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 Environmental 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 available 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.

Another way in which data is being collated and made available is via a newly developed platform.  The NBN Atlas Scotland is a pilot for the UK-wide implementation of the Atlas of Living Australia’s open source biodiversity data infrastructure. This work is intended to deliver on the fourth Strategic aim of the new NBN Strategy to: Provide the best biological information management infrastructure and ensure stability, security and usability for an increasingly mature data management infrastructure. This pilot is part of a work programme to build NBN Atlas infrastructure for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Each of these NBN Atlases would have the same functionality and same basic design and be supported by a single database. The governance group for the NBN Atlas Scotland include Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish Biodiversity Information Forum, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the National Biodiversity Network Trust.