I read David Green’s article in Worcestershire Record No 7 with interest and would agree that for many aspects of the scientific work of a biological records centre a distributed data base will function effectively. As he says, the experts in a particular field are best placed to hold, catalogue and analyse the data in their field. However, as he also postulates very strongly, analysis of the total requirements of a centre must be carried out in order to provide for the most effective use of resources and the highest quality of output. I hope, as somebody who has been put through the mill of having to attend many courses on management theory ,and who has had to work in a variety of management styles, I am going to avoid the trap of taking the easy option of following the herd. Analysis might start with the report prepared in 1995 for the Department of the Environment and Joint Nature Conservation Committee called Biological Recording in the United Kingdom - Present practice and future development, which should be read by anyone interested in recording. In its introduction the report states:
'The UK is fortunate in possessing exceptionally rich holdings of contemporary and historical records of its variety of wildlife. In many cases these are irreplaceable. Their importance is not always fully recognised, in part because their extent and quality has never been fully documented nor their accessibility and utility objectively assessed'.
The report goes on the note that there are probably 2000+ organisations, agencies or societies concerned with record collection; at least 60,000 individuals (predominantly voluntary) actively involved in recording; and over 60 million (probably an underestimate) species based records. In order fully to assess their extent and quality and to provide for their accessibility and utility the report concludes that a structured organisation based on a national centre with linked local centres is required. A conclusion with which I find it hard to disagree. Much of the value of records is lost because nobody knows where they are or how to access them. The LRC provides a focus for recording and for co-ordinating the many, diverse sources of information in its area. The centre needs hardware, software and, ultimately, staff. I believe it extremely wise, however, that county recorders and specialist societies for various taxa should maintain their own data bases in order to provide analysis and up to date advice. A records centre is also a vital means of providing security for data. As the report notes, much of the information is irreplaceable. The records can easily be lost through accidents and a properly backed-up data base in a records centre minimises the possibility of this happening. Regrettably, many people holding computerised data all too frequently omit back-up to a medium which can be stored separately from their computer. Furthermore, records may be lost on the death of the expert (e.g. much information gathered by the late Fred Fincher) or when a person moves to another part of the country. Nationally the bulk of records identified by the JNCC/DoE survey were found to be birds (42%) and vascular plants (14%). A centralised data base, easily accessible to appropriately trained staff, can be used to identify such imbalances and provide pointers to taxa which are seriously under recorded and in need of special attention.
Additionally, in this very brief overview, we need to think about the functions of a records centre. Providing valid data on the distribution of species and long term trends in their populations is one very important element in the output. However, the centre should also provide a public service which links species, habitats and sites. Site based data is the bread and butter of local authority planning departments and much of what is required by private consultants and developers. An integrated information repository is only likely to be possible for a properly organised and constituted records centre with access to other centres locally and nationally. A centre should also provide data to educational institutions and the public about wildlife in the county and be able to suggest projects for students and commission surveys if the money is available. Services require individuals on site to whom clients can address their queries and who can prepare reports and manage the associated finances.
I hope that this response gives at least an overview of some of the reasons why I believe that LRC’ s staffed to do a job of work and linked to a national network operating to agreed and transparent standards is vitally important. To this end WWT Council has given its approval to making a fully functioning, independent LRC the objective for Worcestershire. Initially the current arrangements will be maintained whilst we continue building the data base and putting the finances and resources on a sound footing. During this phase we will continue to depend on volunteers to manage the centre (John Meiklejohn with the help of John Partridge), to input data (Martyn Hodgson and his team) and to continue to provide data (everyone reading this). Also, we need communication between recorders which is largely provided by Harry Green and Worcestershire Record. Later we can move to a company wholly owned by WWT with a paid staff member and finally launch the BRC as a fully fledged NBN linked LRC operating as an independent company. WWT will, of course, remain deeply involved with the centre and be a major user of its data to promote, publicise and implement scientifically based conservation in the county.
As a final thought, the work of expert, volunteer recorders, professional and amateur, will always be needed. It is never going to be possible for commissioned survey work to provide more than a fraction of the data needed by an up to date LRC. We hope, therefore, that you enjoy working with the Worcestershire BRC and with the recording community in the county and will continue to provide the species data which underpins the science of conservation and the long term success of the biodiversity action plans. We would be more than pleased if you could let us know your views about the centre and its development and about how we may better stimulate and support biological recording.
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