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Environment Agency data licensing – simpler, easier, faster

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We like people using our data. The more it’s used, the more people will make well-informed decisions about the environment. Our new licences will help you to do that.  It’s a reduction in red-tape, and it helps our staff focus their time on what’s important.

I’m Will Lidbetter from the Data, Mapping, Modelling and Information team at the Environment Agency. I am working on simplifying how we license all our data.

Why are we changing our licences?

Lots of things have changed.

We stopped charging for non-commercial use of our data quite a few years ago. Nowadays, lots of our data is licensed free of charges levied by the Environment Agency for all users, and it will all be free of our charges by April 2018.

Now we plan to improve our licences too. We’ve listened to customer feedback, and want to make our licences much simpler. Most of the complexity was to protect our commercial income so we have a real opportunity to simplify things for our customers.  Our default position is now ‘open data’, so we will always use an Open Government Licence where possible. We will use a separate licence when our data contains someone else’s intellectual property which we have to protect, or where a simple condition allows us to share something that we would otherwise need to withhold.

We’re also delivering more and more data online, and we want to make everything available via DATA.GOV.UK (Read more about this here) so that customers can get their data immediately, rather than waiting for us to produce a licence and send out the data. Environment Agency staff are working hard to identify more and more data that can be made open under the #OpenDefra programme.

What are the changes?

We have consulted staff who deal with our licences, the Office for Public Sector Information, our external Data Advisory Group (, and customers.  We have designed a simpler licensing regime that revolves around our online data and metadata.  We plan to use two simple licences, which we will put out for further comments via our Twitter account @dataenvagency, as part of our more open culture.

The vast majority of our data will be licensed using the Open Government Licence .  We’ve used the Open Government Licence online for a while but we will start using it for the large number of Freedom of Information requests we receive.

We are working on a conditional licence. This will be styled in a similar way to the Open Government Licence, but will link to ‘conditions’ shown in our online metadata.

These conditions will allow us to release data that we would otherwise have had to refuse.  For example:

  • Where our data contains someone else’s data and they have only given us permission to supply it for non-commercial use;
  • Where we have personal data from permits that we are legally obliged to share but cannot make fully open for data protection reasons.

The conditional licence is being designed to work with offline requests as well as online ones.  The new licences come into effect on 1 April 2016, for the vast majority of our data.  We will fully complete our transition in 2018.

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