NBIS originated as the Norfolk Biological Records Centre (NBRC) which started in the 1970s as a response to requests received by the Natural History Department at Norwich Castle Museum for detailed information about animals and plants in Norfolk and their distribution in the county.

The records of Sir Thomas Browne in the 17th century are often quoted as early wildlife records, while the “Paston Letters” also give an insight into the wildlife of the county. One of the first accounts of local plant edibles came from Norfolk – Lilly Wigg’s Esculent Plants (c.1790) is a handwritten manuscript in the British Museum.  The 18th and 19th century produced an increasing number of records as personal notes; scientific papers and published books also began to sketch the richness of wildlife in the county. Although these notes provide an interesting and valuable historical account of the biodiversity of Norfolk, they are not of a quality which would be accepted as a record today, nor do they bear much resemblance to modern day animal and plant distributions. This limits their usefulness for purposes such as planning and development control.
Twentieth century records are dominated by references to many famous naturalists such as Michael Seago and Ted Ellis.  The early card indexes, reports, transactions and notes based at Norwich Castle Museum were the forerunner to our computer-based record-keeping.  Many 19th and 20th century records have been collected and card-indexed in some form, some by specialists in particular groups,  so we have a proper, historically-researched picture for a few animal and plant groups, but there is still much to do and many gaps to fill.

Records began to be properly consolidated on computer database at Norwich Castle Museum in 1987 when the former Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England) awarded a grant for computer hardware.  Norwich Castle Natural History Department became Records Centre number two in the UK and was part of the original development for the Recorder database and of the Local Records Centre movement.

The Centre expanded to operate from Union House in Gressenhall, and launched officially in May 2001.

In late 2005, discussions were opened regarding transferring the Records Centre from Norfolk County Council’s (NCC) Museums and Archaeology Service to the NCC Department of Planning and Transportation (now Community and Environmental Services). The transfer took place in July 2006.
In January 2009 Norfolk Biological Records Centre (NBRC) was re-launched as NBIS, to reflect the wider range of services provided, in particular this involved an increase in information about sites and habitats alongside species data. 

NBIS had been a member of the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres since it came into existence in 2009.
NBIS has always operated within the framework set out by the NBN.  NBIS achieved ALERC accreditation in 2015 and re-accreditation in 2020.