Update from National Biodiversity Network makes UK the 2nd-largest country publisher

New and returning NBN datasets add 47 million species occurrence records, with help from standardized licences and open-source infrastructure from Atlas of Living Australia

In July, when the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) made its first major update of datasets from the NBN Atlas to GBIF.org, the 47 million occurrence records it added immediately made the United Kingdom the second-largest national contributor of data to the global index.

This milestone marks the conclusion of NBN's own efforts to implement machine-readable licensing of all occurrence datasets, a task that shadowed the three-year process that GBIF recently completed. In August 2016, to give NBN more time to work with its data partners to ensure appropriate licensing and permissions, GBIF and NBN withdrew 329 datasets containing 27.3 million records, representing 72 per cent of all occurrences published by UK institutions at that time.

But the effort has proven well worth it. More than half of the withdrawn datasets have now returned, restoring nearly 12 million records, joined by 484 new ones holding more than 35 million occurrences. About two thirds of NBN's data partners are now sharing their data through the GBIF network under machine-readable open licences.

A peerless natural and cultural heritage

The distinguished character and standing of NBN's member network is worth noting. Together they preserve and extend the UK's unique history of volunteer naturalists collecting and sharing biodiversity data and information. Included among NBN's more than 170 recording societies, environmental centres, collections and other institutions are many local groups whose systematic observation and identification of species occurrences date back decades or even centuries.

Their unparalleled knowledge often has a precise geographic or taxonomic focus to match the comprehensive, authoritative evidence it contributes to understanding some portion the natural world, whether it's lichens found in Welsh churchyards, the flora of Worcestershire or invertebrate observations from Cumbria between 1500 and 2014, to cite just a few examples.

Collaboration produces reciprocal benefits

Thanks to a reconfiguration in how NBN shares data from the UK, each of these NBN data partners all now appear in publisher search results on GBIF.org. That change means they also receive clearer, more direct credit when their datasets contribute to published research, at least when researchers use recommended citations for their download DOIs.

This practice makes it easier for GBIF to link user downloads applied in research and policy back to its contributing datasets, publishers and countries, so that we can show, for example, that Merseyside BioBank's 5 datasets have informed 8 peer-reviewed papers—and further, that records from their Active Naturalists (verified) dataset appear in 6 of those citations.

In a further indication that the exchange is not simply one-way, NBN and GBIF have established automatic registration and exchange between their data management systems. The open-source infrastructure that now powers the NBN Atlas was originally developed by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), one of GBIF's long-standing national nodes. By redesigning and re-engineering some elements of the platform, NBN has produced a customized system that improves support for its stakeholders and data users while providing a collaborative, cost-effective approach to ensure the interoperability of the UK's biodiversity data systems and its data. In fact, the first UK country portals to come online, NBN Atlas, NBN Atlas Scotland and NBN Atlas Wales, are three of several 'Living Atlases' now in production, in development or under discussion across GBIF's wider international network.

Table 1. New datasets with more than 1 million occurrences

Dataset name Publisher Number of occurrence records
Macro-moth distribution records for the UK for the period pre-2000 Butterfly Conservation 6,543,872
UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) Biological Records Centre 5,638,976
Other BSBI Scottish data up to 2012 Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland 3,953,136
Big Garden Birdwatch winter sightings in the UK in 2009 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 2,126,593
NBIS Records to December 2016 Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service 1,715,185
LERN Records Lancashire Environmental Records Network 1,417,679
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland British Mycological Society 1,085,628
Scottish SNH-funded BSBI records Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland 1,019,311

Table 2: Returning datasets with more than 500,000 records