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The National Biodiversity Network Trust – sharing wildlife data for 20 years

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Logo: NBN - celebrating 20 years

The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) is the UK’s largest partnership for nature and this year, the NBN Trust, the charity that facilitates the work of the Network, celebrates its 20th anniversary.

History of the NBN

Surprisingly, there has never been a statutory requirement for one organisation to collect wildlife records on a long-term basis. Despite this, a move to establish a UK-wide wildlife recording network began back in the 1980s, with the impetus to set up the National Biodiversity Network finally coming in the early 1990s. Following the 1992 Rio Summit and a report from the “Coordinating Commission for Biological Recording”, a number of UK organisations came together in 1997 to build the NBN, with a view to simplifying data exchange in the UK. From this, the NBN Trust was set up as an independent charity in 2000 to oversee the development of the Network.

What is the NBN?

Image: NBN achievements from 20 years

The NBN (National Biodiversity Network) is a collaboration of organisations who are committed to sharing UK wildlife data and making it easily available for research, education and to support environmental decision making. The NBN Trust is the charity whose membership helps support the work of the Network, with members ranging from government agencies, research bodies, local environmental records centres, conservation charities, commercial companies, museums and wildlife recording groups. These include some well-known organisations, such as the Bat Conservation Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust, Butterfly Conservation and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, as well as lesser known groups such as Longhorn Beetle Recording Scheme, Riverfly Partnership and Outer Hebrides Recording Group, to name just a few. As at May 2020 the NBN Trust had over 200 members (including CJS).

The one thing that unites those who are part of the NBN, is their desire for the availability of high-quality wildlife data. The NBN Trust does this by bringing together data from many different sources and making them available online through a data sharing website, the NBN Atlas. This central resource means that data can be easily accessed by anyone who needs the information.

What is the NBN Atlas?

The NBN Atlas launched in April 2017 as an online platform to engage and inform people about the natural history of the UK. It is helping to improve our collective knowledge of the UK’s wildlife as well as aiding research. In fact, over 172 million records have been downloaded to help with conservation work since the NBN Atlas launched.

The NBN Atlas is the largest UK-wide aggregation of multiple sources of information about species and habitats and it provides the ability to interrogate and map these data in a single location. It currently holds over 235 million records across more than 46,000 species and these are available for use in accordance with specific licence conditions.

In addition to the parent NBN Atlas, there are country-specific versions – the NBN Atlas Scotland, the NBN Atlas Wales, the NBN Atlas Northern Ireland and the NBN Atlas Isle of Man. The latest website to use the NBN Atlas infrastructure is the Burial Ground Portal, which focuses solely on records known to be from within burial grounds.

The many, divergent data providers and data users require a platform where the availability and quality of the records are clear and understandable. Records are stored in the NBN Atlas following an internationally accepted format for sharing biodiversity data - the Darwin Core standard. This not only aids sharing of records with other organisations, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), but also ensures efficient and effective filtering of standardised records, based on the requirements of the individual user.

The times, they are a changing

Much has changed across the Network over the last 20 years, with technology in particular, constantly evolving.

Now, the increased use of technology is starting to help with the gathering of more data. This is improving the standardisation of data collection, especially through online recording both in the UK (iSpot, iRecord) and globally (iNaturalist).

Social media is also having a big impact. Facebook groups and Twitter encourage people to upload their photos making it easier for people to get involved in wildlife recording at all levels of experience and expertise.

In addition, no longer is wildlife data just from human observation and submission of the record by dedicated volunteers, new technology is really helping in this area too with the use of drones, camera traps and remote sensing.

Who knows where technology will take us in the next 20 years, but the need for high quality data, that can be accessed easily, will remain vital for the protection of the UK’s wildlife.

Recognising the importance of the wildlife recorders

Despite the changes over the years, one thing that has remained constant throughout is the people who make the wildlife records and those who share the information. Without a willing group of data providers, the Network wouldn’t exist. Without the people who are making the records, often volunteers, there wouldn’t be data to share and there wouldn’t be an NBN Atlas.

Logo: NBN Trust

That’s why the NBN Trust developed a national awards scheme to help acknowledge the hard work of the people who regularly collect wildlife data and recognise how their contributions improve our understanding of the natural world.

The NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording were established in 2015 in conjunction with the Biological Records Centre and the National Forum for Biological Recording. The Awards are given annually to individuals and groups and nominations for the NBN Awards 2020 can be made until 26 July - https://nbn.org.uk/news-events-publications/uk-awards-biological-recording-information-sharing/

Find out more about the NBN

NBN – nbn.org.uk

NBN Atlas – nbnatlas.org

NBN Atlas Documentation and Help Portal - docs.nbnatlas.org - includes information on how to use the NBN Atlas and share data

Subscribe to the monthly electronic newsletter ‘Network News

Discover recording schemes and other wildlife organisations in your area in the NBN database of surveys and recording schemes - https://nbn.org.uk/tools-and-resources/useful-websites/database-of-wildlife-surveys-and-recording-schemes/

As a charity we rely on membership, sponsorship and donations to help fund our work, so every amount, large or small, helps us to facilitate the sharing of UK wildlife data - https://nbn.org.uk/product/donation/

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