Data and research is often held at the ‘expert’ level. There is a need to summarise research in a more accessible format for a wider ‘interested’ audience.
Fifteen respondents agreed with the idea of creating a single national body to be responsible for the co-ordination and use of marine data for marine planning. Some respondents made the point that the Marine Bill has already identified the need for co-ordinated collation of data and information, so these proposals should not be isolated from those in the Marine Bill and any co-ordination of data should be for both marine and coastal areas. Many also thought this to be a role for the Marine Management Organisation to be established under the Marine Bill, supported by centres of excellence or regional bodies. Compatibility of datasets was also felt to be an issue, especially when prioritising the most relevant and important.
Ten respondents recognised the importance of input by groups at local level, but felt that they should then have access to that information, especially as it is publicly funded. They suggested that any such system must overcome the issue of data ownership and provide the source of the data to ensure a legitimised audit trail when used by others. Respondents also felt that it would be improper to use local partners as purely collection agents for information.
Suggestions for improving involvement of local groups included:
local workshops, events and working groups to encourage stakeholder participation;
a web-based online archive, where information is downloadable, similar to the channel coastal observatory and the Marine Data and Information Partnership;
biodiversity data should be given and stored by the Local Records Centres, who would benefit from greater support; and
quality control and guidance on data standards, e.g., a consistent format for stored data.
Some respondents felt that the competent authority should be given the resources and time to become the central point for gathering data, as this would assist with the management of Marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), for example with monitoring. Others went further, suggesting that strategic fora have a key role as a conduit between local and national levels of coastal and marine management, with benefits from feeding locally gathered and relevant information into a nationally co- ordinated data collection programme. Examples of local coastal initiatives included the Cumbria Marine Litter Project, the East Yorkshire coastal observatory, North East Kent Scientific Coastal Advisory Group, and the Marine Conservation Society’s “Beachwatch” program.