‘portraits’ because of their exquisite detail and artistic composition.

In the introduction to the species accounts, an intriguing histogram shows the number of species records of butterflies and larger moths contained in the Northern Ireland database for each year from 1980 to 2004. The Northern Ireland branch of Butterfly Conservation was formed in 1988, which led to a steady increase in records – from under 5000 in 1988 to a peak of over 25,000 new records in 2000, but there seems to have been a slight decline in recording since 2000. Another interesting histogram shows the overall number of records from each county: clearly there is still plenty of scope for recording butterflies and larger moths in two western counties, Londonderry and Tyrone. Several coverage maps highlight where lepidopterists have been active, especially around Belfast, south and west of Lough Neagh and in parts of Fermanagh and south Down.

Other introductory chapters cover Notable Lepidoptera recorders (providing a valuable historical perspective on recording), and The composition and conservation of the fauna. The Habitat gallery chapter illustrates and describes 19 classic sites and habitats, including the garden of a well-known lepidopterist, several National Nature Reserves and, one of my favourites, the curiously named and complex Monawilkin site in Fermanagh. The final chapter, Studying butterflies and moths in the field, provides a useful introduction to the study of Lepidoptera, including details of trapping techniques. I felt that this chapter could have provided more references to further reading. The Bibliography is rather brief – about 50 titles, but it does include the relevant catalogues and editions of the Bibliography of Irish Entomology. There is a Checklist of the Lepidoptera of Northern Ireland and lists of plant species and place names cited in the text. The Index includes scientific and common names of moths and butterflies, but is a bit erratic in its coverage of other topics.

As an informative reference book with beautiful portraits of Lepidoptera, it would not be out of place on the proverbial coffee-table, but it is rather impractical as a guide for use with fieldwork – it would have to stay in the car!

Atlas of Crayfish in Europe.

Edited by Catherine Souty-Grosset, David M Holdich, Pierre Y Noél, Julian D Reynolds & Patrick Haffner. 2006. (Patrimoines naturels, 64). 187pp, softback. ISBN: 2-85653-579-8 and 13-978-2-85653-579-0. Paris: Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Price not stated. In English.

This apparently esoteric volume presents a summary of results from the EC funded CRAYNET project. It is a mine of information about the five species of freshwater crayfish that are indigenous to Europe and the ten species that have been introduced. Of these, only one is native to Britain and Ireland (whiteclawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes), but at least five other species have, at some time, been introduced here. The Atlas includes detailed species account, distribution maps, keys and many colour photographs. It presents thoughtful arguments regarding the issues of conserving indigenous species of crayfish, which have relevance to other taxa. It also examines the threats to species, including from pathogens and parasites, and the threats to habitats. The bibliography includes over 700 titles.

Atlas of the Millipedes (Diplopoda) of Britain and Ireland.

Paul Lee. 2006. 216 pp, hardback. ISBN: 10-954-642-277-0 and 13-978-954-642-277-4. Sofia: Pensoft Publishers. € 32.00 plus postage. Order online

This is the first (and I hope last) BRC atlas to be published overseas. True, it is well printed, with many good colour photographs (by the late Steve Hopkin and Paul Richards), bound in stiff laminated covers, and printed on good quality paper. But it is overpriced and has to be ordered from Bulgaria. Also, the text seems to have been designed for the visually challenged.

Apart from these criticisms of the publishing, the actual content is excellent. Good clear maps, with overall coverage under-shaded on each species map; informative species accounts with plenty of references to further reading; an up-to-date check list; a review of millipede recording from 1814 to the present day; a short section on alien species; comments on the conservation status of species; a comprehensive bibliography and a thorough index to species. Over 40 pages are devoted to an analysis of habitat data collected with the species distribution records. These habitat data are a particular feature of the British Myriapod and Isopod Group schemes, and they provide a much needed insight into the recorded habitat preferences of species. This section of the book is not easy going, but it provides, for the first time, quantitative information about the habitats in which millipedes have been found.

Millipedes may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but some are (fairly) attractive, several are easy to identify in the field, and a few species are rare and declining nationally. One of our commonest species, Nanogona polydesmoides, otherwise occurs only rarely in a few parts of western Europe. Therefore our populations of this species should be of international importance – now there’s a quandary for the conservationists!

Events Workshops and Conferences

National Moth Recording Scheme:

Free training events during 2007

DINTON PASTURES, Reading, Berks. Identifying difficult moths by genitalia 27 October 2007 10.30-16.00 Aimed at existing moth recorders with no experience of identifying moths by genitalia examination. Booking essential.

WALSALL, West Midlands Wormwood. Shark training and survey day 11 September 2007 10.00-16.00 Aimed at existing moth recorders or beginners interested in this Nationally Notable species. Booking essential.

ULSTER WILDLIFE TRUST, Crossgar, Co. Down. Critical and difficult identifications 8 September 2007 Booking essential.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WALES, Cardiff. Identifying difficult moths by genitalia 24 November 2007 11.00-16.00 Aimed at existing moth recorders with no experience of identifying moths by genitalia examination. Advanced booking essential.

Contact Butterfly Conservation on 01929 406009 or

Kent Field Club and Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre will be holding a conference on The Natural History of the Isle of Sheppey on Saturday 13th October 2007 at Canterbury Christ Church University. The eventual aim will be to produce a book on the island. Contact John Badmin, Kent Field Club,

Insuring Charities and Voluntary Organisations for Field Work

John Newbould, Yorkshire Naturalist Union

One of the subjects I am most frequently asked about is public liability insurance for small voluntary organisations. Obtaining guidance on insurance is easy. The Charity Commission website under the publications link refers the enquirer to booklet CC49 Charities and Insurance. Basically it advises charity trustees to insure against risk to the following: buildings and contents, certain high-risk events, professional indemnity insurance, employer’s liability insurance and public liability insurance. It further cautions that unless a charity has such insurance its assets may be used up to pay out a claim, and if the trustees have been negligent in not providing adequate insurance, they may be personally liable to make up any losses.

The Trustee Act 2000 gives trustees clear powers to insure against risk and to pay a premium. However, for trustees and officers liability insurance, depending on the wording of the charity’s constitution, the charity may need to obtain a scheme from the Charity Commission to pay such a premium. This is rarely refused.

There are a number of clear steps that trustees can take to reduce the premiums. Firstly, ensure that there is a constant dialogue with insurers by supplying copies of the Annual Report and membership card with the programme of events before the premium is assessed. Secondly, through the annual report process we review risk towards the end of the field season to determine if there have been any reported incidents. Thirdly, we have a one side of A4 Health and Safety Policy, which requires reporting of incidents. Fourthly we issue all members with Heath and Safety Guidelines (three sides of A4 plus a table showing a sample risk assessment for field meetings). Finally in addition to insuring published field meetings, we also allow members to register projects, providing the cover is not required for a commercial purpose (i.e. the project must satisfy the Charity Commission’s public service guidelines required in the 2006 Charities Act). We also try not to provide food, other than tea/coffee and biscuits. All our large meetings, which require catering, are held in hotels. At least four charities that I am associated with and their respective insurers have adopted these documents.

There are a small number of legal requirements relating to insurance. For example, all organisations should ensure that a copy of the Employers’ Liability Insurance is displayed on all premises. In practice, for the YNU we neither own nor lease any buildings and I make the document available to all key trustees.

How much does all this cost? The YNU spends around £2.50 per member on insurance. Realistically, it is the strength of our reserves that counts and there can be difficulties. One small Yorkshire charity told me that the owners of the hall they used for meetings required the hirer to have public liability insurance. We have just once been asked to provide evidence of public liability cover by a landowner. We have also recently been asked by a local authority if they could pay for some volunteers to become members, because of the H&S rules within that authority, covering the people for a community based project.

Finally what cover do we have? ? £10m Employer’s Liability Insurance – covers our volunteers on official Union business. ? £5m Public Liability Insurance ? £5m Product Liability Insurance ? £100K libel insurance for book reviews in the Naturalist. One author was very upset and took some soothing over! ? £500k Trustees and Officers Liability Insurance.

By contrast there is at least one national society who publicly states it has no insurance and members take part in activities at there own risk.

I am happy to address any queries by telephone, and can supply copies of the Health and Safety policy, guidelines and a model risk assessment form by email.

John Newbould

Email: Tel. (01305) 837384.

NFBR Chairman's Report 2006-2007

Charles Copp, NFBR Chairman

Last year I reported that the NFBR was going through a period of great change and that the Council had held a workshop to debate and outline a manifesto for the group's future activities. Through subsequent discussions and review, we produced a paper listing five strategic aims1 and potential activities that were to become the guidelines for NFBR policy and action. It is now nearly two years since that first workshop, how have we fared?

The most apparent activity has been the 2006 conference on 'Biological Recording for the Future' and this year's conference on 'Recording Strategies'. This, of course, is not a new development. For more than 20 years now the NFBR has organised topical and high quality conferences and workshops.

These meetings serve to bring recorders together from many disciplines and to provide valuable information on trends and projects and engender discussion on future developments. For many new recruits to biological recording and records management (and old lags too), the NFBR conferences provide a valuable element of training and hopefully inspiration. The discussions and recommendations arising from NFBR conferences have been influential in bringing about many of the achievements of the past years, including the establishment of the NBN and the recognition of local records centres. In some areas, such as the re-linking of collections and recording, we have fared less well but the tide has been somewhat against us and there is yet hope!

Communication was a central theme to the proposed strategic aims and in addition to meetings, NFBR has continued to produce its newsletter and add to its website ( has set up a wiki for the development of documentation and standards (

Sadly we are now losing our long-serving Council Member and Newsletter Editor, Nicky Court, who wishes to stand down at this year's AGM. This is a great loss, Nicky has been a hard-working, sensible and stalwart member of Council for more years than I expect she cares to remember. The job of newsletter editor is onerous because of the difficulty of getting people to actually contribute, much as we all like to read the product! I am as blameworthy in this as any other and have the same excuses. If you want something done, ask a busy person but even busy people have to meet the demands of their jobs, have home-lives and need to sleep! Tasks such as filling the newsletter or keeping the website up-to-date (and worth re-visiting) are time-consuming and need input from many people and we are still not achieving the community involvement that we have discussed so often and at such length!

The establishment of the Association of Local Record Centres continues at a slow but steady rate (although I'm still not sure of the name!) and a first meeting was held in London on 16th March 2007. The constitution is being developed and plans for the next two years laid including a sum of money to turn them into a business plan and develop a website. The NFBR Council includes numerous members working in local record centres and doubtless the eventual demands of the Association will draw some of them away. Hopefully the NFBR and the Association will work very closely together including sharing conferences and workshops of common interest but the changes highlight the need for NFBR to increase its membership amongst other biological recording practitioners, something which we have only been partially successful at so far.

In some ways, I feel that, as a group, we have been marking time for much of the last year. This is not to say that nothing has happened. Indeed, individually, we have all been as hectic as ever. For my own part perhaps 90% of my work is now focussed outside of the UK, taking forward projects such as Recorder and the development of international standards, all deeply associated with the NFBR's objectives and in some ways broadening its horizons. I expect that other members can also report on changes in their own work, of a similar nature. There is also the effect of changes discussed in last year's report such as the closure of Monks Wood, changes in planning legislation and growing regionalisation in the the statutory authorities where the process continues and the extent of the 'fall out' is still unclear.

And so we face a not uncommon dilemma. We have an understanding of the tasks that we wish to tackle and we have a constituency (in part unaware of our existence) but we lack the resources, mainly time, to achieve our aims. In fact our membership has gone down by about fifteen individuals and organisations in the last year and only around five new members have joined. We have discussed a funding bid but putting together a project to raise enough money to employ, even parttime, a development officer in itself takes much time and resources and may conflict with other similar bids, for instance, should one be put forward by the Association of Local Records Centres. Like many groups, the chief activists have been 'at it' for a long time and one by one will fall by the wayside. Luckily there are still young and vigorous people on the council and we need to ensure that they can take the NFBR forward and recruit some more!

Meanwhile I will take the opportunity to thank all the council members for their work and support during the year, especially to Nicky who is standing down and to Darwyn Sumner who has taken on the role of Secretary, a difficult position to fill following Paul Harding's exemplary term in that role. Luckily Paul Harding and Trevor James have continued to give their time and expertise in great measure during the last year, something I hope can continue for some time yet! Thanks also to John Newbould who is a most efficient and reliable Treasurer and Membership Secretary.

Last year I asked the question, “Where will the NFBR be in five years time?” Well one year has passed and despite our development paper, I still don't know the full answer to that question. We will still be here, holding conferences and representing biological recording on developing issues but past that I cannot see. When we set up the NFBR, those of us who were on that first steering group had a burning vision of what we wished to achieve, this became the core of the group's activity and many things have sprung from that vision. Hopefully the steering group for the Association of Local Records Centres now also have a clear, urgent vision of their task but what of the NFBR can we kindle a new vision? One thing is clear, each generation must encourage and train its successors. Years ago, I gave a talk entitled 'Concert party on the Titanic' which gave the call for the establishment of what became the NFBR. I don't think we are any longer on the Titanic but then neither do I want the NFBR to become the 'Marie Celeste'.

1 Five strategic aims of NFBR 1. Identifying the needs for biological recording and records. 2. Maintaining a review of and defining standards for making records. 3. Maintaining a review of and encouraging standards in data management. 4. Promoting the use of biological recording and records. 5. Advocacy for biological recording and its support.

Minutes of the 20th Annual General Meeting

Held at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford on Friday 11th May 2007 at 13:30 pm

Present: Chairman - Charles Copp, Acting Vice Chairman - Trevor James, Secretary - Darwyn Sumner, Treasurer - John Newbould, five other members of Council and 18 other NFBR members.

1. Apologies for absence

Received from: Nicky Court, Henri Brocklebank, Patrick Milne Home, Mandy Rudd, John Badmin, Steve Whitebread, Martin Harvey.

2. Minutes of the 19th Annual General Meeting held on 5th May 2006

The meeting approved the Minutes of the 19th AGM as distributed (a second time) with the conference papers, without correction (proposed John Newbould, seconded Trevor James).

3. Chairman’s Report for 2006/2007

The Chairman presented a verbal report based upon his written paper. He made a stimulating appeal, referring again to the future of the NFBR, underlining the importance of the need for discussion on this issue by making the point that he did not want to be the “last master of the Marie Celeste”.

4. Annual Accounts and Treasurer’s Report

The Treasurer presented the Annual Accounts for the year ending 31 December 2006. He commented upon a healthy surplus, caused partly by unclaimed bills and expenses from generous speakers and conference venues. The discontinuing of our membership of Wildlife Link also resulted in a substantial saving. He warned, however, that the forthcoming Watsonian Vice-county publication was an expense we should see in the forthcoming year. The report and accounts were approved (proposed Trevor James, seconded Adam Rowe).

5. Election of Honorary Officers and Council for 2007/2008

The changes were dealt with in the following manner:

The following posts: Chair, Acting Vice Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Website-Manager were re-elected en bloc. Paul Harding noted that a change in the wording of the constitution was required in order to have a formal Vice Chair post - thus the term “Acting” was retained (proposed Adam Rowe, seconded Anne-Marie Smout).

Two offers of assistance were received from the meeting following the resignation of Nicky Court as Newsletter Editor. Adam Rowe indicated that he would be prepared to take on this task but was too busy in the current year. Carolyn Steele volunteered to take on the task for this year. Carolyn Steele was thus elected to this post (proposed Trevor James, seconded Adam Rowe).

Three members (whose terms would normally end at this AGM) had indicated a wish to remain on the committee; Adam Rowe via email to the Secretary and Mandy Rudd and Henri Brocklebank in conversations with the Secretary, accordingly all were co-opted. This left two vacancies on the Council.

Addendum: The Chair was subsequently approached by Philippa Burrell (Thames Valley Record Centre), Margaret Haggerty (Lincolnshire Environmental Records Centre) and Martin Hicks (Herts BRC) offering to take a place on Council.

6. Any other business

No other business being proposed, the meeting closed at 14:05 pm

Darwyn Sumner, NFBR Secretary