iNaturalistUK & UK Recording Schemes

As a UK Recording Scheme organiser plus helper with 27 other Recording Schemes through Dipterists Forum (yes 28 diptera-related schemes in the UK) I have an interest in how iNaturalistUK is going to play a part in our recording and research efforts.
We’ve had an initial notice from NBNt who operate our NBN Atlas (Introducing iNaturalist for the UK)
The NBN team tell us they’ve still work to do (website) but my issue of concern is that they state they’ve “no plans to transfer data directly from iNaturalist to the NBN Atlas
Which suggests that Recording Schemes will need to do that themselves if they are going to use iNaturalist in their researches. Favourite example of the sort of thing that Recording Schemes do to encourage feedback being the production of distribution maps for their newsletters.
I’ve been encouraging recording on the INaturalist platform for several groups via various projects.
Should we now be encouraging more Recording Schemes to be setting up their own UK-based projects?


I´m also curious what´s going on behind the scenes here.
I imagine just ongoing resistance to iNaturalist from recording scheme leaders following the problems the previous iRecord data link encountered?

Are you asking whether the projects need to be placed somehow within iNaturalistUK?

I don´t think the existence of iNaturalistUK means much to most users at present as far as I understand - its essentially just a slightly different URL as an optional gateway. I guess it acknowledges iNaturalist as being a valid platform for recording in UK a bit more… and as it states on the NBN news post , increased direct dialogue which might help move things forward longer term.

From the iNaturalist side, a recent welcome page for another country states :

"The iNaturalist Network now has fourteen nationally-focused sites that are fully connected and interoperable with the global iNaturalist site. …Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same username and password and will see the same notifications.

The iNaturalist Network model allows for localizing the iNaturalist experience to better support communities on a national scale and local leadership in the movement, without splitting the community into isolated, national sites. The iNaturalist team is grateful to the outreach, training, translations, and user support carried out through the efforts of the iNaturalist Network member institutions. "

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Hi Darwyn and Sam,

Hope you are both well.

I feel it is ‘good news’ that the NBNt are finally getting around to acknowledging that iNaturalist exists and meets the recording habits/requirements of quite a large number of people within the UK, especially as the NBN and many/some recording scheme organisers seemed to be hoping it would ‘go away’ at one point.

I too am bothered ref the note that they do not intend to make any effort to transfer data from iNat to the NBN (say through iRecord) and am left wondering why in that case they are setting up an iNaturalistUK node and what advantgaes they see it accruing both for the NBN and for UK recorders. I have been told by the NBNt that “having a UK ‘node’ allows us enhanced access to data added to iNaturalist. By being the UK data manager we can access more detail of all records from within the UK. For example, where users have chosen to obscure records on iNaturalist so their home address is hidden by being a data manager we can access exact locations. Currently data that we can get from the projects – such as those you sent the link to only give us public data. It also allows us, The NBN Trust, the network and the wider recording community to promote another method for wildlife recording. We do not see it as a replacement for iRecord / iSpot it’s another tool that we know people are using. The iNaturalist platform is designed for global use and even with a UK node having an easy method to transfer research grade or casual records to iRecord is not straight forward.”. - SO, does this mean that their currently professed reluctance to download data as stated in Darwyn’s post above is merely a temporary position or are they planning to put some effort into download procedures for the future ??

Currently Sam and I have transferred at least some of our iNat records into iRecord using Sam’s Python script (which works very well indeed). I know of at least 2 LERCs which are currently downloading and using at least some of the data entered into iNat for their relevant area - there may be more. If the NBN do not move quickly with the development of an importation process which can track/trace duplicates then the risk of iRecord and record verifiers being face with large numbers of duplicate records is fairly high (IMHO).

It is very good to know that some Recording Scheme organisers are taking iNat and its users seriously, getting involved, and looking to harvest data from the platform. Darwyn, do you really think it would be possible to rally all Rec Scheme organisers into harvesting such data ?? My personal opinion is that it would not be possible and that a good number would avoid getting involved at all.

I think/hope the NBN will enter into serious dialogue with iNat organisers as I feel that both platforms (iNat and iRecord) have a lot to learn from each other. iNat wins with its user interface and simplicity of usage regarding uploading of photos and ID assistance via their ‘Computer Vision’ BUT iRecord wins out on its attention to detail in terms of actual data requirements to accept a record. Maybe such dialogue will take place and recording systems across the world can win out as a result both in terms of number of recorders actively involved and in terms of the data calllected for on-the-ground usage. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime I look forward to more information from the NBNt regarding how and what the Node on iNaturalist is to be used for !!

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One thing which surprised me when trying to pass data to recording schemes was that I thought most of them used iRecord, but it seems in reality every recording scheme has a totally different preference as to how they receive records, with many actually preferring spreadsheets by email. It became incredibly messy to grapple with… never mind then trying to manually update iNaturalist records with ID suggestions…and never mind as you mention Steve, the possible duplicates down the line.

My impression after this was that a single agreed method for sending records to schemes is never going to happen. There will always be new platforms and methods as well as the different preferences from the various schemes. Rather, I imagine, there just has to be robust systems in place for managing a plurality of sources at the data-users end. Options such as delineating crowd-sourced data from expert-verified data as they did in the NBN/iNaturalist Northern Ireland trial seems like a good solution in that respect.

I do hope we see more UK schemes joining in here directly though.

Roger Morris’ response when discussing this was that fundamentally the HRS just doesn’t have the time - they are flat out as it is managing the Facebook and iRecord data. Which is fair enough!
It felt a little ironic - as autosuggest, crowdsourcing and the much slicker interface here would seem natural solutions to time-stretched resources - but each to their own…every platform has its pros and cons I guess, and I totally get that the HRS has been building the Facebook group for a long while.

Ultimately one has to be very grateful that we have the expertise in the UK running the recording schemes in the first place! I imagine many countries don’t have such a luxury.

I could also see the bridge between iRecord and iNaturalist being reestablished at some point, but if it was, it needs to be done with a lot more communication and dialogue. The previous bridge caused a lot of damage to UK perceptions of iNaturalist, so it seems sensible to take one step at a time in figuring out how things move forward from here.

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The late David Bellamy once opined that “everyone loves spotty maps” and though the services offerred by many of the data-sharing community sites provide feedback to their naturalist contributors cover a wide range, the comprehensive distribution map comes very high up on the list.
If you collect all the species occurrence data together sufficiently well to achieve a map then you’ve also got a compiliation which will permit other analyses “fundamental to biodiversity research, natural resource management, and conservation” (see Huang et al., 2012)
Not from any single one of the above sites though. They are all held in different silos. The Global Biodiversity Gateways attempt to hold the lot, NBN Atlas siphons into GBIF as does iNaturalist but iRecord is wholly reliant on volunteer verifiers to transfer its data to NBN Atlas (I estimate only around 25% based on Diptera.) Other datasets are not shared at all.
Reconciling all these datasets in order to pursue research is fundamental to promoting biodiversity awareness.


Absolutely agree Darwyn - I sincerely hope that people from the NBN, the NBNt and the UK Recording Schemes read and take-on-board these comments as I feel they are paramount to moving forward with data collection/collation/usage for the UK for the future. Increasing use of iNat would suggest that there are aspects of the current in-place UK systems with which people are not particularly happy.

iNaturalistUK has now officially launched. Users can now choose to affiliate with the UK site which we hope they will do so. The BRC are a partner in this project and they will be leading on how iNaturalistUK data can be integrated with the national recording schemes so they can easily access the data. This process is still to be worked through and could include how data is then transferred to the NBN Atlas if this is something the recording scheme wants to do.

On the NBN Trust website we have created some questions and answers that we hope will answer your queries raised in the discussion. See the iNaturalistUK page. As we get more queries we will add to the questions and answers section.

Launching iNaturalistUK is the start and we know there is a lot of work to do. ukceh (BRC) are an administrator on iNaturalistUK and will be able to update forum posts as work progresses.

(For clarity I am posting in my capacity of an administrator of iNaturalistUK and employee of the NBN Trust.)


Nice to hear more directly about this from NBN @giselle_s!
And good to read the Q + A that´s been posted.

One query :
"In addition, local environmental records centres may review iNaturalistUK data for their area and include it in their datasets. These records may then be shared on the NBN Atlas."

As some of us already pass data on to iRecord, won´t this be duplicated in NBNs dataset if this happens? As NBN passes data to GBIF too, won´t this then create triplicates on GBIF even potentially?! ( I understand all this is just a work in progress of course and must be very difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution for… just curious about how this might work)

With regard to this question :
8. What are the benefits of iNaturalistUK?
Quite a few commenters on UK Facebook groups really don´t seem to see the reason for why one might use iNaturalist over existing options, so if this section is expanded on, perhaps these aspects could be considered:

  1. Use of the autosuggest. Being able to get an instant idea of genus, family, or even order(!) is a massive help when you are first starting out and learning.
  2. The more UK users feed images into the training model, the better it will become at being able to ID UK species, so it gives one a sense of contributing to this bigger goal too.
  3. Being able to help others with identification makes one feel less like one is just taking without giving - which is how the Facebook groups can feel at times. The iNat system is more like a skill-sharing and learning / teaching opportunity.
  4. In addition, it is just more of a social and community space to record in. The Facebook groups are like this in UK, but the Facebook groups don´t automatically record any of the data which passes through them and simply aren´t built for biological recording. Meanwhile, though iRecord is built for recording, its not a social space.
  5. Exceptional design! The user friendly interface isn´t just easier to use than the other options, its also speedier to use. You can upload a lot more observations in a lot less time. This means more time spent out and about enjoying nature itself.
  6. Sharing a support network with the broader global community is really helpful ( there are experts on iNaturalist in some areas that we simply don´t have in the UK for example )
  7. Better awareness of global biodiversity - great way to armchair travel!

Some of these are touched on a bit in the original summary. But …yes, I think it could be good to expand on this answer a bit more at least…as unfortunately many seem really confused about how different this is to iRecord and what purpose it serves.


@sbushes This is something that NBN Trust, BRC and the MBA have already started discussing. (As the partners for iNaturalistUK). At the moment there is nothing I can add. We will keep the network posted.

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@sbushes Thank you so much for taking the time to add these expansion points for the benefits. Will certainly get them included on the Q&A pages on the NBN Trust website.

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Great to hear! +My pleasure.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time this last year trying to debate the merits of iNat with UK groups on Facebook… attempting to debunk the myths…but also feeding back some of the more valid issues on to the forums here to try and understand the different points of view. It feels like a lot of the reticence towards using it is simply due to misunderstanding in how iNaturalist actually works.

A couple of other things with this in mind which may be helpful to include also :

One misconception several recording schemes have mentioned to me is that they believe iNaturalist data lacks detail. This is largely untrue - its actually just a more flexible system here, as we can add any detail we like using observation fields. Dedicated projects can even make specific details a prerequisite for inclusion if they so wish, which I think most UK commenters don’t realise.

Similarly, though research grade is the generic cut off point for GBIF, the possibility of how one can actually siphon off data directly from iNaturalist according to identification by a particular expert, or other parameters one chooses, makes for a much more versatile resource than meets the eye. For many UK commenters I spoke with, the concept of research grade seemed very misleading in this regard, and ultimately a bit of a red herring in terms of how the recording schemes or LERCs could really use iNaturalist if they so desired.

Many thanks to NBN for moving forward with this!
Look forward to seeing how it develops.


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