Friday, 27 June 2014

50 years of the Biological Records Centre

You can see a complete version of this infographic in the booklet Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre, available as a PDF (6.6mb).

Read more about the history of BRC in our blog post, and news of its anniversary symposium in Bath.

The Biological Records Centre is 50 years old!

This year the Biological Records Centre (BRC), based within the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, celebrates its 50th anniversary. A celebratory symposium is being held in Bath this week, and birthday cake will be eaten by past and present staff members, as well as a wide range of people who have been associated with BRC over the last five decades.

It's a good time to look back at why the Biological Records Centre came into existence, and why it is still relevant today.

A rich history of biological recording

In the late 17th century the Catalogus Plantarum Angliae was published. Written by Essex
naturalist John Ray, it was effectively the first catalogue of English plants, drawing on observations from his friends. By the 18th century natural history societies had begun to form across the country which focused on species identification and documenting their distribution. These societies attracted a wide range of members ranging from the self-educated to the academically qualified, a mix that continues to this day.

Plants and data processing 

During the first half of the 20th century there were several attempts at creating a national overview of British species, particularly for plants. Plans for a national plant atlas were published in 1940 but delayed by World War Two. Post-war, both the British Association (in 1947) and the Botanical Society of the British Isles conference (in 1950) resolved to map British (and Irish) species and finally, in 1954, the BSBI’s Atlas of the British Flora project was launched with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, and later from the then recently established Nature Conservancy,

Former head of BRC Paul Harding commented recently:
“The atlas (of the British Flora) aimed to record, and map, each species of vascular plant in the 10km squares of the Ordnance Survey National Grid. Perhaps the most critical aspect of the project was the adoption of data processing equipment using punched cards. This enabled 1.5 million records to be sorted and mapped mechanically and the use of information technology became integral to biological recording.”
An international impact on biological recording

Building on the Plant atlas and the mapping skills developed, the Biological Records Centre was established at Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire in 1964, with Franklyn Perring as its head. Over the years BRC has grown, and moved (to Wallingford, Oxfordshire in 2008), and its work has had, and continues to have, an international impact on biological recording.

Professor William Sutherland, the Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge recently wrote:

“The BRC has been central to much of UK conservation practice and research. The work on climate change impacts on distribution patterns is especially well known. The detailed distribution information means the BRC is central to much of the routine conservation practice in determining priorities and assessing possible threats. The BRC has also been fundamental to the National Biodiversity Network Gateway, an ambitious plan to bring together the main sources of UK biodiversity information.”

Current priorities

Looking forward, Dr David Roy, the current head of BRC, told me that current BRC priorities include:

  • Maintaining existing capacity for recording species across a broad range of taxonomic groups to provide the evidence needed to tackle ongoing environmental issues.
  • Sustaining partnerships with expert naturalists to help this capacity to grow and adapt, thus increasing the value of biological recording for understanding environmental change.
  • Making innovative use of technology and analytical methods, plus integration with other data sources on the ecology of species and the physical environment to enhance the value of recording data.

Happy Birthday BRC. We look forward to your 100th anniversary celebration in 2064!

Barnaby Smith, Media Relations Manager 

Related links

Biological Records Centre website

CEH News: Biological Records Centre, pioneer of citizen science, celebrates 50th anniversary 

Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre [PDF, 6.62mb]

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Making a splash at Loch Leven 50 celebrations

One of Scotland's most popular national nature reserves (NNRs), Loch Leven, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Loch Leven is Scotland's largest lowland loch and one of the most important sites for waterfowl in Britain.

The Loch is one of CEH’s most important long-term monitoring sites and is part of the UK’s Environmental Change Network (ECN), which is co-ordinated by CEH. Our scientists have collected chemical and biological water quality data from the Loch since 1968. These data have provided the scientific basis for lake and catchment management strategies aimed at solving Loch Leven’s eutrophication problems. These problems are most visible as cyanobacterial blooms, which affect amenity value and have a marked impact on the local economy.

On Sunday 8th June CEH staff took part in the annual “Discovery Day” at the Loch. CEH’s Dr Linda May sent this report from the event:

“This year's Discovery Day at Loch Leven was a big hit with the local kids, who enjoyed scooping freshwater life at the CEH stall and looking at them under the microscope. CEH staff (Linda May, Alanna Moore, Iain Gunn and Laurence Carvalho), who were on hand to help the freshwater ecologists of the future, were kept extremely busy by almost 700 visitors.

Although this event celebrated the 50th anniversary of Loch Leven's designation as a National Nature Reserve, our younger visitors were more interested in the wee beasties that we had caught in the loch. 'Trending' on the day was (1) examining the 'bitey bits' of caddis fly larvae, (2) working out what eats what, (3) waiting for the stickleback to attack the tadpoles (no tadpoles were harmed!!) and (4) trying to catch waterboatmen with a pipette.

Discovery Day is an annual event organised by Scottish Natural Heritage to entertain and educate the local community about the biodiversity living in and around Loch Leven.
An addition to the CEH contribution this year was a survey of visitors’ perceptions of the value of Loch Leven. Data collected will feed into various projects that are attempting to quantify the ecosystem services provided by the loch.”

Additional information

CEH's long-term water quality monitoring at Loch Leven

Scottish Natural Heritage Press Release: Celebrate Loch Leven's 50th

More photos on Flickr

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Building a buzz around the Big Bumblebee Discovery

Viewers of Sky News Sunrise were given a buzz this morning when Dr Helen Roy of CEH took to the studio with science presenter Dallas Campbell to talk about the fantastic Big Bumblebee Discovery citizen science project. Helen and CEH colleague Dr Michael Pocock are helping to run the project, which will use the data collected to address the question of how bees are affected by their immediate surroundings and the wider landscape.

The Big Bumblebee Discovery is the first project in the Great EDF Energy experiment, a collaboration between the British Science Association and EDF Energy.

Watch a video of their appearance on Sunrise here (also featuring the superb tree bumblebee model first seen at last year’s Gardeners’ World show!).

Helen and Dallas are having a busy few days both in encouraging children, teachers and parents to sign up to what is a fun and interesting initiative, but also in explaining the scientific usefulness of this hypothesis-led project. The pair were at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday 8 June to talk to visitors to the EDF Energy Zone, where Big Bumblebee Discovery posters, games and other activities were available. (Michael had also visited a few days earlier to lend his encouragement to the hundreds of visiting school children, with many a budding citizen scientist among them).

Visitors to the Cheltenham Science Festival had a chance to learn about
the Big Bumblebee Discovery. Photo: Val Woods

And following their Sky News Sunrise appearance, expect to hear more from Helen and Dallas enthusing about the project on a local radio station near you.

Helen and Dallas record a BBC radio interview to explain more about getting
involved in the Big Bumblebee Discovery. Photo courtesy EDF Energy Comms

What’s it all about?

Bumblebees are prolific pollinators, but it’s believed that environmental changes are causing declines in some bumblebee populations.

The Big Bumblebee Discovery will provide an opportunity for school children through EDF Energy’s ‘The Pod’ programme to get involved in “real science”. Thousands of schools across the country are invited to observe and record colour groups of bumblebees visiting a standard-sized lavender plant. The CEH scientists, alongside the participants, will use the data to address the question: “how does landscape (at multiple scales) affect the diversity of bumblebees?”

  • The nationwide initiative involves children and parents counting the number and types of bumblebee they spot in their garden, school playground or local park.
  • Results will be used by CEH researchers to map bumblebee numbers across Britain and what impact the landscape has on bumblebee diversity.
  • The Big Bumblebee Discovery is the first project in the Great EDF Energy Experiment, a five-year programme launched in partnership with the British Science Association. The initiative is designed to inspire children to think differently about science, technology, engineering

Utilising a citizen science approach – the method of using a large number of researchers to each collect a sample of data – the Big Bumblebee Discovery is an exciting opportunity for thousands of young people to become scientists in their own back garden.

Don't forget to sign up by logging on to The first 3,000 schools to sign up to the experiment will receive a free lavender plant and engagement pack containing a range of fantastic resources to help them along the way – but anyone who signs up to The Pod to register interest in participating will be able to get their hands on a range of great tools to help them with the experiment.

Additional links

Bees and 'ologies at the Cheltenham Science Festival - CEH blog

The Pod programme from EDF Energy

Staff page of Dr Helen Roy

Staff page of Dr Michael Pocock

Posted by Paulette Burns

Bees and 'ologies at the Cheltenham Science Festival

My first time at the Cheltenham Science Festival and first impressions, wow, it definitely “does what it says on the tin”. Science everywhere, of every sort you could think of: microbiology, digital technology, astronomy, electricity, ecology, meteorology… lots of “ologies”, but all made accessible through interactive demonstrations and amazingly enthusiastic scientists.

I accompanied Dr Helen Roy to the Festival where Helen was providing the science expertise for The Big Bumblebee Discovery citizen science project. This is the first project in the Great EDF Energy Experiment, a collaboration between the British Science Association and EDF Energy. The project was launched in January 2014 at the London Eye with the aim of encouraging school children, parents and others to investigate the natural world around them, or, in other words, Science!

The 'Bee pre-paired' game was a popular attraction at the Big Bumblebee Discovery
tent at the Cheltenham Science Festival. Photo: Val Woods
It certainly proved popular in the EDF Energy Zone marquee with many children playing the “Bee pre-paired” game to identify and match different bee colour groups. Helen was on hand to answer all the bee questions and to give an insight into a real environmental study. Helen and her colleague at CEH, Dr Michael Pocock, invited young scientists across the UK to take part in The Big Bumblebee Discovery over the summer by recording information about bumblebees visiting lavender plants. The data gathered will help to test the hypothesis that the diversity of bumblebees is affected by their immediate surroundings and the wider landscape. All the experimental resource packs (and free pencils!) flew off the table.

Schools have been signing up to take part in the experiment and two of the pupils from the Bristol school which was the first to sign up through the EDF Pod were invited to take part in the filming with Helen and the celebrity ambassador Dallas Campbell. During filming for the next podcast, Helen and Dallas encouraged everyone to send in their data and to become part of this UK citizen experiment. Once the sunshine came out the team scampered through the schedule, with the enthusiasm for science shown by Dallas and Helen apparent for all to see!

Whilst at Cheltenham, Dallas Campbell and
Helen Roy filmed a new podcast for the Big
Bumblebee Discovery.

The whole day was finished off perfectly with a visit to the BBC Science Zone to enjoy Science Heroes Top Trumps – I’ll never think of helium in the same way!

Val Woods

Additional links

The Big Bumblebee Discovery: large-scale citizen science! 11 February 2014

The Pod at EDF Energy