Permits and other access legislation

This section is focussed on how to get permission to collect in countries where the specimens are found naturally. Some of the points also apply when you need to discover if you can utilize (e.g. sequence) material already held in collections.

Most countries require a collector to obtain one or more permits, but each country has different requirements and regulations. Discovering what is needed and how to obtain it can be very difficult.  Currently this site does not have the resources to compile and maintain a list of regulations, but there are sites to go to which will help, and these are listed below. Before providing those links, it is worth considering some FAQs:

What do I do to find out if I need a permit and how I obtain one?
-  There are a number of sources of information. Ultimately, though, you need to obtain surety from the country in which you wish to work.

  • The ABS Clearing House is a good starting point. On the home page select the country where you wish to work from the opening page. This will open a screen with a country summary, including ‘Legislative, Administrative or Policy Measures’ – if there is a number other than 0 next to this it indicates that they have ABS legislation. Open the Country Profile for details. This may give you the information you need, but if not at least indicates that there is legislation that you will need to obey. Further information may be found through any National Database or Website, also linked from the Country Profile.
  • If there is no information about requirement or procedures on the ABSCH Country Profile contact the country’s ABS National Focal Point. The Country Profile should have a link to this person or office. This Focal Point has the responsibility to provide information about ABS requirements and should be contacted for detailed requirements (even if no legislation is listed!).
  • If there is no response from the Focal Point, contact the National Competent Authority if there is one (contact details are also on the Summary Screen).
  • You might also try the National CBD Focal Point - contact details are on the CBD country page.
  • Note that the ABS Clearing House and the authorities you contact though it may not tell you about permits required under other legislation.
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity country page.  This sometimes lists legislation, and also provides links to national websites and databases that may not be on the ABS Clearing House. It includes contact details of the ABS National Focal Point. It also provides links to National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, and to National Reports to the CBD, which can be extremely helpful when planning projects and considering ‘benefits’ that might be shared as a result of research
  • Your local contact. If you are working with someone in country, they may know the regulations, and may have the responsibility to seeking permission on your behalf (as in Brazil). Be aware that local contacts may equally be unaware of their national legislation.
  • Contacts at work. It is likely that someone will have been to the same place, so ask around!
  •  Check the website of ministries likely to be relevant in the country – a web search should find them.
  •  Look online for the country name and ‘collecting permit’ or similar.

What are PIC and MAT, and are these different from a permit?
- You may find references on the ABS Clearing House and other documents to PIC and MAT. Under the Nagoya Protocol and national ABS regulations a country may require you to obtain Prior Informed Consent (PIC)  from them to undertake the collecting and subsequent research, and reach Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) as to the conditions under which you can do it. For most non-commercial scientific collecting countries do not require separate documents, but will issue a permit, often with conditions. The issuing of an official permit from the Competent National Authority or other body as mandated by national ABS legislation (if in place)can be taken to indicate that PIC has been granted. Additional permits may be required at national or local level, depending on the country's regulations.

Will I only need one permit?
- This depends on the country concerned, as every country has different regulations. Some do not require collectors to obtain a permit at all, while others may require several, depending on where you collect.  These permits may come from different government departments, and you cannot assume that every department is aware of the requirements of others.

Will my permit allow me to take DNA sequences when I return to the UK?
- Again, this depends on the country. Some countries (e.g. Peru) do not allow sequencing on a ‘standard’ permit, but require the applicant to obtain a separate permit (in the case of Peru, from a different department). Some countries will allow sequencing, but only if it is undertaken within their borders.  It is very important that you understand the conditions on the permit, so that any such restrictions are known to you before you sign it.

Do I need to think about the conditions on a permit?
Yes, definitely. It is important that you do not agree to conditions that either do not allow the specimens to be used in the ways that you plan to use them – you may need to be sure they can be sequenced, or leant to other researchers, or retained in the collection for example, or give you (and the Museum/herbarium) obligations that cannot be met.  It can be difficult to renegotiate terms after the event, so be sure that they are appropriate before signing the document. Several key points:
-  Try to obtain a copy of the permit before you leave the UK, so that you can be sure in advance what is on it (obtaining a translation if necessary), and be certain that it can be supported (and if it can’t don’t go!).
- If you have to sign a permit in the local language in country and cannot see a copy in advance, make sure you know what the conditions are of before signing.
- Make use of the ‘Use of Material statement, showing it to the permit issuer and ideally (with agreement) attaching it to the permit as an annex and leaving a copy with the authority.

I’ve been told to look on the ABS Clearing House for information about permits – will this give me all the information I need?
- Unfortunately no. Under the Nagoya Protocol countries that have ratified it are required to put up their ABS legislation. Not all have yet done so, and many other countries have similarly failed to provide information. Even those countries that have placed legislation on the ABS Clearing House may have put up only the legislation but not the procedures to follow to obtain permission. In addition, they may have laws or regulations that are not ABS legislation but which still requires anybody wishing to collect to obtain permission. However, as discussed above, the ABS Clearing House is a very important resource and you should use it.

The country where I plan to collect is not a Party to the Nagoya Protocol; do I still need to get a permit?
- If the country’s laws and regulations require it, yes. We are obliged to obey the laws and regulations of every country in which we work.

Web sources of information

The ABS Clearing House  Select the country where you wish to work from the opening page. This will open a screen with a country summary, including ‘Legislative, Administrative or Policy Measures’ – click on ‘View Country Profile’ for any relevant ABS legislation (if posted by the country), a National Database or Website, and the contact details of the ABS National Focal Point. The Focal Point should provide information about ABS requirements.
Do not assume that if no legislation is listed there is no legislation. Note also that there may be other legislation that impacts on collecting that is not listed, any may be unknown to the Focal Point because it originates in a different department.

The Convention on Biological Diversity country page  Select the country name to open a page with contact details for the ABS national Focal Point, any national websites and possibly legislation. The Focal Point should provide information about ABS requirements.

The Skeptical Moth  A privately-run site sharing experinces of entomologists in particular, listing many countries.  There is a forum at the bottom of the page where people are sharing information. The site is a little out of date and you should check its understanding carefully. A version of the site from 2012 is also online here.

The Union of Ethical BioTrade has a number of ABS factsheets including some on ABS regulations in particular countries.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith