Back in 1993 when I was a fresh-faced young graduate, I stumbled across a job advert for a graduate trainee at Somerset Environmental Records Centre. I had never heard of Environmental Records Centres before, but it sounded right up my street, so I applied and was accepted. Looking back, my first day at SERC was life-changing for me for two reasons. Firstly, I knew straight away that I had inadvertently stumbled into a professional ecological niche which suited me down to the ground. Secondly, I met my future wife (and also Tim Corner, now at BRERC), but those are stories for another day!
I was fascinated by everything SERC did. With Bill Butcher as my boss and mentor I began to learn more about the work of LRCs (as they were then known). I was lucky enough to secure a paid position and worked alongside Bill on innovative projects such or the first Local Biodiversity Action Plan (which was fully evidence-based), biodiversity hotspot analysis, international habitat audits and public participation wildlife surveys. I had a glimpse of what LRCs could achieve. I was amazed that they didn’t exist everywhere and that their profile was so low both within and outside the environmental sector. I became increasingly keen to get involved in promoting the work of LRCs, in raising their profile and growing their professional standing.
Over the next decade I gained experience in other LRCs and began to get involved in LRC issues at a national level, notably via the National Federation for Biological Recording (NFBR) (‘F’ is now for Forum) and, for its brief existence, via the NBN LRC steering Group.
During the 90s and early 2000s NFBR was increasingly dominated by LRC people and LRC issues, probably to the detriment of its role as an organisation to promote biological recording. Talk began to creep into NFBR about the possible need for a separate organisation to focus on LRC issues. During the 2000s discussion amongst LRC staff on the subject became more frequent and more serious, reaching a climax in 2004 when NFBR established an LRC sub-group, and the first national conference solely for LRCs took place in Birmingham. Various LRC meetings and conferences subsequently took place through the mid to late 2000s to work towards formally establishing an umbrella body for LRCs. Various names were batted around for the organisation, but the deal was finally sealed in April 2009 in a meeting at the NBN offices in Nottingham, when papers were signed and a board of directors was confirmed, leading to the formal establishment of the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC) as a Community Interest Company on 2nd July 2009. I was honoured to be asked to be ALERC’s first chairperson.
In hindsight (and it was also recognised at the time), the early years of ALERC were a real struggle, as the new Directors found their feet and attempted to get ALERC off the ground with all work being shared amongst Directors, most of whom, like me, were in busy day jobs back in their respective LERCs. The key breakthrough was actually achieved three years later in 2012 (once Gary Lewis had taken over from me as Chair). That breakthrough was the appointment of an ALERC National Coordinator (ANC) - a role filled then, as it still is now, by Tom Hunt. ALERC owes a huge debt of gratitude to Tom for his loyal service since his appointment. The existence of Tom in the ANC role, plus the dedication of all who have given up their time to serve on the ALERC board and its working groups (thanks to the generosity of their LERC employers) has combined to create the success story that ALERC has undoubtedly been.
As we mark ALERC’s 10th birthday, it is with great pride that I look back over the last decade and at all that ALERC has achieved. The reputation and professional standing of LERCs has never been higher, assisted by the development of the ALERC accreditation scheme, its representation at national and regional meetings, its input to national policy consultations and the growing acceptance of LERCs as the definitive source of high quality, local, capture-resolution biodiversity data to inform the decision-making process.
There is still so much more that ALERC needs to do to further cement and develop our role, but I believe that ALERC will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that LERCs go from strength to strength over the next 10 years and beyond.
I raise a glass (as I write this!) to the future of ALERC. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to its success whether as directors, staff or members. I look forward to working with you all into the future as we ensure that LERCs and all we do are increasingly recognised and valued.
Manager, South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
Current vice-chair and founding chair of ALERC in 2009.