Sharing Environmentally Sensitive Data
This section will help you meet the objectives of NBN Data Exchange Principle 2: Making biodiversity data available should reduce the risk of damage to the environment. If it is likely to have the opposite effect, availability may need to be controlled.
NBN Data Exchange Principle 2
Environmentally Sensitive Data
For wise choices to be made about the environment, the many viewpoints involved should use information about the environment. The primary aim of the NBN initiative is to help you make the biodiversity data you hold more easily accessible to enable their use for decision-making, education, research and other public-benefit purposes. In the majority of cases making biodiversity data openly available benefits the environment by:
- increasing the publics awareness of species and/or habitats,
- increasing our shared understanding of species and/or habitats,
- informing work to conserve and enhance habitats and species,
- enabling more informed decision-making,
- informing more effective mitigation where required,
- reducing the risk of damage through ignorance.
However, in a small number of cases, public access to biodiversity data can result in environmental harm. The example often quoted is that of nesting locations of rare birds of prey. It is important that any environmentally sensitive data that you hold are identified and their availability managed responsibly. The second of the NBN Data Exchange Principles promotes this approach stating that:
“Making biodiversity data available should reduce the risk of damage to the environment. If it is likely to have the opposite effect, availability may need to be controlled.”
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So how should you assess the environmental sensitivity of the data that you hold? The assessment of what is sensitive is in many cases highly subjective. In addition, the attention given to exceptional cases can overshadow the benefit in terms of damage prevention arising from making such biodiversity data accessible. Understanding the nature, probability and impact of risks allows them to be managed responsibly and to maximum benefit.
Environmentally sensitive information is any which, if released to the public would result in an ‘adverse effect’ on a feature of the environment. It is important to remember that the objective is to assess the sensitivity of the data and not the sensitivity of environmental features alone. It is not advisable to assume that data is sensitive simply because the species it relates to has been identified as rare or threatened within a BAP or red-list. For example, a pond that is important for Great Crested Newts could be deemed sensitive to damage from development, but sharing data relating to the site with the public may not result in harm occurring. In fact making this information more widely available is likely to reduce the risk of accidental damage. There must be a presumption in favour of allowing access to biodiversity data to ensure that availability is restricted only when it is truly necessary.
The NBN Trust have developed a useful criteria-driven approach to help data holders structure their assessment of environmental sensitivity of data. This good practice framework facilitates more transparent decisions for which a case for sensitivity can be assessed, documented and readily understood by others. The criteria are structured around three core elements of sensitivity;
- evidence of harm occurring, its type and the level of threat,
- vulnerability of the feature to the harmful activity,
- impact that releasing data you hold would have.
The criteria based approach has proved very successful. It has been adopted by public authorities operating in the biodiversity sector to help structure their decisions under the Environmental Information Regulations. Although drafted to inform public authorities The Environmental Information Regulations Guidance Note No.1 is helpful for all data holders, providing helpful advice on how to approach and apply the criteria. The criteria have also been adopted on an international scale and form the basis of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility’s Guide to best practice for generalising sensitive species data.
Also see: The Environmental Information Regulations Guidance
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