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Defra opens up data reserves



Department claims move amounts to largest government data giveaway in the UK to date

At least 8,000 datasets are to be opened up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over the next year, in what is claimed to be UK government’s biggest move so far in pursuing the open data campaign.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss (pictured) highlighted the potential to support the food and farming industry by giving farmers and the food and environment industries access to the data and through the development of relevant data services.

She said it would support the productivity of farming and the food industry, and support the leisure industry through relevant environmental information.

The new data releases will include imagery from the Copernicus satellite system that can pinpoint soil and microclimates around the country. Truss said this could be used to support the wine industry or detect a ship acting suspiciously in a marine conservation zone.

It will also include real time air quality and river level readings, beach cleanliness measures and the records of the National Biodiversity Network, which charts plant, animal, bird, insect and invertebrate numbers across Britain.

Worth billions

“Defra is the most data-rich department in Whitehall, though much of it—millions and millions of files—is hidden away,” she said. “It is worth billions of pounds to British people, businesses and our rural economy, and it can be used to improve the quality of our natural environment.

“It’s time to realise that value and tap into the aspiration at the heart of our rural communities to drive up productivity and deliver the true one nation economy this country deserves.”

Interviewed on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, Truss said the two forms of data for which there is most interest in business are geospatial and environmental . She also emphasised the non-economic benefits.

“It’s also the quality of life improvements that we can derive that are important,” she said. “For example, people understanding their natural environment, and there is a huge application for citizen science in terms of if you spot an invasive species or a fine example of birdlife or wildlife you can feed it into the system.”

The announcement follows two others in recent days that point to a fresh surge of activity around open data. Last week the Environment Agency announced that it was making sets of its LiDAR (light detecting and ranging data available), and earlier this week Companies House made company data it holds freely available through a website, now in public beta, with an application programme interface to make the data re-usable.

Image from under Open Government Licence v3.0


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