Supporting local environmental records centresWorking at a Local Records Centre

Local environmental records centres are organisations which have been established, usually through a partnership of interested parties, in order to bring together local information on wildlife and to supply this to local users. Many have been in existence far longer than the National Biodiversity Network, and have established local partnerships and complex networks of data supply alongside a range of information products for their users. The voluntary participants in these local networks are often (but not always) also suppliers of information to national recording schemes, and there is therefore some overlap of both data and people.

From the outset, the NBN Trust has recognised that local environmental records centres are a vital element in the overall NBN, but also pose difficult issues in their full integration. This is primarily because they have often developed an efficient local information delivery system for specific users which may not immediately seem to need to involve the national Network, but also because their funding depends on this local service.

At the same time, the NBN Trust believes that local environmental records centres will ultimately operate most effectively by being able to integrate data from outside sources with those they have at their local disposal. At the same time, the NBN and its broader users will benefit enormously by being able to gain better access to large quantities of locally-derived data.

As with voluntary organisations, local environmental records centres have specific capacity-building as well as organisational needs, in order to take a full part in the NBN. These can include:

  • The need for a clear policy commitment to participate in the NBN by sponsoring user bodies.
  • Sometimes, the lack of an independent legal status to enter into agreements with outside bodies.
  • A lack of technical know-how by key personnel to manage data to NBN standards and integrate with the NBN Gateway.
  • Funding obstacles to being able to support NBN-related activity, and a fear that by doing so, essential support from local sponsors will diminish.
  • Lack of staff to enable NBN-related work to progress.

Association of Local Environmental Records Centres

Formed in 2009, as a community interest company, ALERC is an association between the Local Environmental Records Centres of the British Isles. The Association aims to provide a central voice for the views and concerns of the record centre community, whilst building a support-based network of knowledge and advice to meet the needs of its members.

In January 2012, ALERC was pleased to announce the appointment of its first member of staff, National Coordinator Tom Hunt.  The National Coordinator post is funded by ALERC and the Defra contract for the development of the NBN, and has these main outcomes:
• Supporting local record centre (LERC) engagement in projects led by the NBN Trust and Natural England
• Managing the ALERC Accreditation System
• Facilitating communication between LERCs and their stakeholders
More information on the ALERC National Coordinator can be found on the ALERC website

The LRC Accreditation System has been developed by ALERC and Natural England.  It launched in spring-summer 2012 and its aims are to identify a minimum level of standards, to build confidence in LERCs as bodies which hold biodiversity information in trust for society and manage public resources well by:
• Providing a set of objective criteria against which LERC operation can be assessed to demonstrate that it is effective and efficient.
• Outlining core levels of products and services that an LERC should provide to assist key users.
• Ensuring the LERC is actively working with data holders to improve the availability and quality of data.
• Providing guidance and examples of best practice to assist LERCs in their application.
• Recognising the existing range of business models that LERCs operate under.
More information on LERC accreditation is available on the ALERC website.

Please visit the ALERC website for more general information.


The NBN approach to supporting local environmental records centres.

The NBN Trust has embraced support for local environmental records centres in a number of ways. Initially, one of its founding partners, The Wildlife Trusts, ran a Local Records Centre Project to help centres standardise and enhance their methods of operation. This project included the setting up of a number of “pilot” local environmental records centres along NBN-supported lines, in order to demonstrate how such centres could operate. The results of the LRC Project are available as two publications from the NBN Trust: “Developing a local records centre” and “Running a local records centre”. These documents have provided a set of “standards” for the way different aspects of a local environmental records centre operation need to work, and have contributed to the setting up of several new centres since the end of the LRC Project itself in 2001. The standards themselves are now represented in the LERC accreditation criteria (see above).

Through one of its founding partners, English Nature, now Natural England, The NBN Trust ran a three-year project, the NBN South-west Pilot, aimed specifically at engaging with a number of local records centres (and other bodies) to demonstrate the use of locally-derived as well as NBN data. This produced a final project report in September 2004. The outcome of the Pilot was intended to underpin future development work for local records centres in England, and has since been used to promote funding initiatives from Natural England, aimed at NBN engagement as well as LRC development. In Wales, through NBN Trust encouragement, the Welsh Government and the Countryside Council for Wales have strongly supported the establishment of a complete network of local records centres, which work together through the Wales Environmental Information Forum.; while in Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage has continued to encourage local support for centres, working in partnership with voluntary bodies.

The NBN Trust established a Local Records Centre Steering Group, which continued until 2008.  This Group, in liaison with the National Forum for Biological Recording, produced a “Position Statement on Local Records Centres”, which includes recommendations on their principal functions. This document is aimed at encouraging a standard for the way that local environmental records centres are run, to be used as a benchmark in local partnerships. It adds to the two practical manuals published earlier.

The Trust also commissioned the Local Records Centres On-line Database, which is available live through this website and that of the National Forum for Biological Recording and the ALERC website.

Most recently, the development of NBN Gateway web-services has enabled the benefits of mobilising LERC data through the Gateway to be seen at the local level.  A pilot project to help develop this idea was run with Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL), the London local environmental records centre, and a parallel project at Bristol allowed them to mobilise all their data through the Gateway to help assess the impact on local environmental records centre business models.

Finally, the NBN Trust has drafted model data access agreements for use between local records centres and voluntary societies. Further practical assistance to help local records centres engage directly with the NBN is currently limited to technical assistance (contact: the NBN Technical Liaison Officer), but the NBN Trust is working with the conservation agencies and others to enhance future support, notably to expand the coverage of the UK by records centres running according to NBN standards.

LERC funding from Natural England

Following the Review of Local Record Centres in the UK (Natural England 2007), Natural England re-assessed its relationship with English LRCs.  A standard agreement was adopted, focusing funding on supporting the core functions of LRCs in collating, managing and disseminating biodiversity data and the funding for individual LRCs was also increased.  The agreement allowed work priorities to be determined collectively by an LRC steering group, on which Natural England would be represented along with other partners.  In return for its funding Natural England requires that LRCs mobilise species data onto the NBN Gateway, such that it can be accessed by Natural England staff to support policy and conservation management decisions.

By the end of March 2008, Natural England had entered into agreements covering the whole of England.  In counties where an LRC didn’t previously exist agreements were established with local partners, including local authorities and Wildlife Trusts, to provide the functions of an LRC.  LRCs will be initially mobilising species data sets onto the NBN Gateway over the period April 2008 to March 2009. Under the current agreement, LRCs are working to individually set milestones, in order to achieve a full upload of fully verified and validated local data.