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The Natural History Society for Lincolnshire


 History of the Wildlife News Bulletin

Roger Parsons, voluntary Editor of the Bulletin, recalls its history from the early, pioneering days of the Internet.


 It was in the mid-1990's, I recall, when Dave Bromwich first spoke to me of the website design talents of Steve Gray. Steve was a volunteer at Whisby, who was keen to encourage the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust to set up a website. It did not take long to realise that Steve had extraordinary vision and skill, and before long the Trust website (launched in early 1996) was winning compliments from every direction.

Dave Bromwich had a long term vision of his own, stemming from his work with the Lincolnshire Naturalists Union. He felt that a website offered an opportunity to gather biological data on a huge scale, and as a first step, with invaluable help from Roger Goy, we began posting weekly wildlife records on the Trust website.

This was a terrible drudge, with Roger Goy dictating information to me down the phone every Sunday for me to forward to Steve for conversion to html and eventual posting on the website. Looking back, we must have been mad to even attempt it and eventually Steve raised his concerns with Dave Bromwich and myself. Dave and I launched into a rather freewheeling and vehement discussion of possibilities. I remember Steve looking rather concerned at the Pandora's box he had opened! Dave and I had a clear objective, we wanted to improve the flow of biological information to county recorders using modern Information and Communication Technology. But more importantly, we wanted to find a way to encourage people to take up an interest in taxonomy, and the identification and recording of local species, building the skills and the lifetime's interest that future County Recorders are likely to need.

Steve Gray's website logs showed modest usage, I think it was then about 50 or so hits a week on that page . The 'Species' pages we had set up were very successful, but the Wildlife News page logs were less encouraging. This was not surprising, for there were fewer users of the World Wide Web at that time, fewer still with an interest in wildlife recording, and yet fewer with the time or inclination to log on very frequently.

So we continued with our 'thought experiment', debating how an e-mail-based system might work so that information could by-pass the chore of weekly conversion into a web page. Like the Trust web newsletter, people could sign up to receive the weekly Bulletin, and they could contribute their records week by week, again by e-mail. As County Recorders came 'on line', they could receive their records in electronic form, ready for use in computer-based recording programs. We hoped to set the scene for a minor revolution in biological recording. I think we spoke in terms of maybe 50 people contributing to recording in this way. Looking back, I am reminded of Thomas J. Watson – Head of IBM – 1945, who said: "I think there is a world market for maybe five Computers"!

So how has the e-mail Bulletin evolved since those early days in spring 1998? Numbers have grown steadily at between 50 and 100 a year, and by December 2014 we had over 1,100 readers! Some of these are media people keeping an eye on sources of stories. Some are 'observers' from other organisations, the Wildlife Trusts for example. But most, by far the most, are members of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust or Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union, who have a general interest in news of recent sightings and an additional interest in the idea of gathering biological data to increase our understanding of the county's living things.

When we started, only one or two recorders received the Bulletin by e-mail. Now, although some eschew modern technology, I estimate 20-25 Recorders can now receive records in this way. We have sowed the seed of Recording in the minds and computers of over 1,000 subscribers, some highly skilled professionals, others just at the start of their interest in natural history. All that is asked of them is that they contribute to the Bulletin over the course of a year, with a question, item of news or a wildlife report. In return they become part of an unique network of naturalists, who debate all kinds of issues from wildlife crime to wind power. We share news of events, participate in research, provide publicity for any wildlife organisation that asks us to do so. Although readers join as individuals, their networks bring the bulletin into contact with Universities, museums, national organisations like Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the BBC. Local organisations include Lincolnshire Bird Club, Badger and Bat Groups and the local Wildlife Officers of Lincolnshire Police. Several independent ecological consultants receive and contribute to the Bulletin. We try as far as possible to adopt an inclusive editorial style, where we share information and views in our common endeavour to enjoy and contribute to the understanding of Lincolnshire's natural history.

The Bulletin is publicised through the Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union which now oversees the Bulletin. However, the main route by which people learn of the Bulletin is by word of mouth, indeed we have made something of a virtue of the samisdat nature of the Bulletin, a bit of an 'underground' feel to it perhaps?

What are the keys to making such an exercise work? It does need someone to act as the 'engine room', driving it along. Although today I probably limit my time to a few hours per week, it has been more than this at some stages, and I estimate I have spent over 3,500 hours collating information and editing Bulletins since 1998. But the true key to maintaining readers' interests is, I believe, the high quality and interesting content of so many contributions, without which the weekly content would be far less attractive.

And the hope for the future? A readership of 2,000? It's possible. Signs are that there is a growing interest and participation in the recording work of the Lincolnshire Naturalists Union?

You may sign up for the Wildnews Bulletin via the website of the Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union.
 

 

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