Biological Recorders - A Training Project

North East Biodiversity Forum
Regional Biodiversity Group meeting - 4th December 2006
Paper to accompany agenda item on 'Regional Biodiversity Survey Project - a proposal'
The attached document is a proposal for a biological recording training project produced
by Durham Wildlife trust on behalf of the North East Wildlife Trusts. It is being brought to
the Regional Biodiversity Group for information, comment and support.
The Regional Biodiversity Group is asked:
To provide in-principle support for a regional project of this nature
Consider whether you individual organisations may wish to become involved
as project partners
Consider whether your individual organisation would be willing to contribute
any staff time to providing training for apprentice surveyors (e.g. in site
survey skills etc.)
Consider whether your organisation has sites which the project trainees can
use for survey training
Biological Recorders - A Training Project
It has been recognised for many years that there is a lack of biological information
available for the North East of England, and a shortage of suitably qualified people to
collect the information. The need for accurate, up to date biological data is now more
pressing than ever, due to the increased emphasis placed on biodiversity considerations
by the planning system. The development of a biological record centre as part of the
multimillion-pound Great North Museum Project also provides an ideal opportunity to
increase the level of biological recording across the North East.
Across the UK, several organisations, including Wildlife Trusts, have developed projects
that aim to train recruits in the techniques required to collect and process biological data,
and it is hoped that a similar project can be developed in the North East, potentially using
the three North East Wildlife Trusts as training providers. Currently the Somerset
Biological Record Centre and Sheffield Wildlife Trust, amongst others, are running
successful projects, demonstrating that there is a demand for training projects of this type.
How Will the Course Operate?
Existing environmental honours and masters degrees tend not to provide entrants with a
broad range of surveying experience across different habitat types and groups of species,
and few employment opportunities in the environment sector offer opportunities to
undertake significant amounts of survey work. By providing experience over a broad range
of survey techniques, candidates will have sufficient experience to enable them to
successfully seek employment with ecological consultancies, local authorities and
environmental organisations.
To put candidates through the curriculum will take approximately 12 months, and providing
training over a 12 month period will allow experience to be gained over the various
surveying seasons. Training would run from September to September, and it is envisaged
that the typical candidate would be someone who has already completed an environmental
qualification, potentially to a higher level than NVQ, or has work experience in the
environmental sector. A £10 000 per annum bursary will be paid to each candidate to
provide for living expenses whilst completing the course.
What Training Will be Provided?
The overall aim of the project would be to provide data that increases our understanding of
the distribution and status of species and habitats that have been identified as
conservation priorities by the Biodiversity Action Planning process. By providing data on
these species and habitats the training programme will deliver against targets and actions
in national, regional and local Biodiversity Action Plans and provide data that is relevant to
planning issues and protected species.
The core modules to be taught are:
 basic habitat mapping using phase 1 methodology,
 identification of biodiversity action plan habitats,
 assessment of suitability of habitat for protected species,
 basic mammal survey techniques,
 basic amphibian survey techniques,
basic bird survey techniques,
production of Farm Environment Plans for Higher Level Stewardship,
use of IT e.g. Recorder, GIS packages,
use of keys and basic taxonomic skills,
health and safety, out door navigation and conflict resolution skills,
basic invertebrate taxonomy.
Students will then be expected to select from one of the following modules:
 higher plant identification and NVC survey,
 herpertile surveys, with emphasis on great crested newts,
 invertebrate survey and identification,
 identification of lower plants and fungi,
 coastal and intertidal habitat monitoring and mapping.
All students would be required to produce a written survey report based on fieldwork in
their chosen specialist area.
Which Qualification?
Ideally, any training provided would form part of a structured, nationally recognised training
programme that would provide participants with a recognised qualification to assist them in
securing employment in the environmental sector.
At present there are few existing qualifications available that could provide a basis for a
biological recording training programme. Perhaps the most appropriate option would be
NVQ Level 2 Environmental Conservation, which is currently provided by Durham and
Northumberland Wildlife Trusts for some of their long-term volunteers. There is
considerable choice available in the units to be studied, making it possible to tailor the
qualification towards biological surveys and data recording.
To meet the NVQ requirements, candidates would need to study for three mandatory units
covering health and safety, environmental good practice and personal development, which
will be delivered as components of the core modules identified above. A further unit
covering communication and caring for the public and others is also obligatory and will be
delivered through the core modules.
A further 2 units are required, and these two units would provide the basis for training in
biological recording, with the most appropriate NVQ options being EC2 - Survey and report
on the condition of the environment and EC6 - Communicate environmental information.
The core and specialist modules provide delivery of these options.
Other options in terms of qualifications offered are NVQ Level 3, but this is aimed at
people in the work place and for that reason is unlikely to be suitable, or the IdQ offered by
the Natural History Museum. IdQ is not a training programme, rather an accreditation of
existing skills that represents the gold standard in biological identification with the pass
mark set at 90%. Candidates for the NVQ could be offered the opportunity to sit for an IdQ
if their skills are sufficiently good. Currently, IdQ is aimed at botanical identification skills,
but there seems to be some potential to offer this examination to extend to other groups if
there is sufficient demand, and if suitably qualified tutors can be found to teach
identification to this high level.
It may also be possible, depending on the views of the licensing bodies, to provide
sufficient training and survey experience to enable candidates to apply for protected
species licences.
Who Will Deliver the Training?
It is envisaged that candidates would attend training sessions based at a 'training centre',
potentially one or all three of the North East Wildlife Trusts, where they would be guided
through the NVQ curriculum. There would also be considerable amounts of fieldwork to
reinforce the classroom sessions, and this fieldwork would be structured to provide a
useful product; the biological data needed to support a regional record centre and inform
planning policies.
At the heart of the project would be a broad based partnership of organisations that are
already involved in local and regional biodiversity partnerships. These are the
organisations that have a need for biological data and have identified the lack of accurate,
up to date survey data as a major constraint.
The expectation would be that these organisations would support the project by using their
staff expertise to provide much of the training required, and also offer placement
opportunities to students for their specialist modules.
There are also a number of existing colleges of higher education that can join the
partnership and assist with delivery of the course. For example, Houghall College will
shortly be commencing a programme of short courses covering many of the training
requirements identified above.
Demonstrating the Need for the Project
The need for accurate, up to date survey data has been frequently identified by partners
e.g. through the targets and data group of the North East Biodiversity Forum, and is
flagged up as a major resource issue by the Forum's draft funding plan.
When seeking external funding for the project it is anticipated that we could produce
documentary evidence of need for increases numbers of trained staff by Forum members
and the regional branch of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management
What Will it Cost?
To operate NVQ training would require a dedicated officer working to coordinate and
administer the course. To allow sufficient time to be invested in each candidate, class
sizes would be limited to a maximum of nine; most likely three people based at each of the
three regional centres, with some joint training. Each student would require a significant
amount of equipment to allow them to conduct surveys for a wide range of habitats and
species, and further equipment to permit lab based ID of specimens and recording and
presentation of data. A substantial amount of funding would also be needed to cover the
costs of hiring in specialist trainers with sufficient experience to teach the skills required.
If Wildlife Trusts are to operate as training bases it is envisaged that additional office
accommodation would be needed to house the project at each Trust, and a dedicated
minibus would be needed for the project.
The initial project would operate for five years, with year 1 being the set up period where
all the course requirements are evaluated and the course promoted to attract candidates
for the first intake the following year. On this basis the likely funding requirement for the
three year project is as below.
Staff over 5 years
Student equipment and IT over 4 years
Office base over 5 years
Training delivery by external experts over 4 years
Minibus - purchase and 4yrs maintenance
Student bursaries - £10k per student per year
Grants could be sought from a wide range of sources including Lottery funding, charitable
trusts, national and regional government, business and local authorities. Similar schemes
are currently underway in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Sheffield using external funding
from Heritage Lottery Fund, and there is an existing scheme in Somerset funded via New
Biological data is needed by a host of organisations such as local authorities and
ecological consultancies. Local authorities require accurate, up to date biological records
to inform the planning process, so a financial contribution could be sought from them in
exchange for the ecological information that they are now legally required to acquire.
Ecological consultancies need a pool of suitably trained people available to fill the
vacancies they have on offer, and in much the same way as other industrial sectors
contribute towards training schemes to meet their future employment requirements, a
contribution could be sought, perhaps under the auspices of IEEM.
Additional funding is potentially available from the grants given to farmers and landowners
to support the production of FEPs associated with HLS applications, and also by providing
a pool of trained personnel to assist with the survey work carried out by ecological
consultancies across the region.
The recently re-launched Northern Rock Foundation grants programmes may offer a
source of regionally based funding to build capacity across the northeast, and Northern
Rock would be a sensible first contact to discuss the validity of a project of this type.
SWOT Analysis
Biological Recording
Lack of biological data is recognised as one of the biggest issues
affecting biodiversity conservation in the region. There would be
widespread partnership support for creating an effective data
gathering network
The Projects makes links to other social and economic
outcomes, including employment and training, and would attract
interest outside of the direct nature conservation community
The three North East Wildlife Trusts are the best placed
organisations within the region to take this forward because:
- the strength of the existing nature conservation and educational
remit and experience in providing training within the Trusts
- there is a strong 'People and Nature' agenda within the Wildlife
Trust's both locally and nationally
- the Trusts have a dominant place in data collection and survey
among environmental organisations in the North East
- the Trusts are seen as an honest broker by their partners
- the Trusts have strong links with local communities and
potential data users, such as local authorities and statutory
Existing Wildlife Trust-led models from elsewhere in the country
that can be adapted
Potentially limited spaces to host trainees and additional staff
within existing Wildlife Trust buildings
Regional coverage of the training scheme would require close
coordination and cooperation
Not all habitats types will be available within easy travelling
distance of all training centres. Travel to other training centre
areas, or habitat specialisation within training centres, will be
New Deal funding for all applicants may not be available
Not all times of the year ideal for field survey. Careful planning
of curriculum and activity is needed.
Opportunities Lack of baseline biodiversity data within region creates a need
for initiatives aimed at filling data gaps
Increasing demand from a number of sources, both in the public
and private sectors, for good quality biodiversity data
Wide-spread support among partners for measures to increase
amount of biodiversity information available
High degree of expertise within region and among partners that
can be accessed to provide training
Lack of any long-term training opportunities in ecological survey
in the region
Increasing demand from employers for staff trained in ecological
The existence of a competent in-house survey team provides
financial opportunities (for example through payment for the
production of Farm Environment Plans for agri-environment
scheme applications)
Tyne and Wear Museum Service EYE project will provide an
increased data handling capacity and raise awareness of the
importance of biodiversity information
The increasing desire within the biodiversity community to
develop projects that link to wider social and economic outcomes
(such as education and training)
Low uptake of training places and/or lack of suitable candidates
High numbers of trainees leaving before training is completed
(for example to take up paid employment)
Changes to benefit system could remove incentives to trainees
Lack of space to house trainees and project staff
Other similar initiatives developed by other organisations
Outcomes of project don't meet expectations of trainees and/or
Threat analysis
Low uptake of training
places and/or lack of
suitable candidates
High numbers of trainees
leaving before training is
completed (for example to
take up paid employment)
Medium Loss of trainees to paid employment
is always a risk but experience from
other areas suggests that trainees
which to see training completed.
Use of appropriate qualifications at
the end of the training period plus a
properly structured curriculum will
help to prevent against this.
Medium Trainees are likely to require
financial incentives (New Deal,
Housing Benefit etc.) to support
them during the training period. Any
changes to benefit rules could
impact on the ability of potential
trainees to take up places
This is likely to be one of the most
immediate practical difficulties
encountered. Alternative
accommodation may need to be
found for trainees and staff.
However, if partnership support for
project is high (as anticipated) it may
be possible for partners to provide
accommodation as a contribution inkind
It is possible that other organisations
may be developing similar ideas in
parallel and may wish to utilise
similar funding sources. This is
unlikely as other organisations with
a strong training background (such
as BTCV) do not have the
biodiversity expertise to develop a
similar initiative. Developing this
project in consultation with local and
regional biodiversity partnerships
should bring any other similar
proposals to light.
There are great enough variety of
habitats and species within the
North East to build a robust and
varied training course. The lack of
current biodiversity data within the
Changes to benefit system
could remove incentives to
Lack of space to house
trainees and project staff
Other similar initiatives
developed by other
Outcomes of project don't
meet expectations of
trainees and/or partners
Experience from other parts of the
county (e.g. Somerset) shows that a
high demand for such training
places exist.
region is such that any activity that
they trainees undertake will to make
a significant contribution to
understanding - even new Phase 1
habitat information would be a
significant step forward in some
ANNEX 1 : Details of other survey training schemes
Name of Scheme
Records Centre
Training Scheme
The scheme combines in-house training
sessions (taking place ½ to 1 day per week) with
work experience in up to three main subject
areas. All applicants will participate in ecological
survey throughout their time at SERC. Training
is also given in Record Centre Management
including the use of biological databases, GIS
policy issues such as confidentiality of sensitive
data, document control and copyright issues.
Number of
trainees taken
Not known
80 people on
placement over
the life of the
project (project
ends October
Part-funded by European
Social Fund (amount not
over three years
HLF (£677,500)
New Deal (plus income
derived from SERC)
Web address for more
Trainees must be 25 or under.
Project Kingfisher
(Ambios Ltd)
Project Kingfisher supports environmental
vocational skills training in the work place
backed up with 'employability' training including
computer skills, networking and CV
Kingfisher placement project partners are:
Devon Wildlife Trust, Marine Biological
Association, Torbay Coast and Countryside
Trust, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and
Exmoor National Park Authority.
Placements are of 9-month duration.
Natural Talent
(BTCV Scotland
and Northern
20 apprentices will go on placements with
partner organisations in Scotland and Northern
Ireland. Apprenticeships cover training in
LEMUR (Ambios
Ltd, Herefordshire
Nature Trust,
Sheffield Wildlife
specialist areas. In 2006 apprenticeships have
been offered in beetles, freshwater and
grassland conservation, lichens and bryophytes.
Training lasts 12 to 18-months, depending on
the subject and is supported by a training
bursary of £12, 500 per annum.
Trainees spend a funded 9-month placement
working alongside professional staff from a host
organisation. All trainees undergo a block of ten
days of ‘Hub Core Learning’, which is specific to
each of the three hubs (i.e Sheffield WT,
Herefordshire NT and Ambios). This learning
reflects the nature of each placement. For
example the Herefordshire NT hub core
learning includes modules on vegetative grass
ID, Woodland species ID and Wildlife Law.
These core learning courses are then followed
by a 'pick and mix' arrangement of a further five
days of training from the optional courses. It is
possible for Bursary Placements to attend
courses at any of the hubs.
The LEMUR project offers Units from the
Environmental Conservation NVQ level 3 and
Biological Assessment Skills OCN Level 3.
per year over
three years
HLF (£704, 000)
Annex 2 - equipment required by each candidate
To complete their training candidates would require a significant amount of equipment, as
detailed below.
Set of field guides covering all groups studied
Set of keys for all groups studied
Hand lenses
Handheld GIS
Computer work station with Microsoft Office and GIS software
Set of water proofs
Wellington boots and waders
Hi-vis vest or jacket
Waterproof clipboard
Life jacket
Butterfly net
Sweep net
Pond net
Specimen jars
Bat detector
Mammal traps
Pitfall traps
Set of Ordnance Survey maps
Digital camera
Pair of binoculars