An introduction to sharing wildlife data more widely
This section will help you meet the objectives of NBN Data Exchange Principle 1: Biodiversity data should be easily accessible to enable their use for not-for-profit decision-making, education, research and other public-benefit purposes.
A founding principle of the National Biodiversity Network partnership is that wildlife information should be made easily accessible so that it can be used in decision-making, education, research and other public-benefit purposes. This will allow the wider society to learn about and build a better understanding of the natural environment and our relationship with it. Greater access to wildlife information will contribute to better informed decisions about our activities and development.
Data holders working as part of the NBN are encouraged to take a proactive approach to sharing information about wildlife. The NBN Gateway website provides an effective tool through which wildlife data, from a diverse range of groups and organisations, can be shared with the public. The Gateway helps any individual, group or organisation search for and find the wildlife information that they are interested in or need to inform a decision, their education or research. It is the NBN Trust’s belief that greater access to wildlife information is in the public interest.
In the majority of cases open access to wildlife information benefits the environment and the public. However, there are circumstances in which this approach can have the opposite effect. Examples are varied but include the vulnerability of some species to collection or persecution as well as potential threats to the data holders continued funding for data collection and management activities. Where this is the case the issues need to be understood and managed responsibly striking a balance between the benefits and risks of release.
Proactive and Responsible Access
Understanding the risk and the actual impact releasing the information would have allows the issue to be managed more effectively. There should be a presumption in favour of release to ensure that availability is restricted only when it is truly necessary. When deciding how available a particular set of wildlife information should be, data holders are encouraged to begin from a position of open access. Any restrictions should only be applied where necessary and only to those elements that are sensitive. To apply this approach it is necessary to work out for any given dataset which bits might be sensitive and which are not. The decision diagram below provides a basic guide to assessing access issues, their risk and impact. The diagram is not intended to be comprehensive, but does offer a clear and structured approach to assessing any issues.
Support and advice
Many of the issues that constrain access to wildlife information can be resolved through careful, proactive management. The NBN Trust has developed tools and advice to help data holders address some of the more common issues around providing access.
The NBN Data Exchange Principles set out a good practice, proactive approach for access to wildlife information. They are intended to help data holders strike a balance between the benefits and risks in sharing wildlife information more widely. In addition to this, specific advice and models are available to help data holders manage permissions to share and use the wildlife data they hold.
The NBN Trust has developed and refined a criteria based approach for the assessment of environmental sensitivity of data. It is important to distinguish between the sensitivity of a species and the sensitivity of data relating to that species. Data relating to rare or endangered species are not necessarily environmentally sensitive. The criteria help assess the vulnerability of a species to a harmful human activity and any increased risk of that harmful activity occurring as a result of access to related biodiversity data.
As the NBN partnership grows, so does the opportunity to tackle the more challenging constraints for greater access to wildlife information. The partnership is helping build a shared understanding of the issues and drawing together resources to overcome these.