National Biodiversity Network at a crucial phase


Harlequin ladybird (harmonia axyridis) ©Mike MajerusIn 1995, the UK Biodiversity Steering Group recommended establishing a co-operative network of biodiversity databases to improve the availability of the enormous volume of biodiversity data collected by volunteers and professionals across the UK every year. Work, led by JNCC, to establish such a National Biodiversity Network (NBN) proceeded, and, in 2000, the NBN Trust was formed with representatives of a wide range of partner organisations. The NBN's development was in response to the recognition that wide access to biodiversity data would provide a solid evidence base for conservation action at all levels.
Within JNCC, the key use of the data made available through the NBN will be in detecting changes across a wide range of species groups and relating these to potential drivers of change through integration with other geographical datasets.  The NBN also has the potential to provide front-line support for conservation action throughout the UK, enabling planning and management decisions to be taken on the basis of the best available data.
Harlequin ladybird distribution map in Great Britain and Ireland
Since its inception, the successes of the NBN have been considerable.  The volume of data available through the NBN Gateway now exceeds 20 million records, and the level of use it receives is growing very rapidly.  Work is currently underway to enable data and reports available through the Gateway to be integrated seamlessly into other websites and systems.  The NBN is also a major contributor to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international organisation that is working to make the world's biodiversity data accessible anywhere in the world.
At a recent meeting the Joint Committee applauded the progress made by the NBN to date, but recognised that it was entering a critical period.  If it is to be the data supplier of first choice, and achieve its full conservation potential, the NBN needs to provide access to many times its current volume of data.  This will mean mobilising the data held, for example, in many Local Record Centres and in other biodiversity databases that currently do not contribute to the NBN.  It will also mean ensuring that the NBN Trust is sufficiently resourced to carry out the work that will be required to achieve this.  The Joint Committee agreed to increase its support for the NBN, and to work actively with the NBN Trust, partner organisations, and Government to ensure these goals are achieved within a very few years.
NBN Gateway tracks new arrival
The NBN Gateway is ideal for showing the current distribution of species that are spreading or declining.  The Harlequin Ladybird arrived in Essex in 2004 and since then its spread has been recorded by a special scheme using NBN Gateway technology.  A website gives rapid feedback to volunteer recorders.  Hence, likely areas can be searched for this invasive species, which has the potential to reduce the numbers of some native ladybirds.  In addition, range expansions driven by climate change (for groups such as butterflies) are also readily apparent from maps available on the NBN Gateway.  Using the Internet speeds up data delivery to a wide range of users, for science, policy and decision-taking purposes.