We want to encourage the sharing of data through the NBN Atlas, so have provided a guide to help you prepare your data.


In order to share your species data via the NBN Atlas we need your datasets in either the new NBN Atlas format, or the old NBN Data Exchange Format (as used for the NBN Gateway). We are supporting the use of NBN Data Exchange Format to ease this transition for our users, however, it would be preferable if you could use the new NBN Atlas formatting as this is how the NBN Atlas holds its information.

The reason we have moved towards a new data format for the NBN Atlas, is because we are using an international data standard, Darwin Core, that is widely used around the world. By using this standard, we can help to make sure that the UK’s biodiversity data holdings are interoperable with those of other countries, and allows an easier transition of data to GBIF.

We have created templates and guidance documents (see below) for species datasets and metadata. These can be completed and sent onto data@nbn.org.uk. If your organisation is not yet registered as a data partner, please follow the steps in the ‘Become and Data Partner’ section, so that we can register you.

If a data partner has the technical know-how to create a Darwin Core Archive and an EML (Ecological Metadata Language) document, then this is the ideal way to send data to the NBN Atlas, however, we appreciate that not all of our data partners have the technical resource to be able to create these documents, so the below templates are a suitable alternative.

NBN Atlas data upload template CSV

Guide to NBN Atlas data upload template_word

NBN Atlas Metadata Form

Guide to NBN Atlas Metadata Form

Darwin Core webinars – For further information on Darwin Core, there are a number of webinars available through GitHub which you may find of use.

When preparing your species datasets, you’ll need to match species with their Taxon Version Key (TVK), provided by the UK Species Inventory. You can find the TVK matching tool here.

Any data supplied to us in NBN Data Exchange format will be mapped to Darwin Core on entry into the NBN Atlas.

Become a Data Partner

However you wish to provide your data to the NBN Atlas, you will need to be set up as a data partner first. If you gave permission for your datasets to be transferred from the NBN Gateway to the NBN Atlas, then you should already be set up as a data partner. If you are a new data partner, then please email data@nbnatlas.org with:

  • Your organisation name
  • Name and email address of a contact person for the organisation
  • Your logo
  • A representative photo for the organisation
  • Organisation address
  • A link to your website
  • A short (~10 word) description
  • A longer (~100 word) description

Once you have created a dataset, use the NBN Record Cleaner to check there are no errors which may prevent your data being loaded into the NBN Atlas.

You will then need to email your datasets to data@nbnatlas.org


Metadata is the information about your data.  It describes who collected it, why it was collected, how it can be used and the methods used to collect it, amongst other things.  This is important as it will provide all the information a data user needs to assess if your data are fit for their intended use.  This information is made available to all NBN Atlas users when they view your data.

In some cases you may have concerns about misinterpretation or misapplication of the wildlife data you provide. A good metadata description can help minimise the likelihood of unintentional misuse by better informing the user and referring to sources of additional information.  We ask that you use the metadata to explain the reasons behind any restrictions placed on access to or the use of your data. In this way your dataset metadata can be used to manage the understanding and expectations of users.

The NBN Atlas holds metadata in EML (Ecological Metadata Language). You can use the downloadable template and guide above (in the ‘Preparing your Species Data’ section) to send your metadata to us. There is also a useful How-to Guide and Reference Guide provided by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) that gives more detail about the Ecological Metadata Language.


All species datasets that were transferred to the NBN Atlas from the NBN Gateway were submitted under the Terms of the NBN Data Partner Agreement. This is a formal agreement between you, the data partner, and us, the NBN Trust.

It gives us the permission and assurances we need from you to hold a copy of your dataset and upload it onto the NBN Atlas.

It gives you the assurances that you need from us, including that you retain ownership over, and control the availability to, your datasets.

The agreement is comprehensive and legally necessary to formally authorise the National Biodiversity Network Trust to make your NBN Gateway data available via the NBN Atlas.

For datasets submitted directly to the NBN Atlas, no Data Partner Agreement is required, but by submitting datasets, you are automatically agreeing to the NBN Atlas Terms of Use.


A standard set of Terms of Use govern the use of all material made available through the NBN Atlas. The NBN Atlas Terms of Use protect the rights associated with your dataset. They are legally binding and establish the terms under which anyone using the NBN Atlas may access and use the data you make available to them.


Spatial datasets (or layers) include site and administrative boundaries, as well as various types of environmental data, such as soils and habitats. On the NBN Atlas, spatial datasets can be displayed by all users in the interactive map and the spatial portal. They can be used as a backdrop to maps and they support spatial searching by specific area.  As tools available via the spatial portal develop the spatial layers will also be used for more complex analysis such as species distribution modelling.

Required file format, naming conventions and data sources

When preparing a spatial dataset for the NBN Atlas you should consider the following:

  • Site boundaries and environmental features must have been digitised as polygons
  • The preferred format is an ESRI shapefile
  • Multi-part polygons are supported.  If a site is defined by more than one polygon, these polygons should be grouped into a single multi-part polygon
  • File name format: no spaces allowed (use an underscore), and all lower case letters
  • The digitised dataset must either have been released under an Open Government Licence or have been created from Open Data sources

In the attribute table:

  • Include a unique ID field

For example, for habitats this will usually be the habitat code; for areas or sites it could be a unique site code.

  • Include a name field

This will be used to describe the feature classes in the legend and in search listings. For example, for habitats the name could be the habitat code or the habitat name. For areas or sites this will usually be the area or site name.

Note about spatial datasets created with reference to Ordnance Survey data

When creating a spatial dataset to be shared on the NBN Atlas please be aware that if any part of a feature has been created with reference to Ordnance Survey (OS) data as a source for its alignment, it can only be shared on a Google interface, like the NBN Atlas, if that source is an OS Open Data product and not a paid-for product such as Master Map Topography layer. The reason behind this decision by the OS is that Google’s terms and conditions are in conflict with those of the OS.

To summarise:

  • spatial datasets created with reference to any paid for OS service, such as MasterMap Topography Layer, cannot be shared on the interface
  • spatial datasets created using OS Open Data can be shared on the interface, and overlaid on Google Maps and Open Street Map bases
  • for the avoidance of doubt this means that spatial datasets released under an Open Government Licence can be shared on the interface

If you are unsure of the status of your dataset or your dataset creation process please check with the Ordnance Survey. If your ability to send us spatial data is adversely affected by the above please do let us know. We are currently collating details of the impact this is having on data sharing.


Metadata is required for each spatial datasets. The information should be supplied in a spreadsheet and metadata for several different layers can be supplied in a single spreadsheet, although each layer requires a separate column.  This information will be used to populate the layer’s metadata table in the NBN Atlas.  Please provide details for each layer as per the items in the table below and as per the spatial dataset metadata spreadsheet template.

Spreadsheet fields

The fields in the metadata spreadsheet are listed in the table below:

Layer name Please use the shapefile name Layer name 1 Layer name 2
Title Please provide the full name the dataset is commonly known by.  It will appear in the spatial portal layer list.
Metadata contact organisation Please provide the name of the dataset owner’s organisation & a link to their data discovery portal (if available)
Reference date Provide date of dataset publication
Licence note 1 Select the Creative Commons licence to be assigned to the dataset (CC0, CC BY, CC BY-NC, OGL).  If none of these options please provide details and a link to the licence description.
Licence note 2 Provide details of any citation required
Classification Please define subject category (for use in the menu of layers
Scope Describe the geographical extent of the dataset (ie UK, GB, Scotland, England, Wales or NI)
Notes Use this field to provide a short description of the dataset.
Keywords Keywords (such as habitats, phase 1, Scotland) for use in searches
More information Please provide a link to a website that contains further metadata and/or contact details
Frequency of update Provide an idea of frequency of update (eg annually, quarterly; infrequently; never; not known)


Format of dataset legend(s)

For complex spatial layers (ie all layers except site boundaries) it would help if you could show us how you would expect the dataset legend to look in the spatial portal.  You could do this by sending a link to a site that already shows the data or a PDF or image of a map where the dataset is used.

Unfortunately the NBN Atlas spatial portal does not support the creation of nested legends, which means that polygons cannot be grouped in a hierarchy (as might be useful for habitat data).

Supplying spatial layers that are accessible via a website

If the layers you wish to supply to the NBN Atlas are available for public download via your website you just need to send us the url and a list of the layers to be downloaded.  We will download the layers ourselves and upload them to the NBN Atlas database.

Please ensure that the layers adhere to the formatting instructions above and that sufficient metadata is available online to enable us to complete the NBN Atlas spatial dataset metadata form.

For further help with providing spatial datasets please contact us at support@nbnatlas.org