By Dr James Munford, Programme Director

We have a national Biodiversity Action Plan and its local expression through Local Biodiversity Action Plans, but what data will inform the process of decision making and where will it come from? When the plans are implemented, how will we know if we are on the right track? How can the individual be a part of the process? Are there spin-offs that will help us in other areas such as land management, statutory planning control, Local Agenda 2 1, education or the Natura programme?

We believe the National Biodiversity Network, the NBN, is an important initiative that will help in the development of answers to these questions. The idea behind the network is quite simple. We already have notebooks, filing cabinets and computer databases full of biodiversity information. This information is being added to daily, although often in an ad hoc fashion, by about 60,000 recorders, most of whom are volunteers. The Internet offers a way in which those who want to know, or need to know, could access a good proportion of this information. Simple, but like all simple ideas the devil is often in the detail.

The NBN is a consortium of public agencies and the voluntary sector who share a vision to establish a publicly accessible computerised network across the UK which links together national and local custodians of biodiversity information. The network will allow and encourage people to participate in the NBN and increase their awareness of our natural heritage. This will be achieved by simplifying public access to the available biodiversity information and increasing the capacity for members of the public to contribute to decisions that affect the natural heritage. The improved validation and mobilisation of information will maximise its value for educational, research, conservation and recreational use.

The present partnership consists of.
Joint Nature Conservation Committee (representing English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales, Environment and Heritage Service)
Natural Environment Research Council
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The Wildlife Trusts
The Natural History Museum
National Federation for Biological Recording (representing Association of Local Government Ecologists, Biological Recording in Scotland, Biology Curators Group)

With observers from:

Marine Biological Association, Environment Agency, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, Farming and Rural Conservation Agency and soon we hope to include the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Authorities.

In the very near future, this partnership will be established as a company limited by guarantee, the NBN Trust, at which time the present observers have indicated that they may wish to become founder members. We hope the principal scientific and natural history societies throughout the UK will also become members of the Trust.

Our proposed development programme has been broken down into four themes containing 17 inter-linked projects, which can be further sub-divided into individual more focused outputs for the purposes of securing funds. These are:

Co-ordinating Development

Programme Management
Membership and accreditation

Standards for contributing data

Access terms
Data standards
Collect/collate software
Checklists and Identification Standards
Meeting information needs

Access to Biodiversity Information

Linking national schemes and societies
Linking local record centres
Linking national biodiversity organisations -general
Linking national biodiversity organisations - RSPB Griffin pilot
Linking national biodiversity organisations - IFE
Linking national biodiversity organisations - MBA/MarLIN
Linking national biodiversity organisations - BRC
Developing public access and education services

Using and applying wildlife information

Network index and gateway

Already the major holders and users of biodiversity information in the public sector are members of, or are linked to, the consortium. Together, we have been able to achieve a great deal on comparatively slender resources. The Wildlife Trusts have been able to secure funds from the Esmée Fairburn Trust to assist in their development of a model approach to the creation and development of Local Record Centres. The public sector members have been able to channel some of their internal resources towards creating the network. We have also been able to make progress by sharing expertise. For example we have a good and fruitful relationship with the National Geospatial Data Framework ( initiative led by the Ordnance Survey. We have also developed tentative links into some of the expertise residing within the Global Biodiversity Information Forum (GBIF) partners such as CONABIO in Mexico (

The JNCC has released a Beta version of the new Recorder 2000 software for recording species and habitat information, which will help in standardising electronic data holdings and thus case exchange. I am confident that this new software will become the UK standard, as its precursor was before it with over 700 licence holders. It is also an area where I am confident that the UK holds a global lead.

The important web gateway, index and dictionaries (species and habitat) have been started in pilot form, which can be used for demonstration of concept. The JNCC, NERC through the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and Biological Recording Centre at Monkswood, are developing the gateway and index. The Natural History Museum and JNCC are developing the important dictionaries used in searching for data. Holders of data will be asked to participate in these projects as they progress.

We are hoping to develop educational applications for the mobilised data. This project is being led by the RSPB with co-operation form other members of the consortium who have the necessary expertise such as the Natural History Museum.

These are exciting times with the level of activity being stepped up as solutions are developed. You can keep abreast of developments by visiting our web site at

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