It was a simple idea – the best ones usually are – to be able to find information and data about all aspects of our environment in a single place. And even better, for you to know that the information you found there was up-to-date and relevant. We’ve all been there, the endless trawl through the internet only to find slightly dubious results. Whether you’re looking for something for work or personal interest it can be frustrating. So it was no surprise that this idea gathered momentum. With some further development, and the help of EU LIFE+ funding, SEPA worked with partner organisations to transform the idea into Scotland’s Environment website. Five years on, not only has it become a valuable source of information and data that informs, educates and helps people to understand their environment, but it has also been recognised as an example of best practice in sharing open data.
There are a wide range of organisations involved in monitoring and protecting Scotland’s environment. Back in 2010 there was limited scope for close interaction on ideas and data provision between the different organisations, which often led to confusion about where to find information online. Of the information that was available, a lot lacked relevance or wasn’t engaging to users. This, coupled with an inability to compare data sets, meant that it was difficult to find a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of our environment.
It was these frustrations and limitations that first triggered the idea for some kind of environmental digital hub – a place that brought together everything you would want to know about Scotland’s environment, presented it in a way that was easy to find and understand and from a trusted source.
At the same time, there were drivers for opening up and sharing data to improve accessibility coming from the Open Data movement, the INSPIRE Directive and the Shared Environmental Information Systems concept promoted by the European Environment Agency. Advances in technology were changing the way people used the web and digital media to search for, access and view information and there was a move away from paper based reporting towards digital publications of data. All of which lent further support to the idea of a shared digital hub for environmental information.
Through our own monitoring and regulatory activities SEPA gathers huge amounts of environmental data. We are always looking for ways to make this more accessible so we could see the benefits of a digital hub – both to ourselves and other partner agencies. It wasn’t long before the idea was developed further and shaped into what was to become Scotland’s Environment website.
With growing support both within SEPA and amongst partner agencies, the next step was to secure resource to turn the idea into reality.
Following a successful bid to the European Union’s LIFE+ Programme fund – SEPA’s first application to the EU fund supporting environmental and climate action projects – and establishing an innovative partnership between some of Scotland’s leading organisations that work to protect and improve our environment, work on the project began in 2011.
Over the last five years SEPA has worked closely with partners to develop and grow Scotland’s Environment website. The strong collaboration between the key agencies has been at the very heart of the project – drawing on expertise and shared resources to create an invaluable resource to help people discover and understand more about Scotland’s environment.
A powerful tool, full of valuable up-to-date, trusted and relevant information for users with a broad range of interests in the environment, the website:
- provides the authoritative view of the state and quality of Scotland’s environment in one place, with 27 environmental topics written by experts from key Scottish environmental organisations;
- improves our understanding of the challenges we need to tackle and the benefits the environment has to offer all sectors of society;
- encourages communities, school children and individuals to investigate their own local environment, observe what is happening around them, collect their own data and take action to protect and improve their local environment.
A shared digital hub for data and information from all the partners has been created through a range of applications, helping people to connect with data and their environment. On the website, users have access to:
- over 300 openly published spatial data sets from 15 different data owners and over 2000 information resources published by a wide range of organisations;
- 19 different tools that make it easy for users to find information, interpret and analyse data;
- three daughter websites – Scotland’s Soils, Scotland’s Aquaculture, Atlas of Living Scotland – in the Scotland’s Environment Web family, that take a more specialised view of the environment.
The collaborative approach adopted to develop Scotland’s Environment website has strengthened partnerships across Scotland’s environmental sector. It has allowed the partners to learn from each other, and share knowledge, expertise and resources. And it has also revolutionised the way people access and work with environmental data.
The success of the project and work by SEPA and our partners to develop the website has been recognised in the Scottish Government Open Data Strategy, where it is cited as best practice example of providing access to open data. More widely within the public sector, Scotland’s Environment Web is considered to be an exemplar in partnership working and a leading digital project with potential to become the digital hub for all of the Scottish environment sector.
Further afield, in March, Scotland’s Environment Web was selected as one of the 24 Best LIFE Environment projects out of the 113 that finished and were evaluated in 2015. The Best Projects awards recognise those projects whose results, if widely applied, could have the most positive impact on the environment. Projects not only need to be technically sound, public support is also a vital to ensure a long lasting legacy way beyond the term of the LIFE project.
Not bad from what started out as a simple idea … but then we did say it’s the simple ones that are the best.
Read more about Scotland’s Environment website and the project to develop it.
Find out about SEPA’s other EU LIFE programme funded project – LIFE SMART Waste.
Learn more about the EU LIFE programme and the environment projects it helps to fund.
We need your vote
As one of the 24 Best LIFE Environment projects, Scotland’s Environment Web has been put forward for the LIFE Citizens’ Award. The public are being asked to vote for their favourite project, with the winner being revealed at the LIFE Environment Best Project Awards during EU Green Week in Brussels at the end of May. Voting closes on 30 May 2016 so make sure you cast your vote.