Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre is both a very young Local Records Centre but also the oldest! Although we officially launched in 2011 as the partnership-led CBDC, we are continuing a tradition lasting over a century of a Centre for Lakeland (Cumbrian) biological records at Tullie House Museum; a tradition unbroken since the time the information was beautifully recorded in a ledger.
For more on the history of recording in the county, see the In Search Of Nature section.
Tullie House Museum
The Natural History Records Bureau at Tullie House Museum was established in 1902, inspired to carry on updating the achievement of the Reverend Hugh Alexander Macpherson in his comprehensive and detailed work recording Lakeland's fauna, following his death in 1901. It is believed that this was the first such Records Centre in the world.
Macpherson developed a natural history museum at Tullie House in Carlisle from 1893, was the first president of Carlisle Natural History Society and published A Vertebrate Fauna of Lakeland including Cumberland and Westmorland with Lancashire North of the Sands in 1892. This is still a useful source of information today, giving invaluable context to modern records.
Successive natural history curators at Tullie House continued to collect information on the county's species, taking full advantage of the close relationship with the Carlisle Natural History Society and the expertise therein. The Museum continued to build links with other Cumbrian natural history societies and recording groups such as the Cumbria Bird Club, particularly through the Cumbria Naturalists' Union. Thanks to individuals and groups freely contributing data, Tullie House became widely appreciated as the best place to get comprehensive information on the natural history of the county. The records were useful reference material for natural history society reports and transactions and books such as The Birds of Lakeland avifauna published in 1943 and edited by the then curator Ernest Blezard; and Lakeland by the renowned naturalist and CNHS member Derek Ratcliffe published in 2002.
Early records were kept in ledgers and then on cards, but from the early 1990s work began on computerising all the records on to a database. This was possible due to the generosity of volunteers from CNHS giving their time to input data.
Cumbria Biological Data Network
In the latter half of the twentieth century other organisations in the county were also collecting information on species, habitats and sites in the county. After initial tentative discussions found plenty of common ground, the Cumbria Biological Data Network was formed in 1999 to start working together and sharing that information. The Network comprised Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, English Nature, the Environment Agency, the Lake District National Park Authority and Tullie House Museum.
Following an audit of the dataset holdings of the different organisations in 2001 and the work involved in bringing the information together, the members contributed to the establishment of a biological Data Officer post at Tullie House in 2004. Significant achievements in making the information more accessible soon followed. In 2005 in the spirit of Macpherson, the Virtual Fauna of Lakeland website allowed people to discover what wildlife was local to them together with information about Cumbrian species and the Museum collections. Uploading data for research to the National Biodiversity Network Gateway from 2004 onwards, the development of the Cumbria Biodiversity Evidence Base for local authorities in 2008 and developing a data search facility made the information even more widely available and used.
In 2007 the Cumbria Biological Data Network decided that a single Data Officer was insufficient to supply the biodiversity services required for Cumbria and that the setting up of a local biological record centre (LRC) should be pursued, in line with a movement to develop a continuous network of Record Centres across England. In addition to the work needed in getting access to additional datasets, it was also realised that there was a huge potential in using the collated wildlife data in educational, community based and public projects. There was also an increased need for biodiversity datasets on habitats and sites as well as biological records. To fulfil these potentials would require more skilled resources and a continuity of funding.
In 2008 CBDN developed a Business Plan for a Local Biological Records Centre with a minimum of three full-time equivalent staff. Three core functions were identified in the Business Plan: managing data; providing services and products; and supporting recorders and recording. Tullie House Museum was identified by CBDN as the preferred home for the expanded Centre, continuing its status as the country's "oldest Local Records Centre".
Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre
After a period of intensive effort and investment by CBDN members to obtain funding and support for a Centre, full development of CBDC began with the appointment of a CBDC Manager in December 2010. The existing CBDN signatories, joined by additional local authority and Cumbria Naturalists' Union representatives, became the steering group of partners of the new Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre. Tullie House Museum itself underwent changes as CBDC was being developed, becoming an independent of Carlisle City Council as Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in May 2011.
CBDC was officially launched by Richard Spiers, CNHS member and Tullie House Museum trustee, on the 22nd October 2011 at the first Cumbria Wildlife Recorders Conference at Tullie House Museum. This latest exciting stage in the journey of Cumbria's Local Records Centre is just beginning.