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Improving Biological Information Management Systems in Worcestershire Final Report Summary - March 2000

Introduction

This important report on the possible ways of development for the Worcestershire Biological Records Centre is available to any reader. It can be obtained from Colin Raven, Director, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, Lower Smite Farm, Hindlip, Worcester, WR3 8SZ. Please send a cheque for 3 (payable to WWT) to cover the cost of photocopying and postage.

We very much want you to read this report and make any comment you think fit. Although it is unlikely that everyone will be completely pleased with whatever structure is adopted for the Worcs BRC it is important that all volunteer recorders and also likely users of the BRC make their views known to the steering committee. The future development of the BRC is dependent on users, funding, and the volunteer recording network. It cannot develop satisfactorily without all the component interests working in partnership. The Report sets out how this can be achieved through service level agreements with local aauthorities and others and input of biological records from the volunteer and professional network.

The future BRC will have to have a structure and the proposal is for an independent company to be formed in which all parties would be involved, especially individual recorders. We suggest that you should all be aware of the implications of this proposal.

Here follows the Table of Contents, Figures and Annexes of the Report and also the Executive Summary which will give you the flavour of the Report, but cannot fully replace reading it yourself! It actually contains a great deal of interesting information on biological recording which may be new to many readers.

Then follows an article by Pauline Homer enlarging on the background to the Report.

Table of Contents

1 Executive Summary 6
2 Background 8
2.1 Introduction 8
2.2 The National Biodiversity Network 8
2.3 Scope 9
2.4 Consultation 9
2.5 Purpose of Development Plan 10
3 Vision for WBRC 12
4 User Needs and Products 14
4.1 Business Needs 14
4.2 Voluntary Recorders’ Needs 25
4.2.1 The existing WBRC 25
4.2.2 Worcestershire Recorders’ Workshop 26
4.2.3 Views expressed by recorders through questionnaires 28
4.3 Products 29
5 Existing Data 34
6 Records Centre Services and Activities 36
6.1 Overview 36
6.2 Survey 36
6.3 Biodiversity planning 37
6.4 County Wildlife Site system 38
6.5 Interpretation and Evaluation 39
6.6 Education 41
6.7 Planning 42
6.8 Policies and Procedures 43
6.9 Role of the WBRC in the National Biodiversity Network 47
6.10 Activities 48
7 Structure 50
7.1 Overview 50
7.2 Institutional Structure 50
7.3 Management System 55
7.4 Staff 56
7.5 Office Location 57
7.6 Means of accessing Records Centre data 58
7.7 The need for an establishment Phase 59
8 Costs 60
9 Funding 62
9.1 Service Level Agreements 62
9.2 Potential for Service Agreements 62
9.3 Pay as you use 64
9.4 Free Service 65
9.5 External Funding Sources 65
9.5.1 Heritage Lottery Fund 65
9.5.2 Landfill Tax 66
9.5.3 Charitable Trusts 67
9.5.4 Business Sponsorship 67
9.6 Partners’ Contributions to Establishment Phase 67
9.7 Support in-kind 67
10 Decisions on the future 68
10.1 Options 68
10.2 Conclusion 68

Table of Figures

Figure 1 A definition of a Local Records Centre 8
Figure 2 Consultees 10
Figure 3 Benefits of a Records Centre to Users 13
Figure 4 Business Needs for Biodiversity Information 15
Figure 5 Statutory Requirements on local authorities for biodiversity / nature conservation 17
Figure 6 Planning Policy Guidance with biodiversity /nature conservation requirements 18
Figure 7 Some extracts from the legislation 18
Fiigure 8 Some extracts from planning policy guidance 19
Figure 9 Local authorities needs for biodiversity data 20
Figure 10 Community Strategies 21
Figure 11 Best Value Review of Local Authority Services 21
Figure 12 Local Authority Service Delivery 22
Figure 13 Increasing Demandfor Biodiversity Information 23
Figure 14 Characteristics of Biodiversity Data - relative priority 23
Figure 15 Focus on Special Sites 24
Figure 16 Voluntary Recorders’ Needs 28
Figure 17 Voluntary Recorders’ Expertise and Time 29
Figure 18 Information Product Priorities Identified by Users 30
Figure 19 Information Product Priorities 33
Figure 20 Existing Datasets 34
Figure 21 Data collected by voluntary recorders 34
Figure 22 Surveys 36
Figure 23 Biodiversity Planning 37
Figure 24 Wildlife Sites System 38
Figure 25 Interpretation and Evaluation 39
Figure 26 The Advice Issue 41
Figure 27 Education 41
Figure 28 The potential role of WBRC in the planning system 43
Figure 29 Policies and Procedures requiring development 44
Figure 30 Activities needed to generate information products - example 48
Figure 31 Institutional Structure 50
Figure 32 Some advantages and disadvantages of hosting and independence 52
Figure 33 A potential management system under an independent Records Centre 56
Figure 34 Outline job descriptions 57
Figure 35 Running Costs 60
Figure 36 Establishment Costs 61
Figure 37 Service Level Agreements 62
Figure 38 Potential for Service Level Agreements 63
Figure 39 Funding Sources 65

Table of Annexes

Annex 1 Potential Information Products 69
Annex 2 Case Studies of Other Record Centres 71
Annex 3 Neighbouring Record Centres 73
Annex 4 Existing Data 74
Annex 5 Activities and Staff Resources Required 78
Annex 6 Basis for financial calculations 80
Annex 7 Guidancefor content of service level agreements 81
Annex 8 Extracts from DRAFT LRC Accreditation Guidance 89
Annex 9 House of Commons Select Committee on Biodiversity 93

Executive Summary

  1. A Local Records Centre is a not-for-profit service run in partnership for the public benefit, which collects, collates, manages and disseminates information of known quality relating to the wildlife, wildlife sites and habitats for a defined geographical area.
  2. This report recommends that the development of a Local Records Centre for Worcestershire, comprising professional staff working with the existing network of volunteers, should be formally proposed to a wide range of potential partners.
  3. The Development Plan process has examined in detail the demand from user organisations for the type of information products and services that a Records Centre is potentially able to offer. The demand is found to be high, growing and reasonably consistent between organisations.
  4. For the local authorities, for example, access to high quality biodiversity information is essential to support a wide range of statutory and non-statutory activities. It is highly probable that this requirement will be raised still further in planning policy guidance currently undergoing revision. For government agencies and others, commitment to the Biodiversity Action Plan process underpins much activity.
  5. Data on Worcestershire’s biodiversity comprises over a million species records and relatively strong habitat datasets. For want of a coherent system, very little of this data is being used currently to inform decision-making.
  6. It is technically feasible for a Records Centre to develop a cost-effective service that can be delivered to a wide range of partner organisations.
  7. The preferred option for the institutional structure of the Records Centre is as a not-for-profit independent company working in partnership for the public benefit. A new company should be established for this purpose.
  8. The proposal should be promoted by the three principal organisations represented on the Steering Group: Worcestershire County Council. Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and English Nature.
  9. The Records Centre should cover the county of Worcestershire only. It should operate within the firamework of the National Biodiversity Network and work towards accreditation, so supplying information on the county’s heritage within a regional and national scale.
  10. The principal funding mechanism should be through contractual Service Level Agreements between the Records Centre and partner organisations, with defined levels of service.
  11. A two year establishment phase is recommended to develop the Records Centre to a capacity with which it is able to deliver effective services. If strong partnership comitnent is secured then the chances are high of obtaining a significant proportion of these establishment costs from external sources such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is recommended that application is made to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the major part of the costs of the establishment period and the development of public services in the first five years.
  12. The decision on whether to proceed with the establishment of a Worcestershire Records Centre on this basis is entirely dependent on the level of commitment received from potential partners. A rninimum size threshold operates, below which it is not possible to deliver satisfactory services to a wide range of users. If insufficient commitment is received to secure the Records Centre’s viability in the medium term then establishment should not proceed.
  13. The Records Centre should explore the potential for a hosting arrangement with one of its principal partners, the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, at Lower Smite Farm, Worcester. The arrangements would involve payment by the Trust for services delivered to it by the Records Centre and payment by the Records Centre to the Trust for office accommodation and administrative services.
  14. If this initiative founders the risks of losing the support of hundreds of dedicated voluntary recorders are high and a timely, cost-effective opportunity to invest in Worcestershire’s environment will have been missed. The preferred option is to commit to a sustainable Records Centre. which can deliver the services that users require.
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