The reasons given by NE are linked to an Open Data agenda and “generic data management services” and are unrelated to the current content of the agreement. NE has expressed an aim to move towards Open Data which, something ALERC supports, but our members are custodians and managers of records from other people and this needs to be recognised. Indeed recent discussions with the Open Data Institute have confirmed the key role that LERCs can play in such an agenda
ALERC believes that MoA funding from National Agencies should support LERCs local as well as national-facing activities. LERCs are organisations with a broad remit, both to support biodiversity data needs locally and engage with national initiatives. This local support (such as training, coordination of surveys and verification) is essential in any system that hopes to increase biodiversity data collection and mobilisation.
In the email of Feb 3rd, it was stated “that generic tools and standards” will provide an alternative to LERCs. ALERC has requested information on when these will be available and what form they will take. ALERC has also notified NE of a number of material concerns regarding the termination of the relationship at this stage. Namely:
- NE is required to give a minimum three months’ notice that the agreement is to be cancelled.
- This should be done following an annual review.
- LERCs will have to find another source of OS MasterMap licences (an invaluable tool provided by the MoA).
- NE area teams will have to acquire LERC products and service at full commercial rate.
Developed over many years, the MoA relationship has allowed LERCs to incorporate changing NE requirements. Work such as accreditation, structured species surveillance and online recording have all been built into our business models as required. LERCs are agile and adaptable businesses, and whilst the loss of a key partner is certainly not a good thing, very few of our members see this as an immediate existential threat. ALERC does not believe that our members are likely to need to recoup the lost income by increasing costs to remaining public sector or commercial partners.
We have written to the NE CEO and the Secretary of State for the Environment asking for a response to the points highlighted below and a review of this decision. We feel it would be appropriate to make any decision following the end of year reporting for the MoA. At that point it will be possible to examine the way in which the agreement has provided the deliverables stated. If there are alternative deliverables that would help NE to achieve its current and future aims then this would be an appropriate time to discuss them and consider any amendment to the agreement.
In order to provide clarity for LERCs and other members of the biodiversity data community on the data strategy that NE is pursuing, ALERC request:
- Information on the background to the decision and the evidence used to arrive at it.
- A copy of any policy or statement from NE on Open Data in relation to its partners.
- Publication of the UK Biodiversity Monitoring and Surveillance Strategy.
- Clarification on NE funding for organisations not following an Open Data model.
- Details on the generic tools and services NE intend to use as an alternative to LERCs and local recording networks.
- The NE view on local data collection and LERC support for the local recording community.
ALERC have requested a meeting to formally discuss the decision and the process behind it, and to discuss the role of LERCs in the Defra biodiversity data strategy. We also seek assurances that LERCs retain a key role in delivering the new NBN Strategy, the aims of Biodiversity 2020, the National Planning Policy Framework and local biodiversity policies.