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Behold! The portal is opening… and what’s inside? Is it a trans-dimensional gateway to another star system? No, it’s a new UK government website about non-native species. Probably a lot more useful than a cosmic wormhole. Well, stabler, certainly.
Amazingly, despite having the not-at-all saucy and snappy name of the GB non-native species secretariat they made a website with a memorable URL: nonnativespecies.org, even if it immediately comes up with dismal government URLs once you are in it. Still, you can’t have everything. But web addresses don’t really matter except to tedious nerds (ahem). The real question is, is it any good? The Ranger took nonnativespeices.org for a test drive. Here’s the results. My journey started by coming to a shuddering halt. The top link goes to a page which says, embarrassingly, “1st December 2008 The Biological Records Centre at Wallingford regret that this site is unavailable today whilst essential maintenance is carried out.” Similarly, further down the page looking for action plans, we get “There are the following problems with this page: This section does not exist!” Oops. Still, it is new. Never mind, let’s check out the gallery… wow, it’s actually pretty good. A load of pics, and yes, believe it or not they are licensed for reuse either as Crown Copyright or a Creative Commons Licence. So I can show you this splendid pic of a man trapping coypu entirely legally:
What’s more, you can search or browse by English and scientific names, and even by management technique. Not bad at all. Moving on into the more serious content, there is a prodigious library of identification sheets as downloadable PDFs. These are actually very well done, include a lot of very helpful information and, once more, they are free to use. Top marks here. There’s also some current alerts showing things to look out for, all explained in pretty accessible language with good pics. The site goes on in the same vein – it has plenty of very good content, where it exists, interspersed with a few glaring gaps where old-skool ‘site under construction’ messages get displayed. Where data is available, it is free to use. No paywall or members-only stuff here. You don’t even have to sign up to anything. Overall, a highly commendable website. Firstly, it’s good because it’s useful, and might help us in the ongoing fight against non-natives. I learnt several new things just researching the site for this article – you will do too, if you go and look at it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this website is a actually a really good – and I do mean really good – example of a public sector website. The few missing links are entirely forgiveable – the good stuff far outweighs the gaps. So many government and partnership websites are just mountains of tedious guff, often adorned with a bloated logobar that saps the reader’s will to live. The NNSS site has made some real efforts to be accessible and easy-to-use, and has actually invested in some decent and usable content. No dull lists of partners or animated logos here – they’ve spent the money on good functional design. Now, of course, all they’ve got to do is keep it up to date. The real test will be how it looks in 18 months’ time. Oh, and one last thing. While you’re there, you always wanted to hear the sound of a midwife toad, didn’t you? the NNSS sound gallery is a fun mini-game all in itself! Try playing these mp3s to your friends and family and make them guess which non-native species made them!