The work of the Herefordshire Biological Records Centre
PUBLISHED: 09:36 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 20 February 2013
The county is teeming with interesting flora and fauna and the staff of Herefordshire Biological Records Centre are working with the public to catalogue and conserve all creatures great and small. By Elizabeth Edwin
Herefordshire Biological Records Centre has amassed a vast resource of data from wildlife experts and from the sharp-eyed observations of amateur enthusiasts.
There is a wealth of knowledge out there, says Emma Wall, the recording centre officer.
The centre was established in 2001 to bring together information held by various organisations on computer databases and paper records. Emma and her colleague, recording officer Rachel Price, are building on the work begun nine years ago by Margaret Cole.
The centre is hosted by Herefordshire County Council. Its aims are to acquire, store and manage records and information about the flora, fauna, habitats and sites of biological, ecological, geological and geomorphological interest in the county; to promote and support surveys and monitoring and to provide access to these records to researchers.
Herefordshire has many environmental organisations including Herefordshire Action for Mammals whose work includes bats; Herefordshire Ornithological Club; Herefordshire Botanical Society and the Fungus Study Group; Badger Group and Amphibian and Reptile Group. All are contributors.
The centre also works closely with Herefordshire Nature Trust, the Malvern Hills Conservators and the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Beauty.
As well as on individual species, records are kept on the range of habitats which extend across the county and the wildlife for which they are particularly important.
We have areas of unimproved grassland, orchard habitats and a lot of agricultural land, says Emma. The Wye Valley and the river and its associated watercourses are of importance, as are the mountainous areas the Black Mountains and the Malvern Hills as they have not been managed intensively for agriculture.
The countys Sites of Special Scientific Interest are well recorded, such as that at Bury Farm, near Leominster. And good details have been recorded on a woodland habitat at Hough Wood, south of Hereford.
Among interesting recent discoveries are otters and lesser spotted woodpeckers breeding at sites not previously recorded. Nationally-scarce noble chafer beetles were found at the National Trust property at Brockhampton and dormice have been recorded by members of Ledbury Naturalists Field Club. This is a very active group which provides an annual report to the centre on the work it carries out in a specific area each year. Janet Parry collates the information gathered during the visits which are made by members to the chosen site monthly from April to October. Areas which have been studied include Oyster Hill, Frith Wood, Conygree Wood and the Hope End Estate.
Records come in to us from a wide range of sources, says Emma. When people have seen something that may be of special interest they want to let us know about it.
Records also come in through national surveys. People submitting records need to follow the four W rule:
WHO the name of the recorder, with contact details provided in case there is an issue with confirmation of species
WHAT the recorder saw with its common and, if known, scientific name
WHERE it was seen, with an accurate place name and description, ideally with a six figure grid reference or at least with an address
WHEN the precise date of the observation
A photograph is useful to aid confirmation when there may be similarities between species.
This flow of information is a two-way process. The centre has been providing biodiversity data to consultancies and to the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to support agricultural applications since 2005. It has been involved in the production of county atlases for various species including dragonflies and amphibians and reptiles, both of which are available for purchase.
It is a member of the West Midlands Local Records Centre Forum with five other counties and for the past 12 months has been part of the National Biological Network Gateway project which shares environmental information on a wide scale to large organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Butterfly Conservation as well as the general public. Anybody can have a look, says Emma.
A valuable acquisition has been the records built up over 40 years of a Ledbury group member, Dr Michael Harper. This enables comparison of historic and recent records which can show how a species may be increasing or declining knowledge which can contribute to studies such as the progress of climate change and its impact on wildlife.
The records are crucial to the Herefordshire Biodiversity Action Plan which aims to conserve and enhance biological diversity in the county.
There is increasing demand on the centres enquiry service from environmental consultants and from the countys own ecologists in connection with planning applications. Species such as bats and great-crested newts and their habitats are protected by law and an environmental survey of a proposed site may be required as part of the planning process.
Volunteers have a part to play, in the office as well as out in the field. A team of six is helping with the data input. We do rely on them and we could do with more people who could train to help with this work, says Emma.
If a species searched for on the database is not shown it does not mean that the centre does not have it, says Emma. It could mean it has not been entered on the system yet.
Training is provided in both recording and inputting and the centre holds a number of events each year, both indoors and outdoors, to support its recorders.
TV programmes such as David Attenboroughs Life on Earth series have done much to raise interest in the natural world and Emma and Rachel say moth recording is particularly popular.
Sharing the work of the centre enables people with an interest in wildlife and other aspects of their local environment to make a practical contribution.
Herefordshire Biological Records Centre can be contacted at P.O. Box 230, Hereford, HR1 ERB, tel: 01432 260538, email: firstname.lastname@example.org