Written by Lisa Chilton, NBN Trust CEO
It’s almost impossible to believe that I’ve been at the NBN Trust a whole year. Time has flown by at a dizzying pace, and sometimes I still feel very new. Then something pops up that reminds me how much I’ve learned, and all that our brilliant team has achieved in the past year, and I realise it’s not so implausible after all.
Inevitably, it was a year of challenges, not least with the continuing threat from COVID and the restrictions on meeting up. But it was also a year of opportunity. COP26, more than any previous climate conference, championed the importance of biodiversity, the intertwined nature of the climate and biodiversity crises, and the vital role of nature-based solutions such as peatland restoration. Meanwhile, the Geospatial Commission’s report on biodiversity data (which my predecessor, Jo Judge, contributed to) and the Nature Positive 2030 report both highlighted the critical importance of high-quality evidence to support nature’s recovery.
We’ve achieved significant progress with the NBN Atlas in the past year, including welcoming the Natural History Museum (London), Leeds Museums and Galleries, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Wildlife Trust to our growing community of 166 data partners. The number of people accessing data on the NBN Atlas has also grown substantially, with the greatest increases in research and education. It’s hugely encouraging to see the NBN Atlas embraced by new users as an invaluable source of biodiversity data.
The NBN Atlas provides an important service, and a fundamental requirement is that it’s stable and reliable. For the first part of the year, service was severely affected by stability issues, which was hugely frustrating and concerning for our community of NBN Atlas users, as well as for our conscientious and hard-working team. We succeeded in improving the stability with some short-term fixes, and we’ve now commenced a major, 18-month upgrade that will set the NBN Atlas on a secure footing for the future, equipping it to go from strength to strength.
One of our great successes of the past year was the launch of iNaturalistUK, which now boasts more than two million records from 77,000 recorders. Working with our iNaturalistUK partners – the Biological Records Centre and the Marine Biological Association – we’ve established a data pathway to the NBN Atlas, via iRecord, so that the data can be verified and shared. We’ve also established an iNaturalistUK User Group, bringing together organisations and individuals that use iNaturalistUK, to share experiences, solve problems and develop best practice.
Naturally, our annual conference was also a highlight. With a record attendance and rallying keynote speeches from Craig Bennett and Rosie Hails, it was wonderful to bring the NBN together, albeit virtually once more. We’re aiming for an in-person event in 2022 and we’d welcome your suggestions for themes, topics and speakers. The 2021 NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording were equally inspiring. It’s a real joy to celebrate and give recognition to the phenomenal achievements of recorders across the UK.
My first year at the NBN Trust came to a close just as we prepared to launch our new five-year strategy. ‘Making data work for nature’ sets out our ambitions to provide vital data for nature’s recovery. We’re looking forward to working with you to make that happen.
So, one year on and I’m loving life with the NBN Trust. I’m extremely grateful to our wonderful team and Board of Trustees, and to you – our many members, partners and funders – for your warm welcome. It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know you and to work with you to mobilise date for nature’s recovery.