Peter Harvey, President of the Essex Field Club
The Essex Field Club is an entirely voluntary society for wildlife enthusiasts who study and record the natural history and geology of Essex. The Club was founded in 1880 to promote the study of the natural history, geology and pre-historic archaeology of the county of Essex and its borderlands; to establish a museum and to issue publications.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were amongst our founder members and a breathtaking range of work has been carried out by the Club since its inception.
Our remit covers the vice county of Essex, which includes the London boroughs east of the River Lea, as well as small portions of administrative Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. We aim to help and encourage the people and organisations of Essex to enjoy, understand and record the natural history of Essex, including the fauna, flora, geology and lithic archaeology. We hold a programme of events and field meetings where Club members and members of the public can learn about identification and specialist aspects of natural history and recording. We publish an annual journal, the Essex Naturalist, newsletters, special guides, occasional papers and provide a wealth of information on our website, including distribution maps, phenology charts, habitat and other species information dynamically generated from a database of county records. Our database currently holds over 1.6 million records maintained to a high level of scientific integrity by our specialist county recorders, many of whom are national recording scheme organisers or recognised national specialists. This total will increase to well over two million records once our plant data have been fully digitised. Our county recorders can provide other recorders with access to the data behind the distribution maps and registered users and Club members are encouraged to upload images, site and species information and to edit existing information in an effort to improve and build a more comprehensive resource. We encourage members of the public to submit records for a number of ‘easily recognisable species’, if possible supported by photographic evidence, and we run an online forum where users can post observations and ask questions. We deal with everything except bird records, which we leave to the Essex Birdwatching Society.
We recognise the importance of making data available to inform nature conservation and the planning process. As the south-west of our recording area falls into GiGL’s area of interest, we understand how important it is we work in close partnership. The Club has already shared roughly a quarter of a million records with GiGL and this will increase as more data are digitised.
The Essex Field Club holds nationally and regionally important collections from some of the county’s foremost naturalists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which are of major scientific, historical and current value. These have not been fully available for public or research access since the early 1980s. Minimal access was available until 1992 when the Passmore Edwards Museum in Newham, where the collections were previously held, closed. Particularly of note are the geology, entomology, vertebrate and herbarium collections containing type and voucher specimens.
In 2009, with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding, we began to digitise our publications and make them available as a searchable online resource available to universities, schools, naturalists, community groups and the general public, facilitating research into the history of natural history recording, social history and the changes that have taken place within the county since the inception of the Essex Field Club. The digitising project has focused on Essex Field Club publications dating back to its foundation in 1880. To date, 22,815 pages, 2,444 individual books, articles and papers and 7,807,111 words have been read, checked and indexed and made available to the world at on our website.
The project will also conserve electronic copies of the original documents, in case of the sometimes inevitable and irreversible deterioration of the originals caused by handling and the possibility of flood or fire damage. The project is a part of our overall aim to make all our collections and library accessible to the public through our website and our new centre with research facilities, exhibition area and education space.
To this end, we have worked closely with Basildon Council to gain purpose-built premises within the Green Centre at Wat Tyler Country Park, Pitsea. Since March 2012, we have been able to open to the public at weekends, bank holidays and on additional days during school holidays.
We have recently gained Heritage Lottery Funding for another project, Essex Nature for All. This will enable us to undertake a range of new activities, including an in-depth assessment of our collections by the Natural History Museum; putting in place a Young People’s Club; a programme of training days and workshops; and an Essex Natural History Show day at the Green Centre where the public can bring along specimens or pictures for identification. Last year, we held our first and very successful annual conference at the Green Centre. This year, we will be holding our second conference on 5th October 2013 to mark the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s death. Details of the conference, workshops, training days, the new annual show and our annual exhibition and social will be put on the EFC website and in the newsletter.