Helen Baker, LNHS President
The London Natural History Society’s (LNHS) remit is the study and recording of natural history, archaeology and other kindred subjects especially within twenty miles of St Paul’s Cathedral, the promotion of scientific investigations, the appreciation and conservation of the natural environment and the publication in the Society’s journals of scientific and educational papers relating particularly to the London Area.
Things have moved on since John Swindell’s article in the July 2006 issue. The LNHS and GiGL exchange biological records on a regular basis and GiGL has frequently been able to assist LNHS in its research and publications through the delivery of bespoke data products. A couple of recent collaborations are outlined below.
In 2014, I devoted my LNHS Presidential address to the house sparrow, with particular reference to London. In the 1990s, when the decline of the urban sparrow was becoming apparent, I organised a LNHS house sparrow survey ( which continued from 1995 until 2003.
The results of the survey showed that sparrows were indeed declining in the London area. It did not identify factors responsible but it was significant that very few juveniles were recorded. The survey was the subject of three papers in the London Bird Report.
My 2014 address reviewed recent studies of urban sparrows and possible reasons for the decline. It also reported on fieldwork I had done earlier in the year in residential areas in seven tetrads to the north of Heathrow Airport where house sparrows are still abundant. In spring 2014, I walked along virtually all the residential streets listening and looking for sparrows and marking their locations on a map. I then concentrated on four areas and noted the surrounding habitat. Three of these areas were where I had recorded many sparrows and the fourth, of a similar size, where I had recorded virtually none.
While this work was in progress I had a meeting with staff at GiGL who kindly agreed to digitise my map and undertake some analysis of the local environment in the study areas. In addition to the main map, GiGL produced more detailed land use maps of the same areas and a report with more information on the habitat types and information about the Sites for Importance of Nature Conservation which the study areas overlapped. GiGL also provided me with maps of the Society’s detailed and tetrad level house sparrow records from 2005 to 2009 inclusive. These data were all very helpful in producing my presentation which will be published in The London Naturalist for 2015.
Addition of LNHS recording boundaries to iGiGL
The LNHS uses defined recording areas when carrying out surveys. We recently worked with GiGL to make these boundaries accessible online to members of the different sections of the Society. GiGL has added two new layers to the existing iGiGL map: the 20-mile-radius London area and an inner London area; and selected Watsonian vice-county boundaries for Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Surrey. The result is a map that provides a resource for members to check their recording sites against official boundaries and compare with other useful available mapping on iGiGL. LNHS has funded the time for GiGL’s external consultant, while GiGL are contributing their time for free.
Helen Baker joined the LNHS in 1976, taking part in bird surveys, and quickly becoming secretary of the LNHS committee. She organised the Society’s 1983-84 Canada goose survey, the 1987-88 survey of birds of small open spaces in inner London and finally the 1995-2003 house sparrow survey. At the 1992 AGM, Helen I was elected Chair of the ornithology section (now the London Bird Club) and served for four years until the 1996 AGM. She commenced a two year term as President of the Society in December 2013.
Helen worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and later the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. For the greater part of her time she was dealing with agricultural tenancy and agricultural employment matters.