May day! May day! Iceberg right ahead!
No need to be alarmed! Indeed, May day has come and passed, thankfully without disaster, and how welcomed it was. Summer is upon us once again and for another season we’ll get to enjoy the explosion of life on our country walks and relaxing rambles. Hawthorn, or the ‘May-bush’, is now in full bloom in many stretches of the country and our hawthorn-filled hedgerows will soon be buzzing and humming with the sound of pollinators and other insects, if not already. Bliss!
What is welcomed news is the fact that this surge in Mother Nature’s activity looks set to be matched by the effort of Ireland’s community of biological recorders, if a record-breaking Spring is anything to go by!
Ireland has never seen so much recording activity in the first few months of the year! For instance, if we take the collective totals for the months of February, March and April in 2018, add them together, and compare them with the same months this year, there has been a 79% increase in records submitted to the Data Centre. In absolute terms, that’s an increase from 17,708 species records to 31,786 year-to-year!
More and more people are engaging with the Data Centre all the time. Taking the recent month of April for example, some 1,314 people (or other entities) submitted records of Ireland’s biodiversity using the portal, compared with 610 for the same month last year! What numbers are to be expected for the middle of the Summer, when we hit peak recording season? I can’t wait to see. I will say one thing though, massive kudos to everyone chipping in, you get a huge thumbs-up from me, even if I’m finding it hard to keep up with yee all myself!
But whilst this is of course incredibly satisfying news, and clearly indicates that there is an increasing community of people engaging with nature in Ireland in a highly productive and positive way, it does ask questions about how the Data Centre can withstand all of this activity. We really are facing an iceberg!
The increasing demand on human resources is only natural with this heightened level of engagement and staff are doing their upmost to deal with it. Even from an entirely personal perspective, there are more emails to respond to, more phone-calls to answer, more legacy issues to deal with as a result, more Tweeting and Facebooking, more events to either get to or unfortunately turn-down because travel and subsistence is cut, more data to validate, more sectors to engage with and more projects to roll out or put to the side because of a lack of man-power and resources, the latter being some of the most disappointing aspects. Every one of the staff at the Data Centre is trying to do that little bit more to meet the demand within their projects and to take on new responsibilities but it’s not possible to keep stretching further and further in order to fully support a growing and engaged sector without additional resources.
The Data Centre has so much potential and can do so much more for Ireland’s natural heritage and conservation sector if it is supported sufficiently. There is a drive, ambition and energy to work with other stakeholders in the sector and to support it and them with data management services and additional skill-sets which Data Centre staff have to offer. Given the conclusion of the recent public consultation on Heritage Ireland 2030, I would stress that any national strategy for heritage must acknowledge the important role that the Data Centre has to play in supporting Ireland’s natural heritage. At the absolute very least, it should secure it’s future.
Whatever happens, this Summer is going to be a busy one for the Data Centre, in a good way!
– Ben Malone, Administrative and Engagement Officer at the National Biodiversity Data Centre.