Can you help?

Because there's lots going on!

Looking for folk to help with communications & influencing and organising the ALERC conference; meeting our members in The North; the NBN Atlas and dealing with commercial use; the value of the LERC network; ALERC responds to the 25 Year Environment Plan, NBN sensitive species policy consultation and HLF consultation; results of the Recorder 6 consultation published; talking to the Environment Agency; changes to the NPPF & PPW; using NSS data; and GDPR


Well, my first six months as ALERC Chair has sailed by. And I’m going to start this blog by asking for help! We’ve got a great team of Directors in place, plus our ALERC National Coordinator, who are all really committed to raising the profile of LERCs and the services that we offer, supporting members in developing and improving their services, and representing members’ interests. But doing this well is a lot of work. So... I wanted to ask: could you help? You don’t have to do loads... even picking up little bits of work, or sharing experience and ideas, would make a massive difference.

Mark Wills has put out a call for people to help with communications and influencing – so if that’s your bag please get in touch with Mark. I’m also really keen to get members involved in planning this year’s ALERC conference, on 17 October; so if you’ve got experience organising events or ideas for content then hey, why not stick your head above the parapet and say it out loud: “I can help with the conference!” – or you could just post some suggestions on the forum, that would be good too. Pauline Campbell and Steve Whitbread have shared some initial thoughts, here, but it would be great to get some more ideas bouncing around from the membership.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting more of ALERC’s members since my last blog, as I joined the Northern England and Scottish Borders LERC meeting organised by Paul Stevens at the Environmental Records Information Centre for the North East, up in Newcastle, on 19 February. I don’t normally venture so far from Sussex, but with the SBIF Review reaching a critical stage (and a chance to combine the meeting with visiting family) it seemed like a timely opportunity to get a more in-depth understanding of the issues affecting LERCs in that part of the country.

Talking to Graeme Wilson from The Wildlife Information Centre and Mark Pollitt from the South West Scotland Environmental Information Centre really brought it home to me how different the situation for LERCs is in Scotland, compared to my experience in the south east of England. Funding pressures are really biting in some areas, and they clearly see a pressing need for change if there is to be a sustainable future for delivery of biodiversity information services across Scotland. ALERC has been working closely with our Scottish members to ensure their perspectives are well represented within the SBIF Review process. I spoke to Ellen Wilson on Friday and she’s aiming to have a draft detailed business case written soon – so ALERC will be keen to see and comment on that.

It was also very interesting to hear from Deb Muscat, manager of Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre (CBDC), about the analysis she’s been doing, looking at changes in the number of data searches CBDC is receiving relative to usage of the datasets they’ve uploaded to the NBN Atlas. I’m sure there are many of us in the LERC community who are wondering how data availability via the NBN Atlas is impacting, or could impact, on our biodiversity information services (and the associated revenue which we invest in capturing and managing local biodiversity data). So it was great to hear that there are LERCs investigating this issue in detail, and working constructively with the NBN Trust to try and understand exactly what’s going on.

On a related note, NBN Atlas users may have seen that the terms of use have recently been updated and data users may now be liable to pay a fixed penalty charge if they breach an NBN data partner’s licence conditions. ALERC tried hard to influence the NBN Trust’s policy for dealing with misuse of data, through the Business Development group led by Ian Egerton (more info here). We have been pushing for CC-0 / CC-BY and non-commercial (NC) data to be accessed through separate functions on the Atlas, with users being required to sign in to view NC data before seeing any of it. We will keep making the case for developing national biodiversity data infrastructure which supports investment in data.

Following our last Directors’ meeting, Ian Egerton picked up a piece of work initiated by Mandy Rudd, looking at the amount of money UK LERCs leverage into the sector to enable their operation and development. Based on information supplied by regional groups and using some basic assumptions for ‘cost per FTE’, to fill in the gaps, Ian has estimated that – in the 2016/17 financial year – ALERC members generated approximate £6.5 million to enable the delivery of our services to partners, stakeholders, clients and the public. If you add in an estimate for non ALERC members, it brings the total figure for the UK to around £7.5 million. There’s an important story for ALERC to tell here about the value of the LERC network and the services we provide.

ALERC’s been working on various other things over the last couple of months, including:

  • Responding to Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan – led by Steve Whitbread
  • Commenting on NBN Trust’s sensitive species policy and highlighting the fact that many ALERC members work with local experts to draw up lists of sensitive species for the areas that they cover – led by Ian Carle
  • Feeding into Wildlife & Countryside Link’s discussions with Heritage Lottery Fund regarding changes to their funding framework; and highlighting the importance of factoring in LERC services to funding bids at an HLF consultation event in March – with thanks to Steve Whitbread for representing ALERC (more here)
  • Publishing the results of the Recorder 6 consultation and engaging key stakeholders in consideration of next steps – which was a big focus for me over Easter, along with various other people, as I set out in my posts on the ALERC  forum and NBN forum. Did anyone have any thoughts or comments on this, by the way?

Directors have also had some preliminary discussions with Marina Flamank regarding renewal of LERC agreements with the Environment Agency, and we will be exploring this further when Marina joins us at the next Directors meeting on 24 May.

The ALERC national coordinator, Tom Hunt, has been talking to Wildlife & Countryside Link, The Wildlife Trusts and the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) as we formulate our response to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) consultation and seek to ensure there is a clear requirement for data and evidence – accessible through LERC services. Welsh Government is also consulting on Planning Policy Wales (PPW), so Tom has been looking at how that may affect LERCs, and how ALERC might respond. If any members are familiar with PPW and the changes being proposed, please get in touch as it would be really helpful to get some more local insight into this.

Ian Carle, Adam Rowe and Steve Whitbread have been looking at the possibility of ALERC having a greater role in facilitating use of National Schemes & Societies’ data in LERC services, since the closure of the NBN Gateway and LERC services being defined as ‘commercial use’ under the NBN guidance on the definition of non-commercial use for the NBN Atlas has disrupted previously established data-exchange arrangements.

As you’ll probably know – in order to keep membership subscription costs down, ALERC covers some of the costs of having a full-time ALERC National Coordinator by securing external contracts. At the end of last year we tendered for and were awarded a contract by the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CeDAR) to provide practical advice and support compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We are now working with Pauline Campbell (CeDAR Database Officer and an ALERC Director) to develop the work that was done for CeDAR into GDPR guidance for ALERC members. We hope to be able to share that very soon. ALERC always seeks to secure contracts which will add value for members, as well as help to balance the books, and this is a great example of the added benefits that ALERC’s contract programme can provide.

Would love to hear members' perspectives on the work that ALERC is doing, either in the comments here [public] or over on the forum [members only].

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Lindsay Bamforth 2 Years Ago

Thanks very much for the update, Clare; always great to hear what's been going on :)  Great to hear about the GDPR guidance too - look forward to seeing it.


Clare Blencowe 2 Years ago in reply to Lindsay Bamforth .

Thanks Linds - encouraging to know somebody's reading the blog! We'll post something on the forum as soon as the GDPR guidance is available. Clare