Jul 04 2014
Museums Sheffield‘s Curator of Natural Sciences, Alistair McLean on how the forthcoming Sheffield Bioblitz helps safeguard the city’s wildlife.
For the last two years, Museums Sheffield, Sheffield City Council Ecology Unit and Sorby Natural History Society have worked together to host the Sheffield BioBlitz, an ambitious attempt to record sightings of as many of the city’s different species as possible in a 48 hour period. 2014 is a special year for the BioBlitz, as it also marks the 50th anniversary of Sheffield’s Biological Records Centre, which maintains the database where all these sightings end up.
The Records Centre was initiated at Weston Park Museum in 1964, by the then natural history curator, David Spalding. In the 1960s, there was a growing understanding that our environment needed to be protected from overdevelopment. However, there was no central body recording all of the sightings of wildlife, so no way to measure how wildlife was being affected by changes to habitats.
David began noting and cataloguing species sightings he had made himself, as well as those submitted by the public and from information associated with the biological collections of the museum. By the 1980s demand for wildlife distribution information had grown so high that a new department, the ecology unit, was set up at Weston Park museum to cope with it, and by the mid-1980s all records had been digitised. When Museums Sheffield was established in 1998 to manage Sheffield’s museums and galleries, the ecology unit and the biological records centre stayed as part of the council and moved to new offices at Meersbrook Park, where it can still be found today.
The Biological Records Centre now represents an on-going ecological database containing information on hundreds of thousands of individual sightings. In recognition of its anniversary, Sheffield City Council Ecology Unit and Museums Sheffield have co-curated a new display about the history and work of the centre, which opens at Weston Park on Tuesday 8 July.
The Records Centre data provides a clear picture of how the distribution of species across the city has changed – but the recording process is a never ending task, as changes occur year on year. The BioBlitzes have become a key part of this process, not only providing an invaluable snapshot of wildlife in the region, but also helping to promote understanding about how we protect Sheffield’s all-important biodiversity.
The 2014 BioBlitz runs between 3pm on Friday11 July and 3pm on Sunday 13 July, later in the year than previously in an attempt to avoid wet weather and record more species (flying invertebrates don’t like the rain!).
There are lots of ways to take part in this year’s BioBlitz – over the weekend you can join us for wildlife walks around the city, led by experts from Museum Sheffield, Sorby Natural History Society and Sheffield City Council Ecology Unit. On Saturday and Sunday we’ll also be hosting walks around Weston Park to record the wildlife living nearby.
As always, the people of Sheffield play a hugely important role in the Bioblitz by sending in details of the species they have spotted. Photographs, specimens or written notes of your sightings, stating what you’ve seen (if possible) and where and when you saw it, can be dropped off at Weston Park Museum throughout the BioBlitz weekend or shortly after, or alternatively, can be emailed directly to email@example.com.
The aim, as always, is to record 1000 species. Will we make it this year?
Top - Curator of Natural Sciences, Alistair McLean with examples of Speckled Wood butterflies. Once rare in Sheffield, the species is now thriving in the city. Photo © Musuems Sheffield
Bottom - A young wildife spotter. Photo © Faye Chamberlain