This section is compiled from some of the comments made at the March meeting by Colin Raven, Andrew Fraser and myself.
Hopefully is will help set the context for the new re-emergence Worcestershire BRC. Practical details of organisation and management have to be worked out by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust now that it has accepted responsibility for the BRC. Weaving together the strands of biological recording, organising the centre, fund raising and the current need for records for science, conservation and biodiversity action plans is a complex business. It is especially important that both providers of data to the BRC and users of that data are satisfied with the development of the BRC.
HistoryLong, long ago, in the mists of the 1970s, Franklyn Perring came to Worcestershire to encourage us to establish a BRC. He worked at the central BRC at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) in those days, before he went to the RSNC, and he travelled round the country encouraging those counties without a BRC to set one up.
Nothing happened for a while but eventually the government sponsored Manpower Services Commission opened a way forward. Their funds, under a Job Creation Programme, paid for a team of otherwise unemployed biologists to set up a Worcestershire Biological Records Centre working with the county's naturalists and under the auspices of Worcester City Council and Worcester City Museum. The Worcestershire BRC was established on 18th April 1978 according to a letter I have on file from NCC, although WBRC Newsletter No 1 says 11th June 1979. I guess the latter date refers to the start of the MSC Job Creation scheme. This scheme lasted a year. Thereafter the BRC was run by volunteers with support of Worcester Museum staff.
Newsletter No 2 dated August 1980 stated that "The ultimate aim is to produce atlases for the flora and fauna of Worcestershire" and "We already have plans to publish in the near future a Provisional Atlas of Worcestershire Mammals and a Provisional List of Worcestershire Agarics and Boleti from old records."
These things did not get done mainly because of lack of resources and changes in Museum staff and within the City Council.
Worcestershire BRC struggled on thanks to an intrepid band of volunteers. We owe a great deal to the original MSC teams, and to the early volunteers who between them extracted much information from older published works and various private diaries and journals (including Fred Fincher's journals). No easy task because of the problems of changed scientific names (according the strange laws of precedence!) and of assessing the veracity of records.
The BRC "office" was shunted from pillar to post and eventually ended up in the back of a charity shop in Sidbury in Worcester. Here the files of records were often covered with the bric-a-brac and old clothes offered for sale by the shop! Volunteers kept adding new records but the support team dwindled because some moved away and the WBRC office environment left much to be desired! Latterly the fires were kept burning by John Meiklejohn and a small support group.
About five years ago I started negotiations with Worcester City Council with a offer by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust to take on and house the BRC at Lower Smite Farm. Recently things came to a conclusion, permission was granted, and on one fine day not long ago the Trust's van, staff and volunteers carted all the records to a new, small, but more comfortable room at Lower Smite Farm. The Trust is now the custodian of the Worcestershire BRC.
Records that we have, and have not, got!Some 25 years ago when I first became involved with the Trust I held a firm opinion that nature conservation should be based on science. I soon discovered that we did not have enough detailed scientific information on which to base wildlife conservation, and because of the very apparent on-going severe losses of practically every sort of wildlife, pragmatism had to be a guiding light, supported by the view that a particular land usage which had apparently been good for wildlife conservation in the past had best be continued until we knew better. However, there were a few naturalists who knew of good sites and their records and opinions were the keys to early conservation efforts including the establishment of SSSIs and reserves, rather than cool detached assessment of each site in relation to the whole County's wildlife!
Nevertheless the Trust has been at the forefront of biological recording..... well, mainly flowering plant recording...... in Worcestershire for many years. The first great effort started in 1977 with Manpower Service Commission teams undertaking a field-by-field survey of the county. This fairly superficial survey was a great advance on previous knowledge. Other more specialist surveys followed.
Wildlife conservation has often been based on "look after the plants and everything else will probably be alright", mainly because most data was available on flowering plants.
Times change. Invertebrates, and particularly insects, have recently come to the forefront and it is now apparent that we must pay much more attention to the ecological requirements of insects if we have to avoid large scale exterminations of what are actually the most abundant forms of wildlife in the county. We have to think small and think of microhabitats and mosaic habitat creation on a smaller scale, without forgetting the needs of larger organisms.
But...........surprise, surprise! Apart from lepidoptera we know very little about the county's invertebrates, and most of us can't interpret invertebrate records anyway, through ignorance! Also, the records that exist are often not easily available. For example, we have recently learned that the Devils Spittleful & Rifle Range is home to 116 aculeate hymenoptera which must make it one of the most important reserves in the West Midlands for invertebrates. This information has been collected by an expert hymenopterist, Dr Mike Archer from York, who has kindly sent his records to the Trust. Other important records of this sort may not yet be available to conservationists.
Another example: we now know that the wood pasture and old trees of Bredon Hill support one of the top five beetle faunas in England. Examples of half the beetle fauna of the country have been recorded by Paul Whitehead on Bredon - some 2000 species - and we probably now have to protect the area from entomologists! Yet a few years back the Hill was nearly de-scheduled as a SSSI because the limestone grassland for which it was originally scheduled had deteriorated. Invertebrate biological records have completely changed conservation practice.
We are so ignorant: when National Trust entomologists looked at the NT's newly acquired Croome Park they found several nationally rare beetles associated with both old timber and wetland. The latter perhaps left over from the days when Lord Coventry - the great land drainer of Worcestershire - created Croome Court on the morass!
I am sure that Worcestershire, even in its current battered state, hides many biological, especially invertebrate, secrets. They must be found otherwise there is a high likelihood that important sites will be lost without being found, and that species which we do not know we have will become extinct. Lots of plant secrets are being revealed by the Worcestershire Flora Project, and many uncommon plants are being found or re-found after many years, although actual numbers of individuals of these less common species are often woefully low.
It is interesting and instructive to look at Worcestershire in the context of published national distribution maps of various groups of plants and animals. Worcestershire is on the boundary between many E-W, N-S distributions - these are probably determined by climate. Also we have a very varied solid geology ranging from clay to sand, limestone to acid rocks, from dour marls and six-horse clays to thin acid soils, and every shade between. Worcestershire is a county of transition: national trends - like the retreat of the Nightingale - may show-up here first, but we shall only know of changes if our biological recording is good. In the expectancy of global warming it in interesting to note the yellow-winged darters turned up in Worcestershire for the first time, and in considerable numbers, in 1995, and thaat supposedly frost-tender tree mallows seem to be established in my garden!
Most species-rich habitats in Worcestershire are desperately widely separated by intensively farmed land. Isolation spells death to insect populations - one cataclysm to an isolated population can lead to species extermination. Plants can hang on as seed or in vegetative form, but populations of insects, of which many species have rapid life cycles, need nearby areas of replenishment in case they crash through natural or man-made causes. Hopefully, biological records will help us to find species-rich hotspots. Conservation plans can then be made to maintain them and reduce their isolation.
Site recordsSite records are vitally important for wildlife conservation and most of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust's records are site orientated. This data is used to assess threatened sites and to support proposed conservation such as designation of Special Wildlife Sites or SSSIs. The Trust will continue to collect site records from which species lists may be transferred to the BRC. Part of site assessment is to relate the species found on a site to information on their distribution throughout the county. For instance, in conservation terms it is important to be able to say that a certain species found on a site has been recorded from y tetrads in the county. Much more data is needed to enable and support such statements.
It is often difficult to relate tetrad based records to a particular site. Hopefully, in the future, the use of satellite geographic pin-pointing will make it easier for records to be used for both county mapping and site assessment.
Specific new BRC Projects?Many counties have published tetrad distribution maps of various groups - Worcestershire none. Times are changing and as we know that Lepidoptera, and flowering plants (and ferns) are being done, and that (thanks to Mike Averill) dragonflies have been done. Hopefully we can give the very best of support to these current county projects: flora, dragonflies, lepidoptera. But what about mosses and liverworts, lichens, beetles, mammals, even birds? A tetrad Atlas of breeding Birds? I started to collect suitable data during the fieldwork for the New BTO Atlas of breeding birds but I could'nt cope. Lots of changes are occurring in bird populations. Ravens, goshawk, kites, are spreading. Redstarts, pied flycatchers, spotted flycatcher, nightingales are declining. Farmland finches, buntings, skylarks are all are changing their distributions. It would be very useful to complete a benchmark survey now!
Mammals? - an atlas and commentary was nearly published by the Worcestershire BRC 10-15 years ago - should we publish it as a first statement, or up-date the maps?
Biodiversity Action PlansThe Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 recognized that it is now imperative that mankind actively safeguards species and habitats to maintain global biodiversity, and to prevent, or at least slow down, species extinctions. The signing of the Rio Biodiversity Convention and its subsequent adoption by the UK government are very important events. The UK Government has committed itself to prepare action plans to save species and habitats. Whether the resources to do anything practical will be forthcoming is a matter for conjecture!
The first species recovery plans have been prepared. Great! But one spin-off of all this activity is to show that modern biological records are urgently needed. We often do not have enough detailed local information on species to produce a full range of local biodiversity action plans. At a local level many of us cannot even recognise the species names (apart from flowering plants, birds, butterflies and a few other groupos) in the published lists! Identify the species? Some hopes! Have we got it in Worcestershire? God Knows! For conservation's sake we need to know. In practice our knowledge of habitats is much greater so action plans for habitat will of course encompass the species lining therein.
To tackle the problem of shortage of knowledge on species the BRC must be in the vanguard. The BRC has the potential to collect and collate Worcestershire's biological records, and to make them available for preparing local Biodiversity Action Plans. However, at present we do not have the money, or the experts needed to do the job. Hopefully some money will be forthcoming to develop and operate the Worcestershire BRC, but the experts will mostly come from the great pool of interested amateurs - those who do the job for love, not money! In all this - the BRC, recording, biodiversity action plans etc etc - we are dependent on volunteers to provide the information. Without volunteers these things can't happen.
More experts wanted!At present we do not have enough experts and one of the BRC's first aims must be to stimulate their creation. We need to offer help, guidance and training to more people on the accurate identification of species and in keeping and sending records to the BRC. Already we are making a start by planning suitable courses - see elsewhere in this Newsletter. We hope to cater for people at various stages of development of expertise, and to eventually offer those who begin as beginners more detailed courses as they develop their skills.
One of the absolute essentials for a BRC is accuracy supported by validation. The records must be correct. We have to nurture an expert desire for accuracy!
Organisational policies and standardsA recent review "Biological Recording in the United Kingdom" published by DoE in 1995 is very useful in pulling together information on country-wide BRCs, policies, methods, and holdings, together with proposals for the future. Some of the points mentioned are summarised below:
The role of published policies and standards for biological recording is to promote confidence in the quality of records and their management. The need for standards has been a recurring topic for discussion....and is seen as central to future introduction of accreditation for record centres.
A code of conduct is desirableThere is no readily available policy statement for local records centres, particularly on data quality and access to data. This may undermine confidence in a BRC by both the suppliers of data and the prospective users of data. There may be criticism of lack of comparability between centres, especially in access to data and possible charging policies
The effort expended in preparing policy statements, establishing quality control procedures, and developing standards is repaid by better understanding by those involved.
The direct contribution of data by volunteers is about 29% of all datasets but over 70% of all taxa records. By far the greatest contributors.
An important benefit of organised biological recording has been the steadily increasing numbers of specialists who have compiled their records in more structured forms, using more accessible media [than historical notebooks and bits of paper]
Some recent advances have been made in Optical Mark Recognition and this may enhance transfer to computerised systems.
Data entry on to computers can comprise a severe bottleneck in data management
Although the flora and fauna of UK is often quoted as being the best documented in the world there is no official register of taxa and no readily accessible source of checklists and it is difficult to obtain a precise up-to-date figure for the number of taxa in UK and to differentiate between native and non-native species.
Taxa validationSpecialist referees for plants and voucher specimens.
The use of reference collections for identification and validation is important for lichens, beetles, flies and insects other than macrolepidoptera.
Use and users of dataThe modern phase of mapping species started in 1950s driven by simple scientific enquiry, need for information to conserve wildlife at national and regional levels, and by interest in environmental factors which control distribution.
Four major uses of biological records:
|Determine species status and threat
||Interpret species ecology
||Maintain and enhance species
||Inform and educate
The need for national and local information on species
|What is it (taxon)
||Where does it occur (geographical range)
||Where does it live (ecological requirements - autecology)
||How many are there (population estimate)
||Is it threatened, and if so how (measurement of threat and cause)
||Is it changing in any respect (time series information)
BiotopesBiotopes are the ecological matrix in which species occur.
|An inventory of biotopes in UK.
||Summary of geographic range of each biotope.
||Assessment of key threats and capacity to resist threats without loss of quality and range.
||Times series measurements to monitor impact of threats.
It is essential to recognise that the majority of data in biological recording is supplied by volunteers and NGOs. Ownership and feedback is required, by safeguarding species and sites, publishing local and national summaries, atlases and handbooks.
The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is bearing these points and others in mind during the preparation of a policy document guiding the management of the Worcestershire BRC.
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