Worcestershire Red Data Book: Critical Analysis Of Specifically The Structure

By David M. Green

The subject is of fundamental interest to recorders, conservation, and societal aspect of Wildlife Trusts, and the Biological Records Centre. A Red Data Book (RDB) is one major consequence of biological recording. In Worcestershire we have our own RDB now of good quality writing and information but the pseudorandom order of the species accounts within the pages impedes gain of comparative information on similar species, impedes just looking up a species, and there is no indexing. Family groups are not used to advantage (as in national RDBs) but merely mentioned we have the arbitrary categories determining structure of the text. The bats, for example, are psudorandomly arranged interspersed with the other mammals so it is difficult to find a bat species in the book and then see how the bats differ in habitat requirement, distribution and assess the presence of the group. The book presents the information as a mass of detail specific to each species, hence giving a poor impression of the intellectual value of the subject, expert or inexpert. Ideally, comparison of the similar species and between the different groups provides meaning to what is otherwise a mass of detail. This comparison would be achieved by placing the text of similar species together like an identification guide to birds or plants and national RDBs by JNCC. For the insect orders of numerous species that are numerously represented in the book (such as the Coleoptera/beetles) the absence of taxonomic organisation and absence of any form of indexing is particularly disadvantageous. The desirable way to appreciate the vast array of species is by using taxonomic family groups, in taxonomic order of the families because families are often evidently closely related. Then the species may be listed alphabetically under family headings, each species annotated with category, resulting in genera being together, and it may be useful to use subfamily divisions as well. Some kind of indexing is required for families, species and genera. Serial numbering the families within an order would enable indexing without page numbers. An index contained with each group, such as an order of insects, would cut out the complexity of combining an index to all the sections of the book and would allow species to be easily added later revising sections independently. However software may provide indexes without manual compilation. Software could have been used to generate the whole book from a database, rather than arduously manual piecing together pseudorandomised text.

Families of species have typical appearances of imagines and larvae, typical morphology, and typical groups of life histories. Family groups in books enable species to be located even when there is confusion of names or difficulty in remembering a name. Superfamilies or families often have similar appearance (e.g. crane flies) enabling the reader to gain understanding by realising the patterns of similarity. It is impossible to understand the subject without thinking of groups of species, otherwise the subject is complex and fragmented owing to lack of structure. The point of a RDB is to assemble information in an analytical accessible form. A reader of the WRDB has to hunt about the text to look up a species.

There appears disinterest to sell this book to the public. It offers minimal interpretation to the inexpert reader. The use of the expert reader is discouraged because the format is a barrier to looking up a species and making comparisons with similar species and assessing the presence of a group.

The local council areas for each species are largely meaningless; you can only guess what the letters code stands for; there is no map. The usual grid references that are universally used normally are not mentioned despite this being the standard method that can be referred to with standard maps.

Taxonomic organisation is the heart of the BRC and biological recording because otherwise you can not appreciate the array of species. Taxonomy makes the subject interesting, i.e. other than a mass of indigestible fact. Whether the reader is expert or inexpert, using taxonomic family groups and genera will maximise meaning. Lack of useful organisation discourages people from approaching the subject, to find the subject of interest, relevant to them, their range of interests. Recognition of groups is basic to meaning whatever the subject, revealed in basic general philosophy. The group has to be non-arbitrary. The categories of rarity, scarcity, etc, are arbitrary, subject to review and error yet they dominate the present book obscuring the ecological meaning and producing a pseudorandomisation of the species so you have to search about in the pages. The book should enable the reader to look up category for a species easily. Ideally lists of species under categories should be included as well; compiling lists is the essence of this kind of work. Compilation by database would have been the practical solution. Text is convertible to database form.

This subject I write about is interdisciplinary, being, for examples, a mixture of science, publicity and education familiar areas to Wildlife Trusts comprehending the whole. The Worcestershire RDB should be usable for most expert use and should be accessible for inexpert use as is possible; i.e. should be organised to make sense of the material within. As it is, groups of diverse species, such as mammals or beetles, are divided into arbitrary category headings, then the species arranged alphabetically under these category headings, resulting in an arrangement of species that is arbitrary, and without any indexing. When an organisation produces arbitrary work, more is revealed about the nature of the people-organisation than is revealed about nature (for people). There is little need for conflict between expert and the inexpert needs here if there is good presentation. The analysis provided by such disciplines I mentioned above (as some examples) is not applied to the book, despite that such a range of disciplines are well known to conservation organisations. So why are they not coming together? The reason is a lack of conceptual understanding that makes sense of the organisation, enabling that the organisation might be more capable than the sum of the parts, otherwise, topics are reduced to personal opinion, the opinions of groups who maintain they know needs, fashions, copying previous examples, and convenience of the organisation and people.

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