Treatment of environmentally sensitive data on the NBN Atlas

Environmentally sensitive information is any which, if released to the public, would result in an ‘adverse effect’ on a feature of the environment.

In a small number of cases, public access to biodiversity data can result in environmental harm.  For example, releasing detail of the nesting locations of rare birds of prey to the public domain. It is important that any environmentally sensitive data that you hold are identified and their availability managed responsibly.

It is important to remember that the objective is to assess the sensitivity of the data and not the sensitivity of environmental features alone.  It is not advisable to assume that data is sensitive simply because the species it relates to has been identified as rare or threatened within a BAP or red-list.

For example, a pond that is important for Great Crested Newts could be deemed sensitive to damage from development, but sharing data relating to the site with the public may not result in harm occurring.  In fact making this information more widely available is likely to reduce the risk of accidental damage.

The NBN Secretariat originally developed a useful criteria-driven approach to help data holders structure their assessment of environmental sensitivity of data. This good practice framework facilitates more transparent decisions for which a case for sensitivity can be assessed, documented and readily understood by others. This was adopted by public authorities operating in the biodiversity sector to help structure their decisions under the Environmental Information Regulations.

You can find out more about the Environmental Information Regulations where you will find helpful information. Criteria from the ICO have been adopted on an international scale and form the basis of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility’s Guide to best practice for generalising sensitive species data.

For the NBN Atlas, data providers will no longer have to make their own assessments on the sensitivity of their records. A Sensitive Species List will be agreed by the UK’s statutory bodies and relevant experts following the criteria based approach described above. This list will show those species that are deemed sensitive and the maximum resolution at which these records should be displayed. The list will allow for variations in sensitivity between the member countries of the UK, e.g. a species can be listed as sensitive in Wales but not in Scotland.

Records for species on the list can be submitted to the NBN Atlas at capture resolution. On upload to the NBN Atlas those records will be automatically generalised (blurred) to the agreed resolution for public viewing. These blurred records will be available for use under the conditions of a Creative Commons licence as determined by the data provider.

Initially, all requests for access to the high resolution sensitive records will have to be made directly to the data provider. A mechanism for receiving and actioning these requests via the NBN Atlas is due for development in 2017. If access is granted to high resolution sensitive species records, they will be available for use under a restricted licence. The restricted licence will have some general conditions (TBC), and data providers may also impose additional conditions on their use.