BLS Databases

Over the past 50 years BLS members have collected more than two million lichen records, a valuable resource of information that can be used to support lichen research and conservation in many ways. Over the years these have included:

  • identifying the most important lichen sites, many of which are now designated as SSSIs or managed as nature reserves

  • monitoring changes in distribution over time as atmospheric pollution levels have changed

  • mapping lichen distributions and studying their ecology, to inform the conservation of both species and habitats

  • assessing the rarity and threat status of each species, published as the Conservation Evaluation of British Lichens (Woods & Coppins 2003, 2012) and also resulting in the selection of species for the Biodiversity Action Plan and for legal protection under schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

We have two databases to serve different purposes. The original Mapping Scheme was established in 1963 and is still used to record the 10km square (hectad) distributions of lichens. We now also have a modern Recorder6 database that holds much more detail of each record, including the location, grid reference, date, recorders and substrate, and allows them to be extracted and analysed in different ways. Records are organised into datasets which may be analysed separately or together, and when they have been reviewed they are made available on the internet through the NBN Gateway. it took 10 years to compile this database and we are still both recent and historical records to it. New records are always welcome - see Submitting Records

As well as recording lichens, many lichenologists also record lichenicolous fungi and some other non-lichenized fungi that are found in lichen communities, so we hold these records as well.

The Mapping Scheme

The Mapping Scheme was established by Prof. Mark Seaward in 1963 to produce distribution dot maps, and was central to the society’s work for many years. It is still maintained. Records are summarised for each 10km square (hectad), and for two time periods pre-1960 and post-1960.  These maps were published in the Atlas of the Lichens of the British Isles (Seaward & Hitch, 1982) and the Lichen Atlas of the British Isles (ed. Seaward, published in five fascicles 1996-2001).

Records for the Mapping Scheme should be sent, preferably on recording cards or as alphabetical lists for each 10km square, to Prof. Seaward.


The BLS Lichen Database

Since 2002 we have also been compiling a detailed database, now using the Recorder 6 software that was developed specifically for biological recording in Britain by JNCC. It now holds more than two million records, each with details of location, grid reference, date, recorders and substrate. If we have it, there is also information on the habitat, position and abundance, together with the location of any herbarium specimens and notes on chemical tests and microscopic characters used in identification, and there is an audit trail of determinations for records which have been referred to experts. This map shows the number of species recorded for each 5km square as in early 2019 (there are more now). Areas shown in white, blue or green are very much under-recorded.

The records are organised into datasets, and each of these is broken down further by vice county. This makes it easy to extract data and to analyse it in many different ways.

Datasets so far include:

  • England: general
  • England: churchyards
  • Scotland
  • Wales: general
  • Wales: churchyards
  • Channel Isles
  • Mapping scheme


Mapping software

Distribution dot maps are produced from these datasets using Alan Morton's DMAP software or QGIS. These maps may be based on an individual dataset, on all combined, or on all plus the Mapping Scheme. 

Our data is also available on the NBN Atlas and distribution maps can be produced online from there.


Local recording software

Lichen recorders who wish to analyse their own data, or to produce site lists or distribution maps for the local area, should consider setting up their own database. There are several packages available and they are not expensive, but in choosing a package you should check that it is compatible with your PC and with the data that can be supplied from the BLS database.

For mapping only, there are a number of options:

  • DMAP - mapping software designed specifically for producing Distribution Maps and Coincidence Maps
  • a GIS (Geographical Information System). The most widely-used professional packages are MapInfo and  ArcGIS Desktop but these are expensive. QGIS is open-source and free.
  • Google Earth and Google Maps. You can add points individually to these applications or use the Spreadsheet Mapper tool for bulk imports
  • Google Fusion Tables - this is an experimental service offered by Google which allows you to switch between a tabular view of your data (like a spreadsheet) and a map view. Filters can be applied to view subsets of the data.

For recording a more sophisticated system is needed, one that can export data directly to RECORDER 6 and that includes an up to date copy of the British Lichen Society taxon dictionary. RECORDER 6 itself can be used in this way and gives full compatibility with the central database, including an automatic export of new and amended records. The software and technical support are available from the RECORDER resellers (see the Recorder website). Version 6.18 or above should be used, and we can help users to get started by providing customised templates and reports.

Users of MAPMATE and other recording packages should contact us on for further information.