High quality, current and accessible species data are essential to underpin environmental policy and land use planning. Implementing and evaluating outcomes from the Environment Bill, Biodiversity Net Gain and the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will depend on access to high quality species baseline and monitoring data. Species data tells us about the diversity of natural assets, which is associated with greater resilience (Dasgupta Review, 2021).
The UK Geospatial Strategy sets out a commitment for the Geospatial Commission to identify how improved access to better location data can support environmental outcomes. Part of Mission 2 in the strategy is to improve access to better location data. To support this mission, the Geospatial Commission’s Data Improvement Programme sponsored a study to look at the costs, benefits, and management of species data in England. It presents options to make species data more consistent, joined up and accessible for end-users by encouraging FAIR data principles.
Current species data pathway
The current species data pathway in England enables a large amount of data to be recorded and shared. The current system utilises extensive volunteer input and is reliant upon continued good will and interest. The system has evolved ad-hoc over time, leading to complex species data flows and data inconsistencies. There are a confusing number of data flow-routes, incomplete species group and spatial coverage and a lack of clarity regarding roles, data quality, access, responsibilities, and processes (e.g., for verification).
Economic analysis was conducted of the costs and benefits of the role of the species data pathway in enhancing stewardship of and access to species data, and the decisions that use such data. A baseline (current operation) was compared to a ‘no species data pathway’ scenario in which data stewardship and use is severely impaired due to the absence of the data pathway. The cost-benefit analysis (CBA) found that the benefit of the current species data pathway strongly outweighs its cost. The benefit-cost ratio ranges between 14:1 and 28:1. The availability of resources is a risk to maintaining the current species data pathway and a funding gap of £6 million has been identified through this study.
This study outlines 14 recommendations that are grouped into four themes:
- Defining biodiversity data framework (BDF)
- Principles and standards
- Data use and re-use
This study also reviewed the 2018 Scottish Biological Information Forum’s (SBIF’s) recommendations on biological recording infrastructure – not all are relevant to England, but there are similarities in the priorities both this study and SBIF identify. These include needing to support the financial viability of, and benefits from the pathway, improving current practices (e.g.,on data verification), and using FAIR data principles.
NBN Trust viewpoint
Comment from NBN Trust CEO, Lisa Chilton:
“The Geospatial Commission’s report highlights the tremendous importance of biodiversity data to underpin environmental policy, planning and delivery. The report also reveals the outstanding value-for-money achieved by the current species data pathway in England – due in no small part to the phenomenal contributions of volunteer recorders and verifiers. However, there are also significant risks and challenges that limit the use and impact of species data and threaten the long-term viability of the data pathway. We welcome the report’s findings and look forward to working with our partners across the National Biodiversity Network to take forward the key recommendations”.