Although now beginning its third decade, the National Biodiversity Network Trust doesn’t always seem to enjoy the profile it should. One might be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s ‘largest partnership for nature’ would be mentioned in the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment, for example. Or that the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology would have produced one of its excellent series of POST notes on the topic of the NBN. A brief Wikipedia page offers scant consolation.
This seems to be symptomatic of a bigger picture, however. Whilst most government department or agency policy documents, and NGO responses on their proposals, all parrot the importance of evidence, they are often rather silent on what that will actually mean in practice. For example, the Environment Bill is set to introduce Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) which could be hugely significant in helping to guide development away from areas of high and potential value and targeting positive gains to be achieved in connection with a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) and the introduction of mandatory net gain for biodiversity (and eventual wider environmental net gain). However, whilst the Environment Bill says that each ‘responsible body’ will need to have a plan and a map for its LNRS area, that rather misses out on the underlying geospatial database on which the map will need to be based; the information system that will be needed to support this – let alone support seamless cross-boundary working or national reporting and priority setting; the procedures in relation to initial data collection, ensuring that planned actions/outcomes are delivered or how the information and efforts of local recorders might be put to greatest effect or the support required in relation to this.
Whilst you wouldn’t expect such details to be outlined in primary legislation, it is necessary that they are thought about soon. The same goes for the rest of the Environment Bill and its equivalents elsewhere in the UK. It is critical that these initiatives aren’t considered in isolation, but with regard to how they might best work together, to the resulting information needs and to the whole of the UK’s environmental information infrastructure and how it is supported – including the NBN and the Network’s component parts. The fact that the Secretary of State for the Environment’s recent Green Recovery speech referred to wanting everyone to be able to access an accurate, centralised body of data on species populations (albeit in relation to making a planning application), without reference to the NBN or Local Environmental Records Centres underlines both the lack of awareness or regard to what is already in place, but also the urgency of addressing the ‘evidence iceberg’.
Accordingly, you may be interested to read or comment on the series of environmental information blogs published by Wildlife and Countryside Link last month, with posts on behalf of the NBN Trust, The State of Nature Partnership, ARC, CIEEM, ALGE, ALERC, IEMA and Link, all of which are highly relevant. The posts cover a range of topics from the importance of standards and data quality in ensuring that information is fit for purpose, whether for local or national needs, or for species, habitats and ecosystem resilience, to achieving more for the environment, people and wildlife, and the need for such measures to be adequately resourced.
What comes across from this series of posts is the importance of the role that individual recorders, recording organisations, data centres and the Network as a whole need to play. Never again should there be a government or environmental agency document that talks about terrestrial or marine biodiversity evidence without mentioning either the whole environmental information infrastructure on which this depends or the National Biodiversity Network that comprises a large part of this infrastructure – and which needs to be better supported if UK Governments’ environmental aspirations are to be realised.
Written by Steve Whitbread, member of the NBN Stakeholder Advisory Group