The NBN Atlas is the national biodiversity data repository. Launched in 2017, it is the UK’s largest publicly accessible source of biodiversity data. It brings together data from 170 organisations into a single portal, creating access to information that would otherwise be difficult and costly to locate and utilise. The NBN Atlas is visited by more than 1,000 users a day seeking data to inform policy and development decisions, conservation strategies and interventions, and ecological research. As such, it is central to the mobilisation of biodiversity data and delivers great value for the UK nature conservation community.
We are now in the final phase of the NBN Atlas Fit for the Future project – a two-year root and-branch upgrade of the platform architecture and code. Achieving this milestone means that we can now start to look forward:
- to plan for the future of the NBN Atlas, and
- to implement changes that maximise the mobilisation, use and impact of biodiversity data.
We are excited to be partnering with Natural England to achieve these goals through the NBN Atlas Accelerator Project. The project is funded by Defra through the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services (NCEA) programme.
NBN Atlas Strategy and Route Map
The NBN Atlas is a major component of the infrastructure that underpins the mobilisation of species data. It performs a core service to the UK conservation sector, and that service must continue to improve and evolve to meet the sector’s changing needs. From eDNA to AI-enabled species recording and identification, we are on the cusp of revolutionary changes in the pace and scale of data collection. It is essential that we are on the front foot and able to respond to this rapidly changing landscape.
The NBN Trust does not currently have the capacity to undertake the strategic planning and stakeholder engagement that is urgently needed. We are therefore addressing this by creating a new, senior post that leads the development of an NBN Atlas Strategy and Route Map.
As highlighted by the Geospatial Commission’s 2021 report biodiversity data in the UK is still a long way from being truly FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable). As little as 50% of existing data is accessible to the statutory nature conservation bodies and much work is required to remove barriers to wider data sharing. One of the key changes that stakeholders are calling for is the introduction of ‘access controls’ on the NBN Atlas. This would enable data providers to share high-resolution species data on the NBN Atlas but to set the public view at a lower resolution, such that permission would be needed to access the high-resolution data. This single change would prompt many more organisations – including Local Environmental Records
Centres, eNGOs and other organisations – to mobilise their data. We intend to introduce basic access controls in early 2024 and to develop the functionality iteratively over the course of this project.
Data quality and mapping
Alongside implementing access controls, stakeholders have requested many other developments to the NBN Atlas that would enhance the mobilisation, utilisation and impact of biodiversity data. Several of these relate to data quality, which is a very significant consideration for our stakeholders, particularly in the context of increased data mobilisation. Key enhancements that enable data users to readily understand the quality of any given records, and filter out any that don’t meet their needs, are a high priority. Stakeholders also place a high value on the NBN Atlas’ mapping capabilities, which need a major upgrade.
We are currently recruiting a new Full Stack Developer to join our Development team and help deliver the planned enhancements.
The NBN Atlas Accelerator Project, running from December 2023 to March 2025, will drive greater mobilisation and use of UK biodiversity data. The project will accelerate the NBN Trust’s work to enhance the value of the NBN Atlas to the UK conservation community, by:
- Implementing high-priority, high-impact enhancements to the platform, and
- Creating an NBN Atlas Strategy and Route Map, informed by stakeholder needs, to guide future
We will bring you project updates as our work progresses through 2024.