The NBN has two “Dictionaries” within its tools and resources, the UK Species Inventory and the Habitats Dictionary.

Information on both of these can be found below:

UK Species Inventory

The UK Species Inventory plays a crucial role in enabling species data to be managed and made available electronically throughout the NBN. The Inventory has three main purposes:

  • To hold standard taxonomic checklists so that records can be made against them
  • To allow cross-reference between records made using different checklists, if the same species is known by different names on different lists.
  • To provide a framework to help with producing reports on species.

The UK Species Inventory is managed by the Natural History Museum, although much of the actual content is created and provided by others, generally the currently accepted experts in a taxonomic area. The Inventory also holds earlier checklists for taxonomic groups, derived from, for example, published taxonomic reviews.


The structure of the Inventory is quite complicated, but for most users it is not really necessary to understand the complexities. However, there is one important point to bear in mind: that there are three separate identification tabs (known as “keys”) in the Inventory that refer to a particular name. These are (using the identifiers that are employed in the Species Inventory system):


These have an identical structure (that is, they look very similar) so it is very important when recording a species against a key that the type of key is recorded.

The UK Species Inventory website summarises the operation and performs specific functions:
• It allows users to search for names of organisms by their common and scientific names, and through a hierarchical classification. Users can also search for individual lists and their contents.
• The database serves as an archive by presenting various versions and editions of a number of important checklists, thereby allowing the user to investigate how the names, or threat statuses, of taxa within particular groups of organisms have changed through time.
• The database also holds information concerning the legal designations and conservation status of protected species.
• The underlying database draws upon information held within Recorder 2002 and many other species checklists.
• The UK Species Inventory is incorporated within a number of other NBN products. In addition to Recorder, it forms part of the NBN Gateway and the now archived NBN Index.

Translating between checklists

One of the unavoidable problems with taxonomy is that different people will know the same species by different names. This can be as a result of valid changes in the taxonomy (for example through re-classification) or simply that one worker knows a species by a different name (for example its common name as opposed to its scientific one). However, it is critical to be able to translate between the various names and particularly, when reporting, to ensure that all the available details are being used regardless of the variation of the name that a particular worker used.

To deal with this problem the Natural History Museum has developed the following approach:

  • Identify the preferred taxonomy for a group – This generally involves determining what the currently accepted taxonomic source or expert for a group of organisms is and obtaining an electronic version of the taxonomic list for the group. In many cases either no expert is available or a list may be under development.
  • Load available lists into the species dictionary – For those groups where the list does exist; it is loaded into the UK Species Inventory.
  • Make a link to other names within that group – Some lists will include some synonymy for the preferred names they contain, but many will not. Even in those cases where synonymy does exist it may not be exhaustive and will certainly not include all of the names currently within the UK Species Inventory. These links have to be made individually by the Inventory team. This is a sizeable task, even for relatively small taxonomic groups, but only when this job is completed for a particular group can a user be sure that when they access data on a particular species all records are being included.

The Natural History Museum maintains a reporting arrangement on the current status of different taxonomic checklists, which can be referred to via the UK Species Inventory Project on its website.


Habitats classification

Habitat classification is not like species classification. There is no clearly agreed ‘taxonomy’ and many different systems have been developed, often independently of each other and for different purposes. Although botanists have been classifying vegetation for the past century, habitat classification, which builds on the system of European vegetation classification so as to include abiotic features of the habitat, is a relatively new development.

The need for a classification has several driving forces:

  • establishment of habitat protection legislation
  • inventory of habitats in a country, region, or site
  • biodiversity monitoring and reporting
  • or description of a species’ habitat requirements

Current information on terrestrial habitat classification schemes can be found on the JNCC website

NBN Habitats Dictionary

The NBN Habitats Dictionary is currently unavailable, so we hope that the information on the JNCC website will be of help to you.  If you have been a user of the NBN Habitats Dictionary in the past, please feel free to contact us

Historic information relating to the NBN Habitats Dictionary

Habitat classification systems which are scientific, unambiguous and easy to use are therefore required. Habitat classifications may either be comprehensive, enabling description of all the land and sea area concerned, or selective, covering only those habitats relevant to a particular application. A fundamental requirement for collating and accessing habitat data in the NBN is a dictionary describing and enabling comparison between the many different systems of habitat classification used in the UK. This is necessary so that, for example, existing surveys can be used to provide information about priority habitats.

The NBN Habitats Dictionary brings those classifications in current use in the United Kingdom together as a single publicly accessible information resource, and allows a user to compare them and select a classification suitable for his or her purpose. However, reference should also be made to the website and/or publication source of the classification itself for more detailed information. This source information is contained in the metadata associated with each classification listed (see the link to “List Classifications” in the Habitats Dictionary website). Where detailed information on individual habitat types is available on another website, the appropriate link is provided on the habitat fact-sheet associated with each classification.

The NBN Habitat Dictionary is accessible directly from the NBN Website as a reference source. It is currently not implemented in the NBN Gateway, but the intention is to do so to enable habitat datasets from different sources to be utilised, but this requires further development of the Gateway.

Data included in the Habitats Dictionary

The NBN Habitats Dictionary includes information on 16 classifications in use in the UK. In some cases there have been updates to these classifications, and the Habitats Dictionary gives priority to the most recent update while still providing information about earlier versions.
Different levels of information about the classifications have been applied in the website listings:

M: metadata on the classification is available, including name, revision date, objectives, commissioning agency, creating organisation, published reference, website (if any).
F: indicates that the website provides fact-sheets on the habitat types in the classification, including the hierarchy, habitat descriptions and related habitat types in other classifications which also have ‘F’ status.
The main secondary sources of data are the ‘Biotopes Dictionary’ of Recorder 2002 and the European Nature Information System (EUNIS) habitat classification. Tables of relationships between classifications have been supplied by JNCC and the EUNIS project.

Which classification should I use?

Some advice is included in the Habitats Dictionary website as to how to choose between different classifications, including notes on their respective strengths and weaknesses. These are the opinions of the developer of the NBN Habitats Dictionary, and do not necessarily reflect the policy of the NBN Trust or any of its partners.

The different classifications are broadly grouped as:

  • “Select” – a classification restricted to particular legislative purposes
  • “Ecosystem” – a classification referring to a particular ecosystem
  • “Comprehensive” – a classification covering all the land (and/or seabed) area