Monday, 7 March 2016

Decision to end funding of local environmental record centres attacked

Centres, which rely on thousands of volunteers and described as ‘eyes and ears’ of natural world, told contract ending early

Sunday 6 March 2016 15.35 GMT
Last modified on Sunday 6 March 201615.59 GMT

Conservationists have criticised the decision to withdraw funding from a network of tens of thousands of local wildlife volunteers who collect data on the health of a variety of species and act as the “eyes and ears” of the government’s nature watchdog.

Local environmental record centres (Lercs), which collect and collate records of everything from great crested newts to bats and are used to inform planning decisions on legally protected species, have been told that a four-year deal to collect data is to end just one year in.

Last year, Natural England began funding almost 40 Lercs, which employ 128 staff across the UK, 500 volunteers in offices, and an estimated tens of thousands more who record insects, plants and habitats in their spare time. 

Stephen Trotter, the director of the Wildlife Trusts, England, condemned the decision to end the contract early, saying: “Lercs are the basis for much of our knowledge about what’s happening in the natural world and, in a time of climate change and widespread declines of wildlife, now is not the time to be pulling the rug from under them.

 “The government has said it wants open data – and so do we. But Natural England needs to value the role and function of these small organisations if it’s going to achieve this. In my view, it is playing a short-term game in which society and the government could live to regret the long-term consequences if the network is allowed to collapse like a set of dominoes.”

Graham Walley, chairman of the National Forum for Biological Recording, many of whose members submit records to the centres, said they were important local services and the funding cut could be a “matter of life or death for some”. 

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