the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

From Darwin to Deptford

Matt Davies and Lauren Alexander, GiGL’s data team, give an overview of GiGL’s data holdings and the process of inputting and extracting information from the database.

GiGL may be ten years old, but the records that GiGL holds cover a much broader time span, dating from 1843 (Charles Darwin, Down House) to May 2006 (Jo Public, Deptford).The GiGL database now holds some 390,000 species and 36,000 habitat records. Approximately 5,000 different species are represented from across London. The overall range is considerable – from site specific to London-wide surveys to subsets of national surveys. From information generated during a lifetime of biological recording by experts in their field, to incidental records such as the northern bottlenose whale that recently found itself in Battersea. GiGL is also one of the few biodiversity record centres to hold open space information, on land-use, access and facilities. Quite a considerable resource!

The majority of the information is generated by the Greater London Authority’s systematic survey of London’s open-spaces. A rolling programme ensures that every open space over 0.25ha, whether ‘green’ or not is surveyed every ten years. All data generated by these surveys since the year 2001 are held electronically. The older paper records will be input to the database over the next year, ensuring comprehensive coverage across London and making it possible to analyse changes in habitats and species.

The database also contains information from other surveys carried out for a broad variety of purposes. One of these is the London Wildlife Trust’s stag beetle survey – an invaluable exercise, not only in helping to identify stag beetle distribution across London, but also in engaging people with their local wildlife and recording. Managing such a vast and growing resource of records requires a highly sophisticated database. Recorder is the national standard database for storing biological information. Enhancing our data holdings often involves converting complex bespoke databases to a standard format that Recorder can understand. One such example is London Underground’s database of some 16,000 records from surveys of rail-side land – information that considerably helps our understanding of this inaccessible land. Similarly, work will soon begin on manipulating some of the high quality databases held by members of the London Natural History Society, getting their data to sit happily alongside the rest of GiGL’s data holdings.

Recorder has inbuilt functions that makes it extremely effective. Species dictionaries ensure correct nomenclature is used while, where species names have changed over time, custom dictionaries allow us to add historic records using the original name. This has proved useful during GiGL’s recent collaboration with the Darwin at Down Partnership. Many of Charles Darwin’s records from Down House, the family home where he formulated his theories on evolution, have been uploaded to Recorder with both historic and current names attached. Other dictionaries ensure that every species is automatically tagged with its designated status – invaluable for reporting on protected species. Similarly, sensitive species can be flagged so that reporting of their presence is limited, or only given a generalised grid reference.

To ensure that GiGL’s data holdings are of the highest standard, it is vital that records are verified and validated. GiGL’s staff routinely ensure geographic accuracy – using a geographical information system to match new datasets to the GLA’s standardised list of designated sites. When assessing whether a species has been correctly identified, external expertise is required.To this end, an advisory panel of taxonomic experts is being set up to include members of the London Natural History Society.

The mechanics – extracting data

All this work is to one important end – making information fully accessible to endusers.

Ever wondered how many records of Japanese knotweed are within 200 metres of the River Lee in East London? We can tell you.The provision of valuable greenspace information in a useable form is GiGL’s raison d’etre.The GiGL data search service is widely used by GiGL’s partners and by environmental consultants, land managers, conservation organisations, community groups, students and members of the public.

We currently provide details of statutory and non-statutory sites, maps showing locations and boundary details, species lists and habitat survey information. We will shortly be adding open space data too. All the data held on behalf of GiGL’s partners are included in searches – an added benefit for our partners who can forward data requests directly to us and save themselves time and effort.

A standard search typically includes the site of interest and a surrounding buffer zone of between 500m and 2km. Searches can also be tailored to the specific needs of the user to cover a larger area or specific species or habitats. The majority of searches are currently requested by consultants as part of a desk study to determine what habitats and protected species are likely to be present on or near a development site, prior to a full site survey. Searches are also requested for many other reasons, including to provide background information for site notice boards and information leaflets, grant applications, management plans and research projects.The information is usually presented in a report, which also contains contact details of relevant borough ecologists and species and habitat specialists who may be able to provide further advice, along with explanations of site designations, habitat survey methodologies and species protection definitions. GiGL’s partners can also request the data in electronic format.

Submitting records

At the most basic level a record consists of four pieces of information – who recorded what, when and where. Providing you have this minimum level of information, we encourage you to submit records, safe in the knowledge that not only will they be securely managed, but also that they will help inform conservation decisions in London.You can report sightings over the phone, via email and soon via a form on our new website. If, however, you think you are going to collect more than a handful of records each year, or have records from an entire survey, GiGL can provide a standardised spreadsheet which you can periodically send to GiGL.

As well as the mandatory who, what, when, where, it allows you to store other basic information such as survey techniques used and qualifiers such as sex and stage of the species. From the perspective of GiGL’s hard working staff, using the spreadsheet makes uploading information to the central database a lot easier.

To obtain a recording form, or send in your individual records, contact Mandy Rudd, GiGL Manager, 020 7803 4278, mrudd@wildlondon.org.uk

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