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Topic: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Hi NBN Forum,

I am Paul Barrington, the Biodiversity Data Manager for the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre.

I have just been contacted by Green Man Software to trial a new piece of software called FieldNotes. It appears to be a thick client app for Windows to enable people to input and report on their wildlife records.

We currently encourage new recorders to submit records to us via the web (RODiS online or RODiS Android app) and provide MapMate for recording groups. We use Recorder6 as a central hub for our clean records.

Has anybody used FieldNotes yet? What experience did you have?

Regards

Paul

2 (edited by Don Stenhouse 24-01-2013 00:33:37)

Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I have also been sent FieldNotes for evaluation.

Whilst I can't talk too much about the technical side of things, after a brief play about with it I can say that it has a very user friendly GUI - so may appeal to 'thick clients'. It is also feature rich and I suspect it may give Mapmate a run for its money. The licence is about the same at £12 annually. 

It is possible to export records to recording schemes and it was developed with input from the NBN.

As to what is FieldNotes - you can find out by going to their website http://www.greenmansoftware.co.uk or installing the software and trying it out?

An extract from their website:-

The complexity of natural systems has sometimes led to a perceptable division between academics/ researchers (who may use specialist methods and esoteric-sounding classification systems), and 'amateur' naturalists (who generally possess a wealth of field-based knowledge).

FieldNotes successfully reconciles both viewpoints by progressively introducing users to different aspects of wildlife recording, from casual what/when/where observations to various site classification systems and structured approaches to surveying. FieldNotes offers a huge range of exciting features, including:

flexible, experience-based interface
automated report generation and data-exchange
publication-quality OpenGL™ map display
comprehensive species and habitat databases

Our MIrel (Multiple-Index relational) database has been specifically designed for optimal storage of Biological records. It is capable of storing millions of data records efficiently in relational tables, and supports a wide range of data formats including whole documents, images and maps. The database is written in modular C, a high-level language providing fast database input, searching and data access.

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I've only just come across this thread, otherwise I would have replied before.  I'm not sure how much I can say here without wandering into spam, so I'll try and keep to questions opened in this thread.

Yes, FieldNotes is a database application for Windows, aimed at increasing public participation in wildlife recording.
It includes a number of features which allow users to explore and understand the (sometimes complex) datasets and classification systems commonly encountered in recording.

Users are encouraged to submit their records to local recording centres; we have recently supplied LRC's with a pre-release version of the software and asked for feedback on the data-transfer process.  Thank you very much for the comments and suggestions received so far.

I'd be pleased to answer any other questions either here or through the forum email.

Simon Skidmore

Green Man Software

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I'd be  interested in having a look at it on behalf of the Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre if you are still looking for comments Simon.

Could you tell us a bit more about the data flow. You say that you encourage users to submit to LRCs, but does it also submit data to anywhere else (a central data warehouse or the NBN for example)?

Also a bit of information about the taxonomic dictionary would be useful. Your website says that "The UKSpecies database includes probably the largest single compilation of alternative common names for UK species, as well as many recent changes to scientific (latin) names and taxonomy." Which looks like a very grand claim given the amount of work going into the R6 dictionary.

Probably a million other questions would arise if I actually see the software, so I'll leave it at that.

Rob Large
Wildlife Sites Officer
Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

We sent a copy of the pre-release software to the Data manager at Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre (Elm Tree Court) in early January - I can't find any trace of feedback so I'm not sure if it reached the right person.  I can send another copy to you personally if you can't lay your hands on it.

Regarding the data flow, most of your questions will probably be answered best by playing about with the software.
The software and accompanying documentation recommends that recorders submit data to LRCs (via County Recorders if appropriate); however the decision is in the hands of users who may, for example, prefer to supply their records to one of the popular recording schemes.  The underlying database includes a fairly comprehensive list of LRC's and other potential recording 'hubs' (including NBN) but no central warehouse.

I talked with Charles Hussey at NHM when the UKSpecies website went live about 6 years ago, and at that time our database contained about 2000 more common names than the NHM dictionary.  These numbers may be out of date now with the work on the R6 dictionary - I haven't had time to chase up details.  Do you have outline figures?

Simon Skidmore

Green Man Software Ltd

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I’ve received feedback from several people about importing data from FieldNotes to their central database (generally Recorder), and in particular the lack of information covering this step.

Although unpacking the exported data from the SLR file is fairly straightforward, the process is not covered by any existing documentation (which was written primarily for users).  I’ve put together a quick run-through describing the steps involved, incase it's still useful:

http://www.fieldnotes.co.uk/documentati … viewer.htm

(If the above address doesn’t magically turn into a hyperlink, cut and paste it into your browser address bar.)

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Hi Simon

Thanks for replying. I have checked and your pre-release version has arrived here, but appears to have been overlooked as we don't have anyone who is called Data Manager here.

I have now tracked down the disk and will try to find some time to give it a look. I will of course supply feedback when I am able.

Rob Large
Wildlife Sites Officer
Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre

8 (edited by DavidChun 07-03-2013 22:44:25)

Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Surely it is a backward step to have a new system with a dictionary not based on the NHM dictionary. Taxon names are not a reliable way of identifying some taxa, and even if it isn't perfect the NHM has put a great deal of effort into making sure that name changes, lumping and splitting are properly managed and that the meaning of a Taxon Version key is unambiguous.  It would seem to me that the use of the NHM taxon version key rather than names for transfering data should be what we are aimimg for. The simple approach of having the latest names and lists may be attractive, but in the longer term lists need to recognise the complexity of the taxonomy - is recording going to benefit from having multiple approaches to this ?  When is Recorder 6 going  to have the ability to import the TV key ?

The other question is why aren't individuals who need a recording sytem being encouraged to use R6 . Version 6.17 is no more difficult to install  than most software. It is a versatile sytem so may be a little more daunting to set up, however, it can very quickly be set up to record the standard, what , when , where, how and how many. Users also get a system which can expand to meet their  changing requirements. The full NHM Dictionary (as used by the NBN) is included. It also doesn't have any annual charges, and help is freely available via the forum.

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Well I have to say that I agree David, but it doesn't do any harm to see what others are trying.

Of course many recorders don't have the experience or desire to cope with a system as complex as R6 and in my experience they can tend to be unwilling to make the leap when they have a system which works well for them. MapMate, for example, remains popular for many users, despite the fact that it can increase the amount of work needed by LRCs to get data from there into R6.

Indeed one of the reasons why the learning curve for R6 appears so steep is because it has been designed partly with the need to deal with data from all kinds of sources. I sometimes wonder if there isn't room for a R6-lite version with limited functionality, which would give an easy interface for data entry, backed by R6 validation & taxon dictionary & simple export options to produce output suitable for easy import to R6.

However I generally come to the conclusion that a one size fits all approach is a fantasy in such a community of mavericks.

Rob Large
Wildlife Sites Officer
Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I can't comment on the Green Man system, because I haven't tried it, but I do know that Recorder 6 isn't that difficult to get to grips with and that the basic features can be used without having to undertsand it's complexities. Agree that there is never any harm in looking  at what is available as everyone has there own ideas and preferences.  My main concern is the dictionary issue. It isn't difficult to come up with a current list of taxa for a group. What is difficult is tracking changes to this without the need to keep reallocating existing records to new taxa when changes take place.  I question the wisdom of having multiple dictionary structures, at least without some better way of relating them to one another than the taxon name.

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

RobLarge wrote:

I sometimes wonder if there isn't room for a R6-lite version with limited functionality, which would give an easy interface for data entry, backed by R6 validation & taxon dictionary & simple export options to produce output suitable for easy import to R6.

iRecord? You can build your own if you don't like the idea of using the BRC version: https://indicia-docs.readthedocs.org/en … index.html

I also agree with David - the non-standard dictionary is a problem. If the NHM Species Inventory were the standard dictionary in FieldNotes, and if sync with Recorder were a fundamental feature, I'd be very interested. As it stands, I've not tried using it yet. Taxonomy is complex business, and a carefully managed, NBN compatible species dictionary is number 1 on my requirements list. Simon: I'd suggest getting in contact with Chris Raper, who is new-ish manager of the NHM Species Inventory. He should be able to supply you with some figures and perhaps advise with integrating the NHM lists into your software (he's a software developer, so will understand the challenge).

See http://www.nbn.org.uk/News/Latest-news/ … ction.aspx and http://forums.nbn.org.uk/viewforum.php?id=16

Re. the relative difficulty of setting up and using Recorder 6, I agree that, once configured and working, it is pretty easy to use. Reporting and analysis is rather bewildering for the new user, as is the 'blank slate' you get when you first install. The biggest difficulty I have found in supporting Recorder users is in upgrading dictionaries and the software itself. These processes always feel fraught with risk, and will sometimes go wrong. Mapmate does a much better job in this regard I think (although that still is far from perfect). My feeling is that web-based recording is the future for general use. The user doesn't have to worry about upgrades, computer specifications, platform, data transfer, backup or dictionaries. Everything is handled by the system. I wouldn't be surprised if, within 10 years, the majority of software we use on a day-to-day basis is web-based and/or 'cloud' enabled. And that's a conservative estimate.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Also, I should add, I think it's important and of real benefit to the world of biological recording that we have a diverse range of software and an element of (hopefully friendly) competition between them. Software diversity is only of real benefit, though, if we have underlying data standards. If we don't have underlying standards we have fragmentation and serious interoperability challenges.

The web went through similar growing pains but standards ultimately triumphed. Let's do the same for biological recording.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

13 (edited by Simon 18-03-2013 21:57:53)

Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

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.

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Having alternative dictionaries is possibly not an issue as long as there is a better way of relating them than the species name which is unreliable.  All is that is required is to have the NHM taxon version key attached somewhere on the species record. This need not even be apparent to the user as long as it can be obtained when required.  There are benefits in keeping things simple, but no value in it if the records are considered unreliable, because it unclear what species was actually being recorded.

Mike Weideli

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Simon, many thanks for the post and don't worry, a healthy discussion shouldn't be a route to unwarranted unpopularity around here.

You make good points. I'd say that many of the issues you cite are related more to implementation of dictionaries, rather than a limitation of the dictionary itself. Fuzzy matching, alternative names, simplification, etc. are all able to be tackled at the application layer. It is wiser to have a complex system that can be simplified rather than simple system that is inadequate in many circumstances.

As Mike says, the key (no pun intended) is to use an agreed unique identifying key (i.e., the NHM Taxon Version Key) because use of species names as unique IDs is unreliable, even for beginners. Especially for beginners. That is really what standardisation boils down to: agreeing to use a standard key. The rest is just gravy.

Aside: As I understand it, the complex nature (taxon versions, multiple checklists, etc.) of the NHM Species Inventory was a conscious design decision to tackle the problems of one size not fitting all and the somewhat transitory, unreliable nature of taxonomic names.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Hi Simon

I'm sure that everyone here would agree that debate is always welcome :)

My own view is that it would be a mistake to get too hung-up on the importance of individual names. Vernacular names are very popular and you are probably right that a product aimed at absolute novices doesn't need the names of many of the very difficult and under-studied groups. But what is most important when it comes to recording is the use of those names (scientific or vernacular) and how they apply to taxonomic concepts.

As Mike & Charles have said, the UK Species Inventory provides a mechanism for translating names into taxon concepts. So any observations/records that contain a TVK would have a meaning that is recognised in other nationally-important recording and mapping/analysis systems, like Recorder & the NBN Gateway. The names might (and probably will) change over time as we learn more about the world around us and the way taxa are interrelated but the concepts provide a more stable way to relate to organisms over time.

Chris Raper, Manager of the UK Species Inventory, Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity,
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD.  (tel: 020 7942 5894)
also Tachinid Recording Scheme (http://tachinidae.org.uk/)

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

It is also true that the NHM dictionary did not come about to serve the needs of new recorders. It was developed in large part by organisations which were having to deal, on a daily basis with datasets from highly disparate sources which posed, often highly esoteric taxonomic problems. Problems that were being addressed in bulk, by individuals who, if they had any taxonomic experience, probably only understood a small range of the great diversity being presented.

It can be a pain to use sometimes, and it still doesn't work for everyone all the time, but a huge amount of work has gone in and still does to create a very useful tool. I'm sorry that I still haven't had time to give any  attention to Field Notes etc., but as a general observation I can't help but say that the proliferation of recording software and especially apps at the moment is not helping data flows much if it doesn't take the NHM dictionary into account.

Of course if we all had to take Recorder 6 out into the field we would never get anything done, but I have to say that until someone comes up with an app with voice recognition, I will probably be sticking with pen and paper.

Rob Large
Wildlife Sites Officer
Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Thank you very much indeed – thats useful information to know.  I can see some logic to Recorder importing species in such a format, but it still puzzles me a bit that the translation from scientific name to TVK occurs in the domain of various secondary applications and is not handled by Recorder itself.  Is there an external document describing the requirements (and development) of NBN Species database that I could read anywhere - some aspects of it are quite difficult to grasp, and I wonder if understanding the requirements would clear up the mystery.

Anyway, by a stroke of good luck, FieldNotes' Species dictionary already includes a TAXON_VERSION_KEY field (a vestigial organ used by the website), so prefixing exported records with the relevant key has been fairly straightforward.  Datasets are exported in csv format, so I'm assuming that the remaining steps in transferring data to Recorder are fairly straightforward (?).  Mike, perhaps I can talk to you about the steps in more detail sometime when (if ever) you are less busy?  The intention of distributing pre-release software to LRC's was to optimise data-transfer to central databases (and perhaps reduce some of the data-handling requirements); however we've had very little feedback directly relating to this process.

Happy Easter to anyone still around.

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd.

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Recorder can convert names (that is genus and species) to TVK's, but the problem is that names are not a reliable way of identifying taxa.  You need to know the author and the attribute (eg s. lat) to do the match accurately  in some cases , and in a  few the same  name can have a different meaning depending on  which list is appears on (ie different list authors give different meanings to the same name). For example  when splitting takes place a  name can have a different meaning, before and after the split.  When any  list is constructed there is an implied meaning to the names and ideally there should be some meta data (a publication (book, journal), or at least a date effective) which defines what  is meant for the names on that  list.  Having the TVK avoids any ambiguity, as long as the list author has taken care to ensure that the TVK they are using ties up with the meaning implied by their list.  Using the TVK is therefore a safer way of  identifying data.  Currently Recorder doesn't by default import TVk's, but it  can be set up to do this, and it will be a feature in a release planned for May.

Mike Weideli

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

I'm (rather belatedly) chasing up any remaining feedback about the pre-release version of FieldNotes distributed earlier this year.  I'd be very interested to hear any suggestions or comments relating to the software, including those already explored in this forum.

I'd also like to thank the organisations / individuals who responded about various aspects of the software.  Based on some very positive feedback we have updated several features (Classification systems and Grid-reference handling systems in particular) and extended the documentation to address some of the more advanced aspects of the software.

It is anticipated that FieldNotes will be available for download in May.

Many thanks,

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

Well, in the true tradition of software development a "May release" does, of course, mean the last day in May.

The first general release of FieldNotes is now available as a shareware (evaluation) version with a 60-day free trial period, so you can install it alongside your current recording software and see how it compares. 

The software can be downloaded by following the following link:

http://www.fieldnotes.co.uk/product/download.htm

and is also available on CD by request (again, follow the link above).  If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us via the Green Man Software website, or using the contact information in the software.



If you installed the pre-release version of FieldNotes (distributed to LRC's earlier this year), please read the following information carefully.

Due to feedback from the live-testing phase, we have made a significant change to the database structure.  You should delete the existing database (using the file | delete database menu option) before installing the new version of FieldNotes. 

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

In response to a large number of requests, we will be adding an Android interface to FieldNotes recording software over the next few months.  The initial 'App' will allow wildlife observations to be uploaded directly from your Android device, and should be compatible with any Android version since around 2010 (Android 1.6 SDK or later).

The reason for posting this is that we are keen to involve a wide cross-section of the recording community in the development process.  There are very few criteria for participation:

-    an active interest in wildlife recording
-    a suitable Android device (Smartphone, Tablet).
-    a basic familiarity with FieldNotes data-entry forms (on Windows)

No technical knowledge required!

If you would like to have a say in the development of FieldNotes on mobile devices, or just have an interest in beta-testing an early version of the FieldNotes Android App, please provide your email address with a brief statement of interest via the Green Man Software website [http://www.greenmansoftware.co.uk/].

Simon Skidmore
Green Man Software Ltd.

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

This summer I saw several school websites that had used FieldNotes wildlife software to survey some of the local plants and animals and show the results online.  I'd like to propose doing some similar field survey work at our school, but I don't have experience of the software side.

Does anyone know if there is a scheme or wildlife organisation that coordinates these wildlife surveying projects in schools?  Or someone who can provide information / help to getting going?  I guess a tutorial would be asking too much!

Thanks for your help,

Dave

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

A great place to start would be with your local record centre. They might be able to help, give you advice and/or put you in touch with the right people. Search here:

http://www.alerc.org.uk/find-an-lrc.html

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: What is 'FieldNotes' by 'Green Man Software'?

D. Salt as part of Merseyside BioBanks initial funding a big part of the project was aimed at Education and developing the resources to help encourage recording in and around schools as part of learning about the natural environment.

We actually had an Education Team at that time who developed the resources and went into schools. While, the education team was lost following the end of funded support, many of the resources remain and can be useful guides for teachers in building recording into the curriculum.

The information pack is targeted at the LRC area (North Merseyside) but could easily be adapted.

If you're interested you can email me at ben.deed@merseysidebiobank.org.uk

LERC Officer
Merseyside BioBank - Local Environmental Records Centre for North Merseyside
www.MerseysideBioBank.org.uk