Topic: More about ALS

To expand on Christine’s comments on the ALS at http://forums.nbn.org.uk/viewtopic.php? … 34#p24934, those of you in the rest of the UK might like to know the following facts about the site http://www.als.scot/, which was launched at the end of May.

Apart from structure and navigation that makes even G5 look transparent, there is a further loss of functionality from G5, and no replacement of the functionality that we had in G4.  Try it and see.

The most bizarre features (these were notified to NBN long before the launch, but are still there) you will find in the download file of taxon records.

Of the 41 fields, no fewer than 5 tell you what species is involved (2 vernacular, 3 scientific); just in case you did not know how a binomial was constructed, another field tells you the Genus; 12 fields are of no relevance to the ordinary user.

If you were hoping to use the OSGR, you had better have a convertor program handy, because although all the records (in the example I am looking at) were uploaded as OSGR, ALS provides only lat-long coordinates.  Where did these come from?  Converted from the original OSGRs, of course!

If you are one of these eccentric individuals who likes to judge the robustness of a record from the name of the determiner, ALS is not for you.  Even for sets where that field is available to all users, it is not downloaded.

You can see both OSGR and determiner, one record at a time, on the site itself, however, so if you really want them, you can always spend hours copying and pasting into the download file.  I would find it difficult to believe that editing the export routine to include these fields in the download, and deleting all the irrelevant ones, would take more than a few minutes.

This early warning to the rest of the UK might encourage our non-Scottish colleagues to shout loudly so that these glaring faults (and the rest) are removed before any more atlases are launched.  I wish you better luck than we have had N of the border.

As Christine wrote: "We are really not very interested in the glitzy Living Atlas platform, all we want is a simple interactive system that gives us access to the information we need. We keep asking, you tell us you're listening, but we seem to be speaking different languages".



Re: More about ALS

Apologies for a lack of contact from the NBN. We have had staffing shortages recently and have unintentionally missed some of these forum messages.

We are aware that there are issues with the NBN Gateway server, which is one of the main reasons we are moving away from the dated platform, to provide a stable and reliable Atlas platform in it's place. We apologise for the inconveniences that the Gateway has been causing.

The Atlas of Living Scotland is still a work in progress and is not intended to be a replacement for the NBN Gateway just yet, hence not all of the functionality being complete. We will notify users when we intend for the AoLS to be the main portal for accessing records.

We are gathering the user feedback that is being supplied to us, and we are working through making the suggested improvements to the site. It's a fairly large job, so we appreciate your patience during this time.

We are keen to keep all of the fields in the download available, as, even though they may be of no use to you, the ‘ordinary user’, they may be of use to others, for example those who may want to filter by certain details, such as Kingdom. The Atlases are built to serve the needs off all types of user, from basic, through 'ordinary', to expert, and we don't intend to narrow the resources available to individuals.

We do agree that OSGR and determiner name need to be added to the download. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, it is has now been logged in our feedback sheet and will be seen to in due course.

We appreciate that changing systems can cause turbulence, and ask that you are patient, and kindly provide feedback as you explore the site.


Re: More about ALS

Thanks for that response.  I am well aware that there is a range of user interest, which is why I suggested in another so-far ignored post some time ago that there should be different routes through ALS for different sorts of user.  The current ALS is in beta testing, which means that folk like me use it as is, discover the faults, report them, and expect the faults to be corrected.

Regarding the current download format, for my purposes, and those of everyone else I know who has tried ALS, it is incomplete, inconvenient and unsatisfactory in many ways.  All these problems could be dealt with in a few minutes and the download made complete, convenient and satisfactory for me (and for the vast majority of the people who use data).  So here are two possible solutions. 

One – have two download links on the site, one giving a basic download with the following fields (those marked *** are not available at present, but where datasets allow comment and altitude and any other fields that are currently viewable via G5 they MUST be included in ALS downloads – anything less would be yet another diminution in the quality of the accessible data):

Scientific Name
Vernacular Name
Event Date - parsed
Basis Of Record - processed
Sample altitude***
Observation comment***

Kingdom - matched
Phylum - matched
Class - matched
Order - matched
Family - matched
Record ID
Match Taxon Concept GUID
Matched Scientific Name
Taxon Rank - matched
Vernacular Name – matched

Two – keep the current single link, but rearrange the fields so that folk who are only interested in basic fields do not have to select these from their current positions scattered across the 41 columns (soon I hope to be at least 45 columns) in the full download.  I suggest a suitable format here.

The two batches of fields above followed by

Genus - matched
Species - matched
Collection Code
Latitude - original
Longitude - original
geodetic Datum
Latitude - processed
Longitude - processed
Coordinate Uncertainty in Metres - parsed
Country - parsed
State - parsed
Year - parsed
Month - parsed
Taxon identification issue
Location Quality
Data Resource ID
Data Resource Name
Occurrence status assumed to be present
Country inferred from coordinates
Latitude Longitude calculated from grid reference
First of the month
First of the year
Name not in national checklists
Precision / range mismatch

I would welcome early acknowledgement that these problems have been logged in your feedback sheet and will be seen to in due course.



Re: More about ALS


Thanks for your suggestion. I have recorded this in our feedback sheet and it will be discussed and addressed.



Re: More about ALS

Ella - what's the best place for feedback on the ALS? Is it info@als.scot? A forum would be useful.

[there is an issue with end dates being ignored in the transfer of data it seems e.g. http://records.als.scot/occurrences/6cd … fb14deb4f0 is actually a 'year' record]

Charlie Barnes
Information Officer
Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership


Re: More about ALS

Hi Charlie,

Yes, info@als.scot has been the best place to send feedback, but I will also now be regularly checking here for comments.

Thanks for highlighting the missing end date, we will look into the method of data transfer and try to work out why it's been missed off.



Re: More about ALS

Some more comments on the ALS.  I am placing them here rather than by email to the ALS address for several reasons.  Four of the most important are: 1 - the lesson of history is that comments made by email tend to be ignored (I am still waiting for even an acknowledgement to one I sent over 2 months ago);  2 - the comments should be of relevance to everyone interested in the future of data mobilisation in the UK.  3 - comments posted here will alert others to aspects that have already been reported, and aid efficiency; 4 – it will allow others to agree or disagree in a public forum (if you think my points are rubbish, say so).


I landed on the quality report page, e.g.  http://records.als.scot/occurrences/4dd … 69c07bb4e9 .  This label ‘Show/Hide 50 tests that havent been ran’ may perhaps be Strine, but it ain’t English (or even Scots).  Please correct it.


On that page, all the geographic links fail (you have to scroll down a very long way to find them).  Please create the proper links, and as a general point please design the pages with a lot less white space and a friendlier layout.

This link shows both observer and determiner names, and comments: http://records.als.scot/occurrences/507 … f6308395fd

This one (Badger) has none: http://records.als.scot/occurrences/960 … b7109cea07

This one, reached by the same route as the one immediately above, has all: http://records.als.scot/occurrences/a1d … 6d03120dae

Both the relevant datasets should allow obs and det names and comments to be displayed.  The fact that Badger is on the SNH sensitive species list should not stop release of these three fields.  That file is at http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1694903.xls  The only listed sensitivity for Badger is ‘Location of setts’ at ‘Below 1km^2’.  Please sort it.


I hope there will be another assurance from NBN staff on this thread that these points have been logged and will be dealt with.  Other posts on the ALS will follow in due time.



Re: More about ALS

As promised, here are more deficiencies in ALS.

G5 allows generation of lists and export of records from the following predefined areas (*** are those allowed in ALS currently; * marks those that are perhaps irrelevant to Scotland).

Designated and Protected Areas
Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland*
Local Nature Reserves in Wales*
Marine Conservation Zones
National Nature Reserves in England***
National Nature Reserves in Scotland***
National Nature Reserves in Wales***
Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas
Ramsar sites in Great Britain***
Ramsar sites in Northern Ireland***
Recommended Marine Conservation Zones
Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England***
Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Scotland***
Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Wales***
Special Areas of Conservation in Great Britain***
Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland***
Special Protection Areas in Great Britain***
Special Protection Areas in Northern Ireland***

Local Wildlife Sites
Lancashire Biological Heritage Sites*
Lancashire Local Geodiversity Sites*
Leicestershire Wildlife Sites*
Liverpool Local Wildlife Sites (proposed)*
Local Nature Reserves in England***
North Merseyside Local Wildlife Sites*
Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves
Sites of Biological Importance (SBI) in Greater Manchester as at 2015-04-28*
SWT Scottish Borders Local Wildlife Site Survey data 1996-2000 - Site boundaries

Organisation Sites
Aggregate Industries Sites
John Muir Trust Property Boundaries
National Trust for Scotland Properties
National Trust Ownership 2014*
Plantlife Nature Reserves in the UK
RSPB Nature Reserves in the UK

Administrative and Landscape
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England*
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales*
Character Areas for England*
Common Land Boundaries for England*
Exmoor National Park*
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve Boundary
Heritage Coasts in England*
Heritage Coasts in Wales*
Important Bird Areas in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man
Important Plant Areas in the UK
Integrated Site Assessment Features with Species Records
Lakes in the United Kingdom
Local Environmental Records Centre Boundaries of the UK
National Parks in England***
National Parks in Scotland***
Nature Improvement Areas
North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - Trial boundary*
Scottish Unitary Authority boundaries
SNH Natural Heritage Futures
UK LBAP Boundaries
Watsonian Vice Counties
Welsh Unitary Authority boundaries*

That leaves 22 (if I have counted correctly) that are not available in ALS, and at least some of these are essential to have there.  Please reinstate access in ALS to all the predefined areas that are available through G5.  If there are good reasons to remove any of them, please ask the users first.


Perhaps not surprisingly since the ALS was lifted from Australia, implementation of the OS grid seems to be seriously deficient.  I can find no way of identifying an OS hectad.  In desperation I tried searching for NH45 on the page http://records.als.scot/explore/your-ar … LL_SPECIES   I was directed to Nowshera - Mardan Rd, Risalpur 23200, Pakistan, and told ‘[no species found]’.  I am still wondering why I was not surprised at this news, but entertained myself by counting the cars on the N45 (why is the ‘H’ irrelevant?).  Please implement a routine that will allow hectad lists, as exists currently on G5.


If you try to define your own rectangle at http://records.als.scot/search#tab_spatialSearch, and then call up a species map on the OS grid, e.g. http://records.als.scot/occurrences/sea … ab_mapView you see that the OS grid squares are not parallel to the rectangle’s sides.  Rectangle drawn on lat/long.  Records plotted on OS grid.  It might show you what you want, but it is not a pretty sight.  While you are there, try to navigate the taxon selector on the RHS, and hope you are not wanting a map of Xylaria or Zygaena.  Please implement area selection on the OS grid.  And please give us a taxon selector that is at least no less easy to use than the one in G5.

This is really all far less beta testing than design specification, but I hope there will be assurance from NBN staff that these points have been logged and will be dealt with.



Re: More about ALS

NBN Support wrote:

is not intended to be a replacement for the NBN Gateway just yet

I'd like to pick up on this point - is it intended that the Gateway will be switched off at some point? I'm a little unclear about the relationship between the two (more so now a Scot Env Web dataset  has been uploaded to the Gateway).

I agree with Murdo - would it be possible to set up a forum here for ALS and other AL* - or would discussions be better moved into one of the working group forums?

Charlie Barnes
Information Officer
Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership


Re: More about ALS

Further to Murdo's comments above regarding fields in downloaded data, as datasets will be allocated to different licenses I feel it is imperative that the license under which the data are released is included as a field in with the actual records themselves, not just as a link to an adjoining metadata csv. Not doing so only increases the potential of misuse of data, particularly data shared under a cc-by-nc license.

Mark Pollitt
SWSEIC (formerly DGERC)


Re: More about ALS


Thanks for your comments. Murdo, your suggestions have been logged as feedback, thank you. Mark, your further comment has also been logged. This issue is high on our list and we are very keen to make the licences as clear as possible. Including them as a field on the download will certainly be a step in this direction.

Charlie, yes, you are correct that the NBN Atlas is being built with the intention of eventually replacing the NBN Gateway. While we are hoping that the NBN Atlas will be live by April 2017, no decisions have yet been made with regard to timescales for decommissioning the Gateway. The process will be phased and there will be no loss of services at the time of changeover.



Re: More about ALS

I am pleased to see the discussion about ALS in an open forum. Some of us have been sending in feedback since the site was launched and although we have had polite replies, I am unable to see any significant progress in the structure/functionality of the site and it remains unusable.
Although the NBN development team appear to be optimistic about the site being fully functionable and fit for use by April next year, on the basis of current progress I have my doubts and sincerely hope that Gateway 5 is fixed so that we have access to NBN data beyond your projected implementation date.



Re: More about ALS

We agree that it’s good to discuss these things on an open forum, and will be setting up a specific section on this forum for discussions about the NBN Atlas. We’ll let you know when this has been set up.

Murdo, in relation to your comment about looking for hectad grid squares for NH45, it appears that the search function on the ‘explore your area’ page currently supports only searching for words, and not for grid references. I’ll add this observation to our development spreadsheet. However, it is possible to search by OS grid squares at various resolutions, including hectad, by following the below instructions:

•    Go to the spatial portal, via the analyse tab (http://spatial.als.scot/), and add 10km OS grids by going to ‘Add to map’ in the top left hand corner, and selecting ‘Layers’.
•    In the list that comes up you’ll see a few options for Ordnance Survey Grids, one of which is 10km. You can add this to the map by selecting the check box and selecting ‘next’.
•    Once the OS grids have appeared over the map, you can type NH45 into the search box that has come up in the legend on the left hand side of the map. Add this to your menu by using the plus sign to the right of it (it will now appear in a list at the top of the legend, along with a layer called ‘Ordnance Survey National Grids- 10km’, which you can turn off by unselecting the check box).
•    You’ll now be left with only your grid square showing. A box on the map gives you some quick links, such as ‘Download all records for NH45’ and ‘Download species list for NH45’

Hopefully this helps you understand this search function in the spatial portal. Please let me know if you have any questions about this.


14 (edited by Syrphus 26-07-2016 19:19:23)

Re: More about ALS

Thanks, Ella.  The obvious question is 'Who thought that this opaque and convoluted process is any sort of improvement over what we have in G5?'.  In G5 I can get the hectad list in 5 quick clicks, and I don't need to type anything.  In ALS it takes 10 clicks and typing 4 characters. And then if I want to look at another hectad a good part of the process has to be repeated after undoing what I have just done.

And of course the procedure itself is about as opaque as it could be.  'Add to map', followed by 'Layers' is not a clear intuitive interface.  Compare it with G5, itself several steps removed from friendliness in comparison with G4, where you 'Browse sites' (reasonably obvious), see a map with grid squares which invite you to click, and there you are.

In G5 I can, with one additional click, get a list of my chosen taxon group.  Is that available in ALS?  Not obviously.

A few days ago I was looking for a help function.  There is none on the home page, but I see there is one on the spatial link.  The page it opens (http://www.ala.org.au/spatial-portal-he … g-started/) is testament to what a wondrous thing ALS is, but frankly I don't want all these wondrous bits of digital bling, and nor does anyone I know.  Nor do I see a help topic ‘How to get hectad lists’, perhaps because the whole thing is still thoroughly rooted in Oz.  I do want *quick* access to species maps based on the OS grid, to be able to see *all* the relevant fields of individual records, and to download lists for defined taxa within hectads, VCs and other specified areas of relevance.

We had that in G4, along with a whole lot of useful things that were removed in the 'once-new improved' G5.  Now the few useful features that we have in G5 (when it works) are in danger of being lost in the 'new improved' ALS.

(In passing, I tried to get a VC list through that spatial page.  Helpfully – for someone who, unlike me, does not live in the middle of VC106 - it showed the VC area in red.  Unhelpfully – for me – I can’t download any list.  I am invited to get ‘metadata’ which appear in a window headed ‘Atlas of Living Australia’, containing no metadata at all, and the first link on the page sends me to http://www.ala.org.au/.)

If all this is not incontrovertible evidence that ALS has not even completed the elementary stages of basic design, should never have been launched on May, and is extremely unlikely to be in any usable form even by the end of 2017, I don’t know what else is needed.

Please listen to *the people on whom this resource depends*, and give us what we want - not tell us what we are going have whether we want it or not, whether it is useful or not.  This is not to demand that the bling is removed – some folk clearly like it.  However, a small amount of elementary programming would allow folk like me and my colleagues to click a link that would give exactly the quick access I mentioned above, while bypassing all the irrelevant (and often bandwidth-eating) glitz, and get speedily and with minimum fuss to the information that we need in order to carry out our work.



Re: More about ALS

In an idle moment this morning and in need of some entertainment, I tried out one of the online games on ALS – see http://www.ala.org.au/spatial-portal-he … t-sample/.

Getting to step 2, Select a species, I typed in Bombus monticola. (Helpfully, the hint suggests I type in something like ‘Red Kangaroo’, that well-known Scottish endemic.)

I got as far as ‘Bombus’ before the list offered any options. These were 9 Bombus species – none of them monticola - and Diploneis bombus.  I had never heard of that last one (it is a diatom, in case you were wondering), so at least ALS has some educational value.

When I reached ‘Bombus mont’, the list of options changed. Still no monticola, and now only one Bombus sp., but a host of other species outside my experience and whose names showed no resemblance to the string I wanted (like Chaetosphaeria callimorpha and Zygosporium oscheoides – answers on a postcard, please, if you can explain these).

Add an ‘i’ and a ‘c’ and an ‘o’ and an ‘l’ and we get back to the original list with the ‘i’, but still no sign of monticola even after the ‘l’. Then I type the last ‘a’, and at last Bombus monticola appears. Third in the list after Alchemilla monticola and Bombus (Bombus) cryptarum.

G5 taxon search will give me Bombus monticola at the top of the list after typing ‘Bom mon’. But, hey! That’s progress, we have to assume.

I asked for the SSSI layer, and with mounting excitement clicked ‘Next’, and got … a pop-up headed ‘Warning message’ and the helpful information ‘Unknown error’.

Please, NBN, save yourselves further embarrassment, and those of us who have been trying it out a lot of time, and take ALS offline now. Then do some basic text editing so that it looks more relevant to Perth Scotland than to Perth WA. Then allow the IT team to sort out the display, the output formats, the OS implementation, VC implementation, etc. etc. – preferably with substantial input from real-world users – and to carry out thorough testing to ensure that dead links are corrected, errors are properly trapped, search routines work at least no less efficiently than in G5, and all the rest of the coding changes to implement the points already made are written and tested. Then and only then will ALS be in a state for beta testing.



Re: More about ALS


Thank you for your comments. We very much appreciate you testing out the system, but, as has been pointed out many times, the Atlas of Living Scotland is still very much under development and we are well aware that it does not yet have the full level of functionality that any of us desire. Developing the infrastructure takes time and there is a large amount of work going on behind the scenes that may not be apparent to you. The Secretariat is only a small team and the Atlas of Living Scotland is only one aspect of the work we are doing.

We welcome the feedback, but it would be useful for everyone involved if criticism is more constructive. All feedback is recorded and added to our issues log for action. We do not want anyone to feel that they are wasting their time, so I would respectfully suggest that you continue to use the Gateway for the time being until we have greatly increased the Atlas functionality. We will be providing regular updates on Atlas development through the website and the forum.

All future posts on the Atlas of Living Scotland should be posted here:



Re: More about ALS

Thank you Jo, we welcome the new forum and I am sure that we will all benefit from an open exchange of views.
It is often the case that one's sternest critics are often one's strongest supporters and it is because we all want the Atlas Project to succeed that we are often voiciferous in our criticism.
It is not our intention to be negative, and although we often get impatient and frustrated, the comments we make are intended to be constructive and to signpost areas that do not work, are too complex or do not deliver the desired result. We understand that this is a big task for a small team, which is why we spend so much time testing the systems and sending you feedback.
Reliable and easy access to the NBN database whether through the Gateway or the Atlas is fundamental to the work we do, which is why we are insistent that this time the system is fit for purpose.