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Using our data

The BSBI receives numerous requests to access the over 50 million occurrence records held within its central Distribution Database (the DDb). This database holds records for all native and non-native vascular plants recorded in the wild across the whole of Britain and Ireland, mainly collected by our key volunteers – vice-county recorders (VCRs) - who collate these records voluntarily and provide the data to BSBI for mapping, research, conservation, and land management. Online access to this database is restricted to VCRs and their coworkers, BSBI staff, BSBI members (from 2024), researchers, and the staff of conservation and land management organisations with whom BSBI have agreements over the use of the data. Access is not provided to commercial organisations although BSBI provides one-off data extracts with a charge to cover the costs in collating, managing, and extracting the data.

All BSBI members will be granted access to the Distribution Database in 2024, with appropriate controls around grid reference resolution and sensitive records in place.

Requests to access BSBI occurrence data are dealt with by BSBI staff on a case-by-case basis in some cases with advice from VCRs.

Click into the category of data user below that best matches your situation to find out how to access the data you require.

1. I’m a private individual and want to know what plants grow in an area for my own personal interest.

We do not provide access to the database for personal use, but we do provide maps showing the distribution of all species down to tetrad (2x2km) resolution on our website. You can also access a species list for a particular tetrad on the DDb (without a login) by clicking on ‘Taxon list for a grid square’ under ‘Tools’ and simply typing in a grid reference.

Your local vice-county recorder might be happy to provide more precise details for an area especially if you provide records back in return. There is a list of BSBI vice county recorders on our website. Alternatively, from 2024 you will be able to access the database as part of membership of the BSBI: find out more about joining the BSBI.

2. I’m a private individual and want to know where a species grows so I can visit/photograph it.

As explained under 1 we do not provide access for personal activities such as plant twitching or photography although you can use the openly accessible data sources described. Again, the relevant VCR may be willing to help but note that most recorders are unlikely to disclose details many rare species or species growing on sensitive sites.

3. I’m a private individual who contributes records to the BSBI.

If you are an active recorder who supplies records to a BSBI VCR or local recording group then you may be eligible to have access to the DDb. In the first instance, contact your VCR to see if they are willing to support your request for access. If this is the case then apply for access to the DDb explaining that your local VCR is happy for you to gain access.

4. I’m a private individual who wants to know what grows in an area so I can choose appropriate species for creating a new habitat such as a wildflower meadow.

We are often contacted by private individuals, small charities or community groups who want to create wildlife habitats, such as wildflower meadows, but are unsure what species to include. Often a good place to start are the species known to occur in the same habitat in the surrounding area. As described under 1, these data can be accessed via the maps on the website or the taxon list for a grid square tool on the DDb. We also provide specific advice on the creation of wildflower meadows on our website. Organisations such as Plantlife or the Wildlife Trusts also provides lots of good advice on how best to do this.

5. I am an undergraduate student and need occurrence data for a dissertation or project.

We do not provide access to undergraduate students but can provide extracts of data where the project is worthwhile scientifically, clearly defined and the findings are likely to be of benefit/interest to botanists and members of the BSBI. Students are advised to read our guidance on using BSBI occurrence records before applying and discuss the appropriateness of the request with their supervisors. Requests should be emailed directly to clearly stating the purpose of the project and what data are required (what species, what area, over what timescale). The BSBI reserves the right to make a small charge for such requests to cover staff time in dealing with requests.

6. I am a postgraduate student, supervisor or researcher and need occurrence data for a funded research project.

As most research projects require bespoke datasets, we prefer to work with researchers to define their data needs and provide the data as one-off extracts. Where the research is funded BSBI would also expect to receive funding to cover the time to extract the data and help with any interpretation needed. Often this will vary from project to project and so it is best to contact the BSBI’s Head of Science prior to submitting grant proposals to discuss BSBI’s role and funding needs. Where the work is unfunded BSBI has a limited capacity to service data requests, but this will depend on the nature of the project and other priorities at the time the request is made. As stated above, all researchers should read the guidance on using BSBI occurrence records prior to contacting us for data access to ensure they understand what BSBI data can and can’t be used for.

7. I work for a commercial consultancy and need occurrence data to assess the impact of a development or land management activity

We do not provide database access to commercial organisations but can provide one-off data extracts for a charge to cover staff time. In the first instance commercial organisations requiring occurrence data should contact us at stating clearly what data is needed including the taxonomic geographic and temporal scope of the data needed. Geographic scope is best described as a boundary shapefile or as grid squares. The current rate for such requests is a £250/€290 admin fee + £50/€58 per hour for data extraction all exclusive of VAT.

8. I work for a small charity or small ecological consultancy and need occurrence data to help with projects for conservation or other public good, including assessing impacts of land use change such as tree planting.

The BSBI is keen to support small commercial and not-for-profit organisations involved in decision-making that utilises plant records and so can provide a single annual licence for database access (£200/€230 per annum). The decision to grant such licences (and the annual cost) is discretionary and would depend on the nature of the work being undertaken. If you feel that your work falls under this category then please email outlining the nature of the work you are undertaking.

9. I work for a Local Environmental Records Centre (LERC) and would like access to asses the impact of a development or land management activity.

The BSBI is keen to support the work of LERCs in carrying involved in decision-making that utilises plant records and so can provide a single annual licence for database access (£200/€230 per annum).

10. I work for a land management body and need occurrence data to help with decision-making.

The BSBI is keen to support organisations involved in decision-making on land management activities that are for the benefit of plants and other wildlife and can provide access to the database for an annual fee depending on the number of staff requiring licences.

11. I work for a national or local government body and need occurrence data to help with a variety of tasks such as land management decision-making, policy development and statutory reporting.

The BSBI works with several Irish and UK government bodies involved in conservation and land management (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, NatureScot, Natural Resources Wales, DEARA, NIEA, NPWS) and so staff of these organisations may already have access to the DDb as part of existing agreements. If you are unsure, please check whether this is the case with botanical/data leads before applying for access. Staff working in local authorities should email outlining the nature of the request