Letter from the Chair, February 2012

Dear Fellow GNS Members

In the last Chairman’s letter of 2011, I referred to the dry conditions that had prevailed through most of that year, and hoped that winter might bring more rain.  Well, the results have been disappointing so far: some rain in the second half of December and early January, just enough to fill the ditches and scrapes in Severn Vale wetlands like Ashleworth Ham, Coombe Hill Meadows and Walmore Common, and to generate a little surface water in late December and again in early January.  But the cold snap in late January and early February was a cold and dry snap, so there is still a distinct water deficit everywhere, which does not bode well for the coming spring: even the national newspapers have noticed it!  So, I’ll repeat the prayer for rain from my last message.

Come rain or shine however, the GNS Annual General Meeting will take place on Friday 23 March at Shurdington, and I look forward to seeing many members there to review the Society’s past year and look forward to the coming year.  The speaker after the meeting will be from the British Trust for Ornithology, and will report on progress on the BTO’s project to develop a national website for reporting colour-ringed birds, for which GNS provided the initial funding.

Two other items which will no doubt figure on the agenda of the AGM (and at meetings of the Executive Committee and of the Scientific and Publications Sub-committee) are the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan (“BAP”) and the current state of biological recording at county and national levels.  GNS, under the leadership of its preceding Chairman, John McLellan, played a very active role in the preparation and finalizing of the county BAP, which derived from the national biodiversity plan drawn up in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992.  Priorities were defined for all the major habitat types in the county, and targets set for restoration and conservation.  The document is by common consent a magnificent one and serves as a reference and blueprint for conservation action by government and non-government bodies: “Thank heavens it exists!” seems to be the general attitude.  On the other hand, no-one has given a decisive lead in achieving these goals and aims, and there has been inadequate financial support for proper implementation.  So, while the Government’s recent White Paper proclaims that the national BAP objectives are maintained, the county BAP has led to little action on the ground; it is now to be superseded by a new set of initials, LNP (Local Nature Partnerships).  We shall need to watch carefully how LNPs develop, and hope that they produce more real action on the ground.

As everyone recognises, the Internet has produced dramatic changes in every aspect of life; and recording of natural history is no exception.  GNS has long played a major role in the recording of natural history in the county, through its system of county recorders in many different taxa, who know the county intimately, and help check and validate the records, before they are fed into the data bases of the Gloucestershire Centre for Environmental Records Centre.  With the development of the internet and digital recording however, it has become much easier for national recording systems to call for direct submission of records to a central point, sometimes bypassing the essential process of local checking and validation.  Thus we find appeals for records of birds, butterflies, moths (and many other groups besides) to be submitted directly to national data bases; in itself this is an excellent thing, the more so as it is likely to catch the imagination of all those computer-savvy youngsters and potential young naturalists out there, whom we are so anxious to encourage and support.  But, on the other hand, there is a danger of inaccurate, unchecked records being submitted, which county recorders would notice and correct.  So there is a need for the new systems to engage with the old model, to make sure that there is no decrease in accuracy: a task for GNS in the coming years.

With best wishes

Mike Smart

Hon. Chairman

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