The National Biodiversity Network
“Making all biological records freely and easily available to everyone”
In the UK there is an enormous amount of biodiversity information that has been gathered over the years by all sorts of organisations and individuals. Most of these people are volunteers who organise themselves through many national and local societies and recording schemes. The UK government (through its conservation and environmental agencies), local government and non-government wildlife-related organisations all collect and use biodiversity data. One of the principal means of collation and interpretation of this data is the network of local records centres and at the national level, the Biological Records Centre that collates and interprets data from national recording schemes.
This information is vital if we are to understand the distribution and abundance of species and habitats; without it, making informed decisions on how to protect the UK’s wildlife is much more difficult.
What happens to the information?
Information is held by many different organisations and the individuals who collect it in a variety of formats, from computer databases to handwritten record cards. This means that although a huge amount of information exists, it isn’t always easy to access. The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) idea could not be simpler: capture wildlife data once in a standard electronic form; integrate data from different sources; and use the internet to enable data to be used many times in different ways by as many people as possible.
One way in which the data is made avaiable is through the NBN Gateway. The NBN Gateway quite simply acts as a “data warehouse” for biodiversity information, which can be quickly and easily accessed to understand the distribution of particular species in the UK. Individual records, covering plants, mammals, birds and invertebrates, are stored on the NBN Gateway and these can then be displayed on a map of the UK in a number of different ways.
Why do we need a national network?
The idea of a national network for the exchange of biodiversity data started in the 1980’s onwards. The concept was the theme of a major report in 1995 carried out by the Co-ordinating Commission for Biological Recording. The report revealed that despite many thousands of people being involved in recording wildlife there was a lack of agreed standards, general ignorance of what records existed and also of the law affecting ownership. There was a clear need for leadership which would build on existing strengths and overcome weaknesses. It was also clear that there needed to be a mechanism for making the information which was, at the time, stored in over 2,000 different locations, more easily available!
Who is part of the NBN?
The NBN is a collaborative project, but, above all else, it is a partnership, which involves many of the UK’s wildlife conservation organisations, the government and country agencies, environmental agencies, local records centres and also many voluntary groups. All of these organisations collect and use biodiversity data and they are all committed to making this information widely available. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) also supports specific projects to develop the NBN further.
How is the NBN organised?
The National Biodiversity Network Trust was set up as an independent charity in 2000 to oversee and facilitate the development of the Network. The Trust is also supported by a wide range of biodiversity data contributors and users and through a membership scheme
How can the NBN be of use to you?
As the NBN is concerned with making species data available to anyone interested in the UK’s biodiversity, the NBN Gateway has a wide variety of users. So, whether you are a government planner helping to devise new land use policies, a countryside manager who wants to know if an area is protected, an industrial company wanting to carry out an environmental impact assessment or any individual interested in the wildlife in your area, the NBN Gateway will be of use to you. We can offer specific advice and guidance as to how you can make best use of the NBN.
You can find out more about the NBN and its plans for the future in the 2010 - 2020 Strategy for the NBN