Sharing the data needed for nature’s recovery.

As CEO of the National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust), Lisa Chilton is devoted to the charity’s mission of ‘making data work for nature’. Her job is to ensure that the vast volumes of biodiversity data collected by volunteers, NGOs, researchers and businesses are shared publicly so that they can have the greatest possible impact for nature’s recovery.

Nature’s data

“Biodiversity data (‘biological records’) comprise information about what species of wildlife are found where. In its simplest form this can be a single record: for example, that you spotted a hedgehog in your garden on a particular date. By itself, that might be interesting – it might even have made your day! – but it’s probably not going to change the world. Together though, hundreds or even thousands of hedgehog record can tell us a great deal about how hedgehogs are faring and give us the evidence we need to protect them and help them thrive,” Lisa says.

“In fact, such evidence is essential for nature’s recovery. Every day, in every part of the UK, biodiversity data is helping answer vital questions: researchers investigating the spread of non-native wildlife; conservationists selecting the best locations for protecting a rare species; planners deciding whether to approve a new housing development. Each of these, and many more besides, depend on good biodiversity data.

“For more than twenty years, the NBN Trust has been making biodiversity data accessible, to support better decisions about the natural world and to connect people with nature. But there’s so much more to do – and the urgency is greater than ever. It’s estimated that as little as 50% of existing biodiversity data is available to those who need it. If, together, we’re to succeed in reversing the collapse of biodiversity, our decisions must be based on the most complete and highest-quality evidence. This is where the NBN Trust, our network and our members can truly make a difference.

“To understand the importance and urgency of the NBN Trust’s mission, you need to know two facts. First, the UK has lost more of its nature than almost any other country in the world. But second, there’s a remarkable community of organisations and volunteers across Scotland and the rest of the UK who collect the data that’s needed to help nature recover. At the risk of oversimplifying it, we have the least wildlife but the most wildlife data. The NBN Trust exists to harness that wealth of knowledge to support nature’s recovery. We’re a bridge between those who gather biodiversity data and those who need high-quality data to plan, manage and measure changes to the environment and to connect people with the natural world.

A growing partnership

“Partnership is central to our mission. We connect more than 200 organisations, large and small, through our National Biodiversity Network: a dedicated community of people passionate about wildlife data. Working together, we create a vast flow of data carrying the evidence needed to protect and restore biodiversity, and the stories to inspire wonder and commitment.

“At the heart of this flow is the NBN Atlas, our family of data portals and one of the world’s largest publicly accessible sources of biodiversity data. The NBN Atlas Scotland brings together species data from over 100 organisations, covering more than 27,000 of Scotland’s species. But there’s much more to do, and we’re always looking to connect with new partners willing to share their data in this way. There’s still way too much biodiversity data sitting in lonely databases, used once and long forgotten. We’re passionate about working with others to liberate their data and make it available to be used and reused in perpetuity – to live its best life and support nature’s recovery!

Farming roots

“My childhood, on a farm in North Dorset in the 1970s, was full of wildlife. I tended tawny owlets that had fallen from their nest, reared cinnabar moths from caterpillars, gathered conkers for epic battles, and scoured ploughed fields for fossilised sea urchins. It was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up working for nature.

A lady with long, loose brown hair, wearing a striped top, wielding a scythe in a grassland in front of a stone building
Lisa Chilton

“Whilst studying for a BA (Hons) in Zoology at the University of Oxford, I learned to scuba dive, which sparked a lifelong passion for marine wildlife. This was followed by an MSc in Ecology at the University of Aberdeen, spending glorious days surveying wildlife on the Ythan Estuary and in the Cairngorms. By now, though, I was realising that a career in academia would not play to my strengths. I’d developed a love of communicating science, not doing it, and I knew that I wanted to spend my time inspiring others to take action for nature.

“Fast-forward 30 years and I’ve had some of the best jobs – and finest job titles – in the sector. Marine Ranger on the Jurassic Coast, Living Seas Manager, and Head of People and Wildlife, at the Wildlife Trusts, to name but a few. A move with my family to Aberdeenshire led to a fascinating role with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), advising governments on the impact of offshore industry on marine habitats and wildlife. It was also the opportunity I’d been waiting for to get back in touch with my farming roots. I now keep Highland cattle and Welsh mountain sheep – though, as a veggie family, they’re purely pets.

“After JNCC, I spent five years at the University of Aberdeen honing my fundraising skills, before having the privilege of taking up my role at the NBN Trust. It’s a wonderful job, working with a fabulous team and a truly inspirational community of organisations and wildlife recorders.

“But what’s really making me tick right now is the new project we’re just gearing up to deliver. The Better Biodiversity Data project, funded by the Scottish Government and NatureScot, is a two-year initiative that will safeguard and improve access to Scotland’s biodiversity data. Working with the Local Environmental Records Centres and Recording Groups, NGOs such as the RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust, museums, botanic gardens, research institutes and numerous other stakeholders, we will help provide the data that’s needed to deliver the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and put Scotland’s nature on the path to recovery. It doesn’t get better than that!”

Lisa Chilton is CEO of the National Biodiversity Network Trust, which is a registered charity. The Trust’s work is supported by the Scottish Government, NatureScot, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland), the Environment Agency, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Enterprise Development Programme, Groundwork, and our growing community of members. Lisa is also a Trustee of the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

This post is part of a series showcasing Scotland’s innovative, high-impact research supporting biodiversity conservation, in partnership with Scottish Government and NatureScot. Read the rest of the series here.

Further reading

The NBN Trust

Great reasons to join the NBN Trust

NBN Atlas Scotland

NBN Trust 2022-2027 Strategy

What the NBN Trust achieved for nature in 2021-22

Lisa’s blog series about wildlife recording