Getting busy

All go on the ALERC front

Work begins on summarising responses to the Recorder 6 consultation and planning next steps; the SBIF Review of biological recording infrastructure in Scotland starts to formulate its recommendations; ALERC Directors meet for two days in Birmingham to look at how we can best serve our members; and we welcome two new Directors to the ALERC Board – Pauline Campbell (Centre for Environmental Data & Recording, Northern Ireland) & Ian Carle (Herts Environmental Records Centre)


I started 2018 in the mountains of Spain, watching Iberian Lynx in the Sierra de Andújar.


Gratuitous holiday snap


Feels like a long time ago now! What with the all the meetings, budget-setting and projects on the go – alongside my ALERC responsibilities – 2018 has felt like a bit of an endurance race so far. But I’m not complaining! I’m sure lots of you are in the same boat. And, with my record centre business as well as the ALERC work, I feel like I’ve been good-busy: making progress, moving forwards.

(I’m hopeful things might slacken off after our Sussex biological recorders’ seminar next Saturday – not sure how we ended up with 260 people booked to come?!)

Recorder 6 consultation

I got back to work on 8 January to the news that 120 people responded to the Recorder 6 consultation, 90 of whom are current users of the software. We had a high response rate from LERCs, so thanks to everyone who took the time to complete the survey. Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre (SxBRC) & Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) have commissioned Andy Foy to analyse the results and produce a summary report which we will share with everyone soon. I’m also planning to contact key people / organisations who would need to be involved in moving this forward. I’ll share more information about this on ALERC’s Knowledge Hub and the NBN Forum, as soon as I get a chance.

SBIF Review

I also spent a bit of time in January catching up with the SBIF Review. Now the workshops are all complete and written up (you can access the outputs here), the SBIF Review team, led by Ellen Wilson, is in the process of formulating recommendations. The SBIF Review is of course enormously significant for our members in Scotland, and could have implications for other parts of the UK, so – along with Tom Hunt, the ALERC National Coordinator – I have dialled into several briefings from Ellen and been liaising closely with Scottish LERC leaders and ALERC Directors to look at how ALERC can input constructively to these final stages of the Review and help to shape the recommendations.

ALERC Directors workshop in Birmingham

On 24 & 25 January, I met the rest of the Directors’ team in Birmingham for two days of ALERC business. I felt a bit nervous as I headed out of Birmingham New Street, looking for our new venue. My quick back-of-the-envelope calculation put the cost of the meeting at well over £5,000, in terms of Directors’ time, travel and accommodation. These costs are covered by the Directors, as part of their contribution to ALERC; so the cost doesn’t appear on ALERC’s balance sheet. But I still felt a weight of responsibility to make sure what we got out of the meeting would be worth the investment.

When I first started as Chair, I had one-to-one conversations with each of the ALERC Directors. What emerged from this was a broad overview of the work ALERC does, and aspires to do, which I have attempted to illustrate below.

It immediately struck me that, this is a lot of work! I could see how the various different work areas linked to ALERC’s objectives – so it’s all good and valid stuff to be doing. But, given the fairly limited resources that ALERC has, I wondered if we were stretching ourselves a little thin.

The Directors team agreed that the time was right to look again at ALERC priorities, how we resource the work of ALERC, who’s doing what, and how it all fits together. So – in a departure from our usual format for Directors’ meetings – we spent our first day in ‘workshop’ mode, taking a comprehensive look at everything ALERC does, and how we do it.

New structure for ALERC

I’m pleased to say I think we did get our money’s worth from that discussion. What we ended up with is a clearer and simpler structure for ALERC which I’m hopeful will provide a good basis for a more detailed review of ALERC’s priorities and work plans, as well as clear lines of accountability which should help with ensuring we deliver against agreed priorities.

We will have three main work areas (or ‘directorates’, we haven’t quite figured out what to call them yet), which will each be led by a Director. Broadly, these will cover:

  • Business development & accreditation
  • Technical development & data standards
  • Communications & influencing

The lead Directors will provide strategic oversight – making sure we’ve got a good grip on who’s doing what, and everything’s properly joined up. We’re envisaging smaller Task & Finish Groups / Sub-Groups will be set up, as and when needed, to progress particular projects / areas of work; and the idea is we’ll have different people leading those, so we get a sensible distribution of workload.

As ALERC Chair, I will lead a smaller group with responsibility for ALERC governance and administration – making sure we do all the things we must do, in order to function as a Community Interest Company and membership organisation.

We’ll share more information about these groups, and how you can contribute, as plans develop.

This will mean some disruption for existing ALERC Working Groups (listed here), but we still absolutely want to create opportunities for all members to contribute to the work of ALERC – so please bear with us while we make these changes and feel free to get in touch with me, or any of the lead Directors, if you’d like to discuss any of this.

Day 2 of the Directors' meeting: ALERC business

The second day of our meeting in Birmingham reverted to the usual format, working through various aspects of ALERC business, including:

  • membership renewals – there are a couple still outstanding for 2017/18, if you think it might be you, please get in touch with Tom Hunt asap. Timely renewals are essential to the functioning of ALERC as we operate on very small margins and we will have to tighten up on this next financial year.
  • data supply to the Environment Agency – with the existing MoA expiring in 2019, Marina Flamank is keen to talk to ALERC Directors about what a new MoA could look like. She is due to attend our next Directors meeting in May, so hopefully there’ll be more information we can share after that.
  • redeveloping the ALERC website – this has been identified as a priority and Mark Wills presented a very useful paper on how we could take this forward.
  • mis-use of data on the NBN Atlas – the existing business development group gave us an update on the work they've been doing, including providing comments to NBNT on a proposed procedure for dealing with breaches of the CC-BY-NC licence (for more about this see the ALERC Knowledge Hub, here).
  • the ALERC conference – will be on 18 October 2018 and Tom Hunt will be looking for volunteers to help organise it. Fancy getting involved?

New appointments

Following the meeting in Birmingham, I was delighted to welcome two new Directors to the Board: Pauline Campbell from the Centre for Environmental Data & Recording (CEDaR) in Northern Ireland and Ian Carle from Herts Environmental Records Centre (HERC). Both bring with them masses of relevant experience so I think they’ll be a real asset to the team.

I was also very pleased to hear that former ALERC Director and GiGL Chief Executive, Mandy Rudd, has been formally appointed to the NBN Trust Board. Mandy’s always been a very effective advocate for LERC services and has lots of insight into the sector, so I’m sure NBNT will really benefit from her input. (But Mandy, we haven’t forgotten you said you’d come back to the ALERC Board after your sabbatical!)

We want to hear members' views!

I think I’d better leave it there, before this blog turns into a dissertation. If you’ve got any thoughts or questions, the Directors would love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment below, or start a thread over on ALERC’s Knowledge Hub.

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Maria Longley 3 Years Ago

Thank you Clare. The difference between those two diagrams is quite something, but the second one looks like a brilliant way forward.