Getting to know you

Getting to know all about your species data management needs

I didn't really believe my calendar when it told me I'd done two months as ALERC Chair, last week. I put these little notes in the calendar when I started, as a reminder to step back everyone once in a while and reflect on the Important Stuff. But it feels like only the other day I was writing my last blog, after my first month. Time flies!

My second month as ALERC Chair started with the NBN conference, in Cardiff. This was a great opportunity to catch up with ALERC folk and I made myself a little game of LERC bingo – to see how many I could talk to (and tick) over the two days.

Didn't manage a full house, unfortunately, but it was really interesting hearing about the work LERCs are doing in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; and the challenges they are facing.

One subject that came up a lot in conversation was support for Recorder 6. A big focus for me this month – working alongside ALERC Director Steve Whitbread – has been pushing the Recorder 6 consultation (which you can read more about here), with help from our friends in NFBR, NBN Trust, BRC and the Recorder 6 consortium. Andy Foy has worked hard on putting this together, so it was nice to get some positive feedback on the consultation, over on ALERC’s Knowledge Hub (thanks Phil Ricketts!). As of Friday we'd had over 100 responses to the consultation, from all corners of the UK. We've decided to extend the deadline to 1 January 2018, to make sure everyone has an opportunity to respond. I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of the consultation, so we can start some conversations about how our species data management needs will continue to be supported in the years to come.

Discussions at the NBN conference also highlighted that the NBN Board's decision not to implement access controls on the NBN Atlas continues to be an issue. My personal view on this is that the NBN Atlas 'is what it is': ALERC Directors Adam Rowe and Mandy Rudd have worked hard to influence development of the NBN Atlas and, along with Ben Deed, continue to do so. However, NBN Trustee Andrew Wood made it clear at the NBN Trust AGM that the NBN Board remains committed to its decision not to implement access controls. I'm keen to see a more open and positive discussion, among LERCs and other data managers within the NBN Network, about what it is that we want to be able to do, e.g. exchange capture resolution data between LERCs and national schemes & societies (in ways which would support verification?); make high resolution data available to regional and national users of LERC services. Then take a broader look at the options which could enable us to do those things and have some frank discussions about who is best placed to deliver a solution; and who should pay for it. The optimist in me wonders if... maybe... if we just stopped calling the thing we want 'access controls' it might help us to move the whole debate forward.

“What do we want?

A more sophisticated platform for sharing high resolution data, for situations where applying an open data licence is not feasible!

When do we want it?

Well, ideally as soon as possible, but let’s have a conversation about what’s practicable.”

I’d be really interested to hear ALERC members’ thoughts on this topic.

Meanwhile, the announcement from NBN Chair Prof Michael Hassell at the NBN AGM, that – following a review of its governance – the NBN Trust has decided to undertake a Board refresh and is looking to appoint up to five new Trustees to enhance and extend the range of skills across the Board, sounds like a positive development. Applications are open until 22 December so if you know anyone with relevant skills and an interest in making the NBN work – for the NBN Trust, the Secretariat and the Network – do encourage them to apply. More details here.

Work life got disrupted by personal responsibilities after the NBN conference, as I became an executor for an elderly friend – Heather – who passed away last month. Heather was a keen naturalist and I thought ALERC friends might appreciate this slide I found of her photographing Rock Rose on Cleeve Hill in 1972. She knew how to live!

I was grateful to Tom Hunt, the ALERC National Coordinator, and the Directors' team for keeping an eye on developments around District Level Licensing in England while I was otherwise engaged. Big changes are afoot in how Natural England handles protected species licensing, starting with Great Crested Newts. There is a complex landscape to navigate, with lots of different organisations involved; ALERC is therefore giving some serious thought to how LERCs could / should be involved and looking to learn from the experiences of LERCs which have already had some involvement. Leaders of English LERCs will have received an email from Tom about this on 5 December with a request to respond to a short survey. This is important stuff, so we’d really value responses from all English LERCs.

Also in December I was delighted to welcome the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR), the LERC for Northern Ireland, as a new member of ALERC. This is a great development for ALERC as it means we now represent LERCs in all four countries of the UK. I hope that Damian McFerran, Pauline Campbell and David Tosh at CEDaR will all feel the benefits of membership and look forward to seeing them on ALERC’s new Knowledge Hub.

The SBIF Review continued to move forward in December with workshops on funding. I look forward to hearing more about this in the briefing and workshop sessions coming up in January.

Preparations are also well underway for our next Directors’ meeting on 24 & 25 January. This will have a strategic focus – looking at the opportunities and challenges ahead, how we can continue to improve ALERC’s services to members, and how we resource the work of ALERC. Lots to talk about!

Merry Christmas to all ALERC members and here’s wishing you a successful 2018!

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