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E1. Biodiversity data for decision making

a. Cumulative number of records

b. Number of publicly accessible records at 1 square kilometre resolution or better

Type: State indicator

Introduction

Good policy making and evaluation is based on evidence. Millions of biological observations (records) have been recorded in the UK over the past century by a wide variety of organisations and individuals. This indicator provides an evaluation of the number of records added to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas (which replaced the NBN Gateway) in a particular year, and the resolution of those data, as a proxy for the evidence available to underpin conservation decision making. 

Key results

The number of records within the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Gateway increased from 15 million at the start of 2004 to 83 million at the start of 2013, and to 131.3 million at the end of March 2017, at which time the Gateway closed and was replaced by the NBN Atlas. Since the start of the NBN Atlas in April 2017 there has been an increase of 66.1 million records to the end of June 2021. At the end of June 2021 there were 197.4 million records in the NBN Atlas.

The number of publicly accessible records which are at 1 square kilometre resolution or better increased from 10.5 million at the start of January 2010, to 35.2 million at the end of March 2017 in the National Biodiversity Network Gateway. The NBN Atlas which started in April 2017 has just under 107.9 million records at the end of June 2021 which are at 1 square kilometre resolution or better – an increase of 72.6 million since the start of the NBN Atlas.

Figure E1i. Records added to the National Biodiversity Network, 2004 to 2021.

A line graph showing the cumulative number of records in the National Biodiversity Network Atlas (formerly the National Biodiversity Network Gateway) from 2004 to 2021.

Notes:

  1. The step change observed in both time series in 2017 is due to the move from the NBN Gateway to the NBN Atlas and the addition of 10 large datasets by the British Trust for Ornithology (see Indicator description section for further details).
  2. The number of records dropped in May 2018 as a result of the system behind the NBN Atlas not saving the date (timestamp field) of when the records were first created. In addition to this there were also technical challenges between the transfer of data from the Gateway to the NBN Atlas, where the NBN have had to delete records first before they are updated. Both of these problems have now been resolved.
  3. The number of records dropped in September 2020 as a result of the BTO updating their datasets and aggregating many records.
  4. Data available to 30 June 2021.

Source: National Biodiversity Network.

Assessment of change in data for decision making

  Long term Short term Latest year
Cumulative number of records

Improving
2004–2021

Improving
2016–2021

Decreased (2021)
Number of publicly accessible records at 1 km2 resolution or better

Improving
2008–2021

Improving
2016–2021

Decreased (2021)

 

Note: Long- and short-term assessments are based on a 3% rule of thumb. Where possible, the base years for these assessments use a three-year average. See Assessing Indicators.

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Indicator description

Millions of biological observations (records) have been recorded in the UK over the past century by a wide variety of organisations and individuals. Most of these people are volunteers who organise themselves through many national and local societies and recording schemes. The UK and devolved governments (through their conservation and environmental bodies), local government and non-government wildlife-related organisations all collect and use biodiversity data. Information is held by many different organisations, and the individuals who collect it use a variety of formats, from computer databases to handwritten record cards. This means that although a huge amount of information exists, it is not always easy to access.

This indicator provides an evaluation of the number of records added to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas (which replaced the NBN Gateway in April 2017) in a particular year, and the resolution of those data, as a proxy for the evidence available to underpin conservation decision making. Figure E1i shows the year that records were added to the NBN, not the date of the record.

The headline measures are evaluated by taking a three-year average of the base year compared to the final data point. The assessment of change is evaluated against a 3% rule of thumb. If the difference is more than 3%, then an increasing or decreasing assessment is made, depending on the direction of the change.

Figure E1i also shows the number of records which are publicly accessible at a resolution of 1 square kilometre or better. The number of publicly accessible high-resolution records increased from just under five million at the start of February 2008 to just under 107.9 million at the end of June 2021. During the period between the beginning of March and the end of April 2016, a large number of new and updated datasets were loaded on the NBN Gateway (around 210 datasets), including a new UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) dataset which added 5.7 million records. The update to the Butterfly Conservation’s National Moth Recording Scheme dataset (around 20 million records on the NBN Gateway) may have accounted for the rise in April to May 2016, followed by a drop of 2.4 million records seen in June 2016, as the updated moth surveys were loaded before the old surveys were removed. A very large number of records were added to the NBN in April 2017 as a result of the changeover from the NBN Gateway to the NBN Atlas. Some of the large increase in the number of records is a result of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) adding 10 new datasets which accounted for nearly 156 million records in the Atlas. Approximately 55.8 million of the 95.5 million records that were on the Gateway were transferred to the Atlas, but other records were not transferred – due to a variety of reasons, including data providers not taking the opportunity to update the datasets and/or they had to gain permission from the data owners. Figure E1i also shows an increase in the number of records for May 2020, which is due in part to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) adding a new dataset of eight million records. Two million of these records were at 100 metres resolution or higher, which accounts for the increase in 100 metres records in Figure E1iii (see below). In September 2020, the BTO updated their datasets which added records from 2016 to 2019, and at the same time they also aggregated their records which resulted in a drop of 39 million records which can be seen in Figure E1i.

Over time, more high-resolution data are becoming available, for example, protected species records have recently been uploaded - which is important since more detailed records are of more value for conservation casework. In the case of protected species, this can be used to evaluate whether species are present at a particular location and thereby to assess if a proposed development might impact on the protected species.

In addition to the resolution of the records, it is important to consider how recent the records are. Current records, less than 10 years old, are more useful for advice on planning matters than older records. Figure E1ii shows the proportion of publicly accessible records at 1 square kilometre resolution or better. In September 2020, the BTO updated their datasets. This added a substantial number of newer records, which increased the proportion of records which are less than five years old and records which are five to 10 years old, seen in the Jun-21 column of Figure E1ii.

Figure E1ii. Currency of records at 1 square kilometre resolution or better sourced from NBN.

A stacked bar chart showing the age of records at 1 square kilometre resolution or better sourced from the National Biodiversity Network in June 2016 to June 2021. The data represented are a snapshot of the data available as at 30 June 2016, 30 June 2017, 30 June 2018, 30 June 2019, 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021 sourced from the National Biodiversity Network.

Note: The data represented are a snapshot of the data available as at 30 June 2016, 30 June 2017, 30 June 2018, 30 June 2019, 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021 sourced from the NBN.

Source: National Biodiversity Network.

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Relevance

Good policy making and evaluation is based on evidence. Evidence will also help to engage the public, natural resource managers and business to actively address biodiversity loss. There are therefore a range of geographic scales of decision making (from local to national) and audiences (public sector, industry, public, research, etc.) that have an interest in the availability of biodiversity data. The indicator is focused on the availability of data collated by the National Biodiversity Network for decision making – evaluating actual use within decision making is more difficult.

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Background

The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) works to set standards for data exchange and data accuracy, and captures wildlife data in a standard electronic form; allowing the integration of data from different sources, and use of the internet to enable data to be used in different ways by as many people as possible. The History of the development of the NBN Gateway and Atlas, and a detailed timeline are available from the NBN website. Key points to note in the context of this indicator are:

  • The development of a prototype NBN Gateway in 2001;
  • Redevelopment and relaunch of the Gateway in November 2013 – which is the start point for the development of many of the metrics used here; and
  • The switch to the NBN Atlas in April 2017.

Now registered users can request enhanced access to records of sensitive species from data providers through the NBN Atlas, and if granted, the users can access higher resolution data just like under the previous system, the NBN Gateway. This gives data providers control of who can use their data for particular purposes. Where requests are made to access protected species records through the NBN Atlas, this can be given but the location details are generalised in the NBN Atlas in order to protect the actual location of the protected species. Not all records can be given enhanced access through the NBN Atlas, and therefore users may need to contact the data providers. Government and its arms-length bodies have, over recent years, been moving much more to open data, and the development of the NBN Atlas fits with that agenda.

One of the principal means of collation and interpretation of this data is the network of local records centres and the Biological Records Centre (BRC) which collates and interprets data from many national recording schemes. The BRC regularly update more than 40 data resources on the NBN Atlas, often bi-monthly. These are datasets from recording schemes and projects that use iRecord for record management and verification. The majority of the records shared are verified but some schemes and projects also share unverified records, which are clearly flagged as such within the NBN Atlas. BRC also supplies unverified data to the NBN Atlas for some species groups that are not currently covered by a national recording scheme. The NBN Atlas is a free online tool that provides a platform to engage, educate and inform people about the natural world. It enables the combination of multiple sources of information about UK species and habitats, and provides the ability to interrogate, combine and analyse these data in a single location. Individual records, for example for plants, mammals, birds and invertebrates, are stored on the NBN Atlas. Records can be quickly and easily accessed and displayed on a map of the UK in a number of different ways to aid understanding of the distribution of particular species in the UK.

This biological information is vital if the distribution and abundance of species and habitats is to be understood. Without it, making informed decisions on how to protect the UK’s wildlife is much more difficult.

Figure E1iii. Resolution of publicly available records on the NBN.

A bar chart showing the resolution of publicly available records on the National Biodiversity Network in June 2016 to June 2021. The data represented are a snapshot of the data available as at 30 June 2016, 30 June 2017, 30 June 2018, 30 June 2019, 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021 sourced from the National Biodiversity Network.

Note: The data represented are a snapshot of the data available as at 30 June 2016, 30 June 2017, 30 June 2018, 30 June 2019, 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021 sourced from the NBN.

Source: National Biodiversity Network.

Figure E1iii shows an increase in the proportion of publicly available records at 1 square kilometre (from 22.9% in June 2016 to 54.7% at the end of June 2021) and 2 square kilometres (from 15.8% to 19.7%), and a decrease in the proportion at 100 metres (14.4% in June 2016 to 11.1% in June 2021) and for 10 square kilometres (46.9% in June 2016 to 14.5% in June 2021). This is partly as a result of a change in the data access policy by a major contributor to the NBN Gateway, Butterfly Conservation, which decided in 2015 to make approximately 5.7 million records prior to 2010 available at a 2 square kilometres resolution, which previously had not been accessible. The vast majority of the records from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) were at the 1 square kilometre resolution, and as not all of the records were transferred from the Gateway to the Atlas, it is likely that some of the records at 10 square kilometres resolution were not transferred across. There has been an increase in the number of records at the 100 metres scale between June 2018 and June 2021. This is probably due to both the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording in Northern Ireland (CEDaR) uploading a number of marine datasets.

Figures E1iv and E1v show the number of downloads and the number of records downloaded since November 2013 when the NBN Gateway was relaunched. Since 2014, the number of downloads (Figure E1iv) has increased considerably, whereas the number of records downloaded has seen a smaller increase (Figure E1v). It is not entirely clear why this is. In 2020, there were 11,033 downloads from the NBN Gateway, with a total of 846.5 million records downloaded.

Figure E1iv. Number of downloads from the NBN.

A bar chart showing the number of downloads from the National Biodiversity Network from 2014 to 2020.

Note: Based on the number of downloads for full calendar years from the NBN since it was relaunched in November 2013.

Source: National Biodiversity Network.

Figure E1v. Number of records downloaded from the NBN.

A bar chart showing the number of records downloaded from the National Biodiversity Network in 2014 to 2020.

Note: Based on the number of records downloaded within full calendar years from the NBN since it was relaunched in November 2013. 

Source: National Biodiversity Network.

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Goals and Targets

Aichi Targets for which this is a primary indicator

Strategic Goal E. Enhance implementation through planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

Aichi Target 19

Target 19: By 2020, knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred and applied.

Aichi Targets for which this is a relevant indicator

None

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Reference Title
National Biodiversity Network Home page
National Biodiversity Network History
National Biodiversity Network Atlas Home page
Biological Records Centre Home page

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Downloads

Download the Datasheet from JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Last updated: October 2021

Latest data available: 30 June 2021

 

This content is available on request as a pdf in non-accessible format. If you wish for a copy please go to the enquiries page.

Categories:

UK Biodiversity Indicators 2021

Published: .

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