Citizen science in the Big Society


Bat detecting, Greywell Tunnel © Philip Briggs/ Bat Conservation Trust

A key component of the coalition Government’s agenda is the Big Society – an ambition to give people and communities more power and responsibility so that they can play their part in addressing the challenges faced by the UK.  In one important respect this approach has been championed by JNCC for more than a decade.


The UK is probably one of the most densely surveyed and recorded countries on the planet when it comes to natural history. The vast majority of biological data available are collected by volunteers. It is estimated that 3-4 million observations are made in the UK each year, by interested naturalists organised in both local and national schemes. The largest participation is in bird monitoring. JNCC works in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology to monitor the state of bird populations throughout the UK, which would cost ten times more if these data were not collected by an army of dedicated volunteers. 


The sources of biological data include large scale public participation events such as RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch, a more detailed survey of specific locations as well as an enormous number of more casual observations. The casual observations are generally collated through organised national recording schemes and local record centres. All of these data are then published through the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Gateway alongside professional survey data.


JNCC has a key role in providing technical leadership and supporting the day to day running of the Gateway on behalf of the NBN Trust. Increasingly, JNCC is also helping to link this grassroots data with UK and global conservation decision-making.


Earls Hill, Shropshire Wildlife Trust © Peter Boardman/ Field Studies Council

“We’ve over 55 million records available via the NBN Gateway collected by a dedicated army of volunteers. This harnessing of citizen science helps improve nature conservation in the UK by providing much stronger evidence on which to base strategies and decisions,” explained JNCC’s Head of Data Services Steve Wilkinson. 


Many of the data providers have also approved the publication of their data through a global website - the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The UK now contributes 25 million records through this facility – making it one of the largest contributors in the world.


This approach of publishing a wide range of data sources via the NBN Gateway ensures maximum value and encourages re-use of information at a UK scale and beyond. The approach also fits with the Government’s open data agenda ‘’.


Contact File


Steve Wilkinson

Head of Data Services

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866865

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