Mandy Rudd, GiGL Manager
It’s been an eventful journey. Ten years ago, in May 1996, with funding from the Bridge House Trust, London Wildlife Trust launched its Biological Recording Project – the first step towards a biodiversity records centre for London. Alistair Kirk, the first person to captain the recording project recalls:
‘When I started as project officer I was immediately aware of the vision and influence on the process so far of three key individuals – Ruth Day of the London Natural History Society; Pete Guest, then London Wildlife Trust’s Chair and member of the London Bat Group; and Ralph Gaines of the London Wildlife Trust. These three had drawn on the knowledge and expertise within their own organisations and come together to kick-start the process. It was their enthusiasm and drive that inspired me and gave the project the crucial support that it needed from the outset.’
Over the past ten years, partners, neighbouring records centres and national bodies, not to mention several consultations have all influenced the shape of GiGL. While seeking insight into how organisations would use a biodiversity records centre, London’s Biological Recording Project became involved with other recording projects, including those of the Royal Parks Agency and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. During the project’s early days, these agencies were very influential, not least because they contributed to a growing network of partners. Around the same time, the National Biodiversity Network came into being, and the Wildlife Trusts-led ‘Linking Local Records Centres’ project, undertaken on behalf of the NBN, produced invaluable standards and guidance that we still use today.
In the year 2000, the records centre development process reached a major milestone through the London Biodiversity Partnership. The first round of biodiversity action plans included a generic plan for biological recording that contained two actions – their simple wording disguising the enormity of the tasks. The first of these was to ‘produce a biological records centre development plan,’ and the other, to ‘establish a records centre’. English Nature, as the lead partner on the production of the development plan, funded a comprehensive consultation by Somerset Environmental Records Centre in the summer of 2002. The consultant’s recommendation was that London should build on the success of the Biological Recording Project over a two-year period, during which time the project’s partnership and data holdings should be further developed. After the development phase, the project would be officially established as a biodiversity records centre for London. The development phase started in April 2004 and has been more successful than we could have hoped.
The development plan was sent to potential stakeholders and interest in the process really picked up. A few brave partners took the lead on various aspects of the development.The first key development was when the London Borough of Redbridge signed up to a three-year service level agreement just before the development phase began. With this agreement in place and with guidance from Redbridge, we were able to start developing borough-specific products and services we could market to the other 32 London boroughs.
Shortly afterwards, both the London Bat Group and the Greater London Authority asked us to manage and provide access to their data on their behalf.The London Bat Group began sending us regular updates and data requests from consultants. The GLA gave us a copy of their habitat survey data, funded development of our software and paid us to input existing habitat survey data from the old London Ecology Unit. With these two data-providing partners on board, we were able to further develop and to market our data search service to environmental consultants who regularly need access to biodiversity-related data to inform their work for clients.
Another milestone for the records centre development process came in 2003. A London Parks and Green Spaces Forum consultation on the existence and availability of open space information for the Greater London area, concluded that there was a need for the available data to be centralised. With a development plan already in place, the emerging Biodiversity Records Centre was the most sensible option for taking this forward and our objectives broadened. Our target was now to become an open space and biodiversity records centre.
We have always believed engaging with other records centres to be essential to ensure that we are delivering everything we can to our partners and customers. With this in mind, we helped to set up the ‘London and South-East Local Records Centre Group’. This has been fantastically successful, allowing us to network and seek funding for regional projects as a collective.Together, we have also set up a boundary agreement that clarifies our geographic remits for both commercial work and data collecting.This agreement is particularly important for the London region which covers parts of five different vice counties. Looking further afield, GiGL is also represented on the council of the National Federation for Biological Recording, and the steering group of the Local Records Centre Association.
We are thrilled that GiGL now has 16 organisations signed up to service level agreements; organisations that see access to reliable, up-to-date open space and biodiversity data as an essential part of their work.The rapid growth of our partnership is a reflection of both the range of products and services we provide and, more significantly, of fantastic support from, and promotion by our existing partners and steering group. Many of GiGL’s services have been developed through consultation.The development of project ideas has benefited from support and input from the likes of the Natural History Museum, the Environment Agency, Ecology Consultancy Ltd and of course, London Wildlife Trust.
Jenny Scholfield, the Trust’s conservation manager has been involved for six of GiGL’s ten years; ‘For ten years the Trust has supported the development of a records centre for London, including providing financial backing. It is rewarding to have been a major player in GiGL’s success, along with other individuals and organisations that saw the benefits of the project at an early stage. ‘A good number of organisations operating in London have already realised how GiGL’s services support their work, and we are confident that others will join the GiGL partnership.’
GiGL’s success would not have been possible without significant contributions from the dedicated staff and volunteers who have worked with both the Biological Recording Project and with GiGL over the years.
The first ten years are just the beginning – here’s to future days.