Martyn Hodgson and Harry Green
Maps from Worcestershire Flora Project - Bert Reid

Most people would, quite reasonably imagine, that the Worcestershire Biological Records Centre is interested in biological records from the county of Worcestershire. However, Worcestershire as it is defined today, is a very new county, having been (re)created after its recent separation from Hereford. In fact, county boundaries have been subject to regular change for hundreds of years and there is no reason to believe that this process has stopped.

To maintain continuity, biological recording (along with County Cricket) has largely ignored the decisions made by politicians and administrators over the last 150 years on what constitutes each county. Biological records centres generally remain responsible for what is referred to as a Vice-County. These were defined in 1852 by the botanist Hewett Cottrell Watson, hence the name 'Watsonian Vice-county'. Watson took the counties as they were defined at the time and split the country up into roughly equal sized areas. The smaller counties, like Worcestershire, were left as a single vice-county, whilst the larger counties were split in two, or even three smaller areas, the formal definition being based on a list of parishes in each vice-county. That is, no parish spanned vice-counties. Worcestershire is known as Vice-county 37, or VC37 for short. Watson's VCs were defined before the national grid had been prepared, the system now widely used for biological recording. One outstanding feature of the vice county system is that the boundaries referred to often appear on most maps, ancient and modern, and, at least in part, follow real features on the ground: streams, rivers, ditches, banks, and so on, though some features have now disappeared. Nevertheless, there were serious exceptions and in places the Watsonian boundaries were distinctly vague, especially when large counties were divided into smaller units (eg in Yorkshire). Many counties also contained outliers in other counties, and these were naturally included within the surrounding Watsonian VC. For example, Dudley and the area round Shipston on Stour were once parts of Worcestershire!

The vice-counties thus remain fixed, or at least that's the theory. Since 1852, of course, parish boundaries have changed, so the Vice-county boundaries no longer necessarily follow parish boundaries. Also, some of the features that defined parishes have changed. This is particularly true for the Worcestershire along its northern edge where it is now well into the West Midlands conurbation. Much development and re-development makes tracing the exact route almost impossible.

In 1969 the Ray Society published maps showing the vice-counties at a scale of one inch to ten miles, 1:625,000. These maps are derived from Watson's original delineations clarified by the Sub-Committee on Maps and Censuses set up by the Systematics Association 1947-48. After much discussion this committee resolved all the points of doubt and disagreement and marked the agreed VC boundaries on a set of one-inch-to-the-mile !:62,500 Ordnance Survey maps which were subsequently deposited at the British Museum (Natural History) in London.

The National Biological Records Centre, at Huntingdon, has acquired the remaining stocks of the Ray Society Maps which are enclosed in a slip-case together with a booklet by J E Dandy. This item also often appears on the second hand natural history book market.

We are fortunate that in Worcestershire the Flora Project tackled the problem of knowing the exact county boundary. Members of the Project examined the definitive set of one-inch maps and from them marked the VC 37 boundary on modern 1:25,000 maps (2 inches to the mile, 4 cms to one km). To cope with modern administrative areas they also took into account those areas added to or subtracted from Worcestershire in fairly recent boundary changes. All those directly adjacent to a county boundary are now included in GREATER WORCESTERSHIRE (VC37 plus extras!) which is the unit of recording adopted by the Worcestershire Flora Project and the Worcestershire BRC. . The WBRC is thankful that the Flora Project kindly allowed it to copy the boundaries from their maps.

If you are interested in seeing the boundary of VC37 you could either contact the National BRC, or arrange to visit the WBRC to see the maps showing the boundary in more detail.

On a day to day basis if you are submitting records to the WBRC, so long as you are within a tetrad or monad that is covered by at least a part of VC37/Greater Worcestershire please submit your record. If in doubt send in the record anyway! As with all records, please include a 6-figure grid reference and the nearest place name marked on a map (preferably 1:25,000). Rest assured, no record will be discarded just because it lies 50m outside the vice-county! Indeed, if you find a species little recorded in VC37, within a hectad (10 km square) of the county please tell us. Records are, in any case, also sent to adjacent record centres when possible. (Although the Worcestershire Flora Project collects records from the old VC37 within the depths of the West Midlands conurbation, a separate BRC collects all biological records from the conurbation. The links between it and the WBRC have yet to be discussed - data will probably be transferred electronically in both directions!)

Wyre Forest
Following recent discussions with Wyre Forest Study Group and others it now seems highly likely that the Worcestershire BRC will act as recording centre for the whole of the Wyre Forest, which of course straddles the VC boundaries of Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire as well as modern county boundaries. The great advantage of this is that data from a well-defined and important natural zone will be gathered in one place. As appropriate, modern IT will allow the records to be sorted however they are required in the future - grid squares, county, or vice-county boundaries.


The main modern reference is:
DANDY JE 1969 Watsonian Vice-counties of Great Britain. The Ray Society, London (Case with booklet and two maps 1:62,500)

The following may be of interest: