12 - The personal and political of volunteers' data: towards a national biodiversity database for the UK  pp. 251-265

The personal and political of volunteers' data: towards a national biodiversity database for the UK

By Anna Lawrence

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Britain has an exceptional tradition of natural history societies and amateur naturalists who collect data about species distributions, frequency and behaviour (Bell et al., this volume). This chapter examines an attempt to harness the data for a wider range of purposes, and the ways in which different actors have perceived and responded to this. Many of the volunteers have a strong personal attachment to their data, and to the ways in which they hope that it will be used. When powerful organizations become involved in managing the data, the volunteers can perceive threats and opportunities for the value of their data. The chapter considers the need to balance these emotional and political aspects in developing an effective national data management system. It is based on a cross-cutting analysis of research into the processes behind biodiversity action plans and biological recording, conducted over several years in the UK (Gillett and Lawrence, 2003; Lawrence, 2005; Lawrence, 2006; Lawrence and Molteno in press; Lawrence and Turnhout, 2005). The chapter draws on interviews with volunteers and professionals involved in the complex organizational landscape that has evolved around biological data collection and sharing, descriptions of the process on websites and in reports, and on presentations made at the annual National Biodiversity Network conferences.

The supply side: growth of biological recording

Biological recording, or the collection of data about the distribution and abundance of species, has a long history in Britain, going back to the leisure time of country vicars in the eighteenth century (Moss, 2004).

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