On 14th. September Patrick Taylor, Martyn Hodgson and I attended an NBN Linking Local Record Centres seminar at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham. Linking Local Record Centres is that part of the National Biodiversity Network project which is being managed by The Wildlife Trusts. The topic for the day was "Delivering Wildlife Information"
The context was set by Sara Hawkswell of The Wildlife Trusts National Office in a talk entitled "National Biodiversity Network - how will it improve the delivery of wildlife information?". Sara's talk covered: who will need information? what is the information for? what are the problems of providing data? and how do the local record centres address these issues as part of the NBN? There was little new here but it provided a valuable reminder of the big picture and the role which the LRC's can play in achieving biodiversity targets.
Sara Myles of the Bristol Regional Environmental R.C. and Graham Webb of South Gloucestershire Council then spoke of the practical aspects of running a BRC in a talk entitled "Delivery of data for development control - the experience of Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre". This, as the title makes clear, was concerned only with provision of data to local authorities and developers in response to planning applications. The main message - a well run centre providing high quality information is extremely cost-effective for the local authority which is, therefore, willing to invest in the centre. It was made clear that both the local authority and the developer get the same data and contextual information and this objectivity is appreciated by both as it makes life easier in negotiations. The Centre is not involved with interpretation of data.
"Tapping into voluntary enthusiasm" was the subject for Derek Lott of the Leicestershire County Council Museums Service. Much that he said was already in place in Worcestershire as he recognised the vital role of voluntary naturalists in collecting, validating, storing (on computer) and publishing data. However, in Leicestershire they have extended involvement of volunteers to include interested members of the public who do not think of themselves as naturalists. This has developed into a Parish Wildlife Survey which is producing valuable monitoring data for habitats and specified, easily recognised species. I was particularly taken with this as it is a scheme which was discussed in Worcestershire two or three years ago but not implemented because of the high level of resources needed to keep it going. Community volunteers need direction, training and constant support through newsletters and personal contacts. Involving the public is a not a cheap option except for specific projects.
The afternoon was divided into two sessions. First were workshops covering issues of the role of BRC's (Analysis versus interpretation - how far should an LRC go?) and the contribution to biodiversity (Servicing Local BAP's - what can LRC's deliver?). Second was a talk on "NBN Internet Access - Possible? Practical? Controllable?" by Lawrence Way of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. I attended the BAP workshop but felt the discussion did not really get anywhere except to note that liaison at a scale above county level is required to produce uniformity of approach and standards across the country.
By the time we got to "Internet Access" I was suffering marked writers cramp and took significantly fewer notes. However, it was clear that "The Net" is going to be a major and essential aspect of the NBN. The public will want access to information and much business will be conducted electronically. How this will be achieved (Practical? Controllable?) remains to be decided but achieved it certainly must be.
I came away from the meeting with the feeling that we have made a sound start in Worcestershire but we have a very long way to go. The biggest problem will be resources as it is clear that little will come from national sources in the short term. How do we bridge the gap between the current volunteer managed BRC to a professionally run one with paid staff carrying out the full range of data provision and survey work? If we achieve this, how do we maintain the enthusiasm of the voluntary naturalists and ensure that their wishes are met for continuing scientific study of the county's flora and fauna? There is indeed much to do but if we do it, and get it right, we can contribute greatly to meeting the BAP targets.
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