Well, this looks like an opportunity to make myself generally unpopular.
First I should say that I consider the NHM/NBN Species dictionary a phenomenal achievement - to my mind probably the most significant advance in ecology/biodiversity this century, and I salute Charles Hussey and everyone else who made it happen.
I also think it's quite astonishing that this database can be used directly in applications like Recorder, extending its impact throughout the recording community. I'm not quite sure who had the vision to keep both in step, but it too is no mean achievement and worthy of congratulation.
However (and I can almost see hands reaching for keyboards now) I think it is very unwise to adopt a 'one size fits all' policy by insisting that all future applications use the NBN Species dictionary, regardless of form or function. The Species dictionary is a highly scientific data compilation which holds information very precisely - more precisely than a lot of everyday ecologists require - and in enormous detail - again much more detail than required on an everyday field trip. There are times when this degree of precision is absolutely necessary, and it is fundamentally important that this information is collated in a single resource somewhere. But there are also times when this complexity is far in excess of that required, and can positively hamper mentoring, data handling and tool development. This is even more relevant when we are dealing with people who are new to recording.
Look at some of the numbers:
By referencing ever more specialised lists, the NBN dictionary has grown from less than 50,000 odd species a decade ago to its present size of nearly double that. However this increase reflects extension to ever more poorly-studied groups - including single celled and microscopic organisms, cryptic species (which are impossible to tell apart without lab. analysis), etc. Take, for example, freshwater copepods - of which several hundred UK species are now included. Many species in this order are fairly common, widespread and easy to spot (ie. macroscopic) if you're looking. But how relevant to new recorders? Personally I'd be pleased if one said 'copepod' (correctly).
Only about 11,000 UK species (of ~80,000 collated so far) have common names. These by their nature are the species that people are familiar with on an everyday basis. These are (primarily) the species that cause an outcry when numbers start decreasing. Conversely that means that >85% of species in the NBN Species dictionary are known by one (or more) scientific names only. How familiar are new recorders with everyday species, let alone those known only by latin names (what is the difference between and Hapalaraea pygmaea and Hatschekia pygmaea, and where do you find out?). How many species without common names appear in mainstream field guides, identification books and keys? Very few.
Consider, as well, the various trade-offs involved in designing the Species database. The choices of hierarchy, structure and data format in the NBN Species dictionary are inevitably constrained by its scientific role. However many of the features which are particularly important to new recorders require a more flexible approach. Common names in particular have a number of idiosyncrasies which cause real pain in pattern-matching and search functions (see http://www.greenmansoftware.co.uk/produ … _frame.htm). In some cases the over-riding scientific requirements dictate a database structure in which it is difficult or impossible to implement such flexible search features. For new recorders, I personally would rank the ability to search independently of punctuation differences (Lady's Smock / Ladys-smock), and to perform inexact ('fuzzy') pattern matching (Pilosella aurantiaca / Pillosela aurantiaca) far higher than the need to enumerate all taxonomic revisions of benthic cyclopoid copepods.
Lastly - because I'm not sure if I'm running out of space on this thing - there is the problem of what you want new recorders to record. It's easy to forget what a steep learning curve recording can be. There's the process of identifying species themselves. Then there is a broad range of 'esoteric' concepts to get to grips with -grid references, tetrads, vice counties, priority habitats(who understands those?) , Phase 1 and 2 habitat surveys to name a few. Presenting ~80,000 potential species ( of which 85% are almost a complete mystery) is not only likely to put a significant number of people off, but also has the potential to lead to confusion and errors. Who's going to check a record of Acanthocyclops bicuspidatus (widely distributed throughout the UK) submitted by a new user? It's important to realise that there's a limit to what's useful to those starting in recording, and that more is not necessarily better.
Green Man Software Ltd