The NBN also has an important global role as it is the UK node for GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

GBIF facilitates the sharing of biodiversity data and information on a global scale, similar to the work of the NBN within the UK.


The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) arose from a recommendation in 1999 by the Biodiversity Informatics Subgroup of the Megascience Forum, set up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The panel’s report concluded: “An international mechanism is needed to make biodiversity data and information accessible worldwide.” It argued that such a mechanism would produce many economic and social benefits, enabling sustainable development through provision of sound scientific information.

Specifically, the OECD panel recommended the establishment of a Global Biodiversity Information Facility, to “enable users to navigate and put to use vast quantities of biodiversity information, advancing scientific research … serving the economic and quality-of-life interests of society, and providing a basis from which our knowledge of the natural world can grow rapidly and in a manner that avoids duplication of effort and expenditure.”

That recommendation was endorsed by OECD science ministers and in 2001, GBIF was officially established through a Memorandum of Understanding between participating governments. In 2004 a prototype data portal was launched and this was followed in 2007 with the launch of the global data portal. Most recently, in 2013 a new combined data and communication portal launched with major enhancements including unlimited data downloads and real-time indexing of published datasets.

The NBN role in GBIF

In Autumn 2003 the NBN took on a global role as the UK node for GBIF and in September 2004 the NBN Gateway began to make data available through the portal, meaning that the NBN would be able to play its part on the international stage.

One of the major benefits of NBN participation in GBIF has always been that UK records can be seen alongside data from other countries, putting them into a broader geographical context. In addition, GBIF serves as a valuable forum for discussing issues concerning biodiversity data exchange with colleagues from around the world. GBIF also develops computer software that is freely available to everyone. Indeed the NBN used the GBIF data testing framework as the basis for its data validation software, NBN Record Cleaner.

When the global data portal was released in 2007, the NBN supplied data which was publicly available to download from the NBN Gateway to GBIF. This amounted to approximately 15 million records out of the 27 million that were then available on the NBN Gateway. Today, GBIF maintains an index of 478 datasets published through the NBN, with a total of 37.7 million records, all of which are georeferenced.

As well as acting as an important data node, the NBN has also contributed to GBIF in other ways. For example, NBN Secretariat staff helped with the development of guidance for dealing with potentially sensitive records and the NBN technical team, alongside colleagues from other countries, worked closely with GBIF on both the design and testing of the portal.

You can download the GBIF Country report for the UK for more information.

The future

In 2014 GBIF carried out a consultation focusing on “Licensing of Data within GBIF”. The NBN Secretariat prepared a draft response and consulted Network members on its content. More than 40 people and organisations responded to this consultation.

GBIF aims to clarify and simplify data publishing licenses to encourage data use. The NBN Secretariat believes that a move to more openness would be beneficial for biodiversity in the UK in terms of research, conservation and education and has been supportive of GBIFs approach, subject to some amendments.

In its submission the NBN Secretariat recognised the considerable effort of data collectors, curators and publishers in creating and maintaining biological data collection. The Secretariat does not want to see this effort undermined. As a result it was recommended that the preferred licence would be a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC-BY) whereby the creator must be appropriately credited, but re-distribution and re-use is not restricted.

Use of data under this license would include commercial use. The NBN Secretariat is aware that this may not be appropriate for some datasets, and therefore it has been proposed that datasets can be flagged as restricted from commercial use when necessary. This would also enable those who do not need to comply with INSPIRE, and those who would prefer not to share their data with GBIF to opt out of publishing data to the GBIF portal if they wish. The NBN Secretariat also supported GBIF’s proposal to establish a citation model built upon the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) system enabling efficient citation of datasets and will be working to establish a similar system within the  NBN Atlas..

NBN proposed response to ‘Licensing of data within GBIF’ consultation


As well as the records made available through GBIF, the NBN Atlas is also used in a European context to deliver Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) compliant data. The INSPIRE Directive aims to make it easier to access and combine environmental spatial datasets held by public authorities, to support environmental policy and practice at a national and international level. It recommends the publication of species data via the NBN Atlas as a sustainable and cost-effective way of complying with the INSPIRE Regulations on Annex III species data.