Making data work for nature

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Logo: NBN Trust

By Mandy Henshall, Communications and Engagement Manager, NBN Trust

The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) is a small, specialist charity which provides vital evidence for nature’s recovery in the UK. We build partnerships to meet the needs of those who require biodiversity data – for policies, planning, research and conservation – and to connect people and communities with nature.

Without the NBN Trust, much of the UK’s biodiversity data would remain unseen, unknown and unused. But we don’t work alone. Partnership is central to our mission, and for 22 years, we have connected organisations, large and small, through our National Biodiversity Network: a dedicated community of more than 200 organisations, who are passionate about wildlife data. Working together, we create a vast flow of data carrying the evidence needed to protect and restore biodiversity, and the stories to inspire wonder and commitment.

At the heart of this flow is the NBN Atlas, our data portal. The NBN Atlas is the UK’s largest repository of publicly available biodiversity data, with more than 207 million records of over 50,000 UK species. This is a vital resource for those who wish to understand and protect nature.

The NBN Trust’s mission over the next five years is to do even more to increase the volume, quality, accessibility, and impact of biodiversity data, to make sure that every record can play its part in restoring nature.

The NBN Atlas – a vital resource

Screenshot: NBN Atlas home page

As one of the world’s largest online sources of biodiversity data, the NBN Atlas is accessed by more than 15,000 registered users who, between them, download more than half a billion records a year. It’s a veritable treasure-trove of wildlife information, and an outstanding source of evidence for research and for making informed decisions about the natural environment. But it still has huge untapped potential, both for existing users and to engage new users. We are therefore aiming to make the NBN Atlas the very best it can be, a world-class tool for sharing and accessing biodiversity data.

Sharing data on the NBN Atlas

Any group or organisation can become an NBN Atlas data provider and share their records.

The species records shared on the NBN Atlas follow an internationally accepted format for biodiversity data - the Darwin Core standard. This not only aids sharing of records with other organisations, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), of which the NBN Trust is the UK node, but also ensures efficient and effective filtering of standardised records, based on the requirements of the individual user.

The NBN Atlas team can guide new data providers in how to format their data and, on receipt of some basic information, will set up organisations as NBN Atlas data partners. We just ask that unverified records are made available to National Schemes and Societies, so they can be verified to help ensure the quality of the data is as good as it can be. You can find out more about Schemes and Societies and the important role they have on the Biological Records Centre (BRC) website.

You can read our guidance for sharing data, and you can also contact us at if you have any questions.

Valuing and supporting citizen science as a major source of biodiversity data

Though some of the UK’s biodiversity data is collected by professional ecologists, most of it comes from a remarkable community of volunteer wildlife recorders, ranging from beginners to national experts in particular groups of species. The level of passion, skill and expertise within this community cannot be overestimated. For decades, concerns have been raised that the number of new recruits, and their progression to becoming experts who can check others’ records, is insufficient to sustain this community and its vital work. However, there is much to be optimistic about. The value of data from citizen science, or community science, is increasingly recognised by governments and funders. Participation is growing, facilitated by apps and websites such as iNaturalistUK, iRecord and iSpot, and by high-profile projects such as the global City Nature Challenge.

Whilst the NBN Atlas doesn’t accept records from individuals or ad-hoc sightings, we champion citizen science for biodiversity data and are keen to ensure it makes the greatest possible difference for nature.

Screenshot: Atlas data page

We therefore recommend that individual records are submitted through one of the online recording platforms, such as iNaturalistUK or iRecord. These two sites work in different ways, but records added to either system are available to National Recording Schemes, Local Environmental Record Centres and can be shared with the NBN Atlas.

iNaturalistUK: One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. It can connect you with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature. By recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalistUK is a collaboration led by the National Biodiversity Network Trust with the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Biological Records Centre (BRC).

iRecord: The iRecord website and app is part of a system that brings wildlife records from many sources into one place. Sightings added to iRecord are available to view on the website as well as being shared with National Recording Schemes and Local Environmental Record Centres. Wherever possible, records will be checked by volunteer verifiers working on behalf of those National Recording Schemes. iRecord is developed and managed by the Biological Records Centre (BRC) as part of the work of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), and benefits greatly from input from expert volunteers particularly for their help in verifying records.

iSpot: iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify UK wildlife. It allows newcomers to share their interest with a friendly community, take a look at the latest spots, add their own observations, join a discussion, get help or assist others in identifying what they have seen. To add an observation to iSpot and request help with identification, all you need to do is register on the website and then upload the information about what you’ve seen, where you saw it and when you saw it.

If you would like to submit a sighting or are new to recording wildlife, you can find more information on the NBN Trust website.

Join us in our mission

We passionately believe that, together, we can reverse the biodiversity crisis, but, if we’re to succeed in doing so, our decisions must be based on the most complete and highest-quality evidence. This is where the NBN Trust, our network and our members can truly make a difference.

We have big plans and we face many challenges but, importantly, we are not alone. Partnering with our nationwide network which includes conservation charities, statutory agencies, businesses and recording groups, we are making a unique contribution to nature’s recovery. As well as becoming a data partner for the NBN Atlas, we’d love you to join us in our mission to make data work for nature by becoming a member of the NBN Trust.

Whether you’re thinking of joining as an individual or an organisation, we need you.

Screenshot: Atlas strategy page
  • We need your voice, to help us be heard.
  • We need your collaboration, because together we can all achieve more for nature.
  • We need your subscription, to sustain and grow our small, but mighty team, and to make the NBN Atlas even better.

Our members do all this and more.

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. We’d love you to join too and become part of the UK’s largest partnership for nature where, together, we are making data work for nature.

Find out more about the NBN Trust

NBN Trust and NBN –
Join the NBN Trust -
NBN Atlas –
NBN Atlas Help Portal - - includes information on how to use the NBN Atlas and share data
Subscribe to our monthly electronic newsletter ‘Network News’
NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording – our annual Awards’ scheme
NBN Conference – information on our annual event

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Posted On: 01/03/2023

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