Information on past trends is essential to inform future predictions and underpin attribution needed to drive policy responses. It has long been recognised that sustained observations are essential for disentangling climate-driven change from other regional and local-scale anthropogenic impacts and environmental fluctuations or cycles in natural systems. This manuscript highlights how data rescue and re-use has contributed to the debate on climate change responses of marine biodiversity and ecosystems. It also illustrates via two case studies the re-use of old data to address new policy concerns. The case studies focus on (1) plankton, fish and benthos from the Western English Channel and (2) broad-scale and long-term studies of intertidal species around the British Isles. Case study 1 using the Marine Biological Association of the UK’s English Channel data has shown the influence of climatic fluctuations on phenology (migration and breeding patterns) and has also helped to disentangle responses to fishing pressure from those driven by climate, and provided insights into ecosystem-level change in the English Channel. Case study 2 has shown recent range extensions, increases of abundance and changes in phenology (breeding patterns) of southern, warm-water intertidal species in relation to recent rapid climate change and fluctuations in northern and southern barnacle species, enabling modelling and prediction of future states. The case is made for continuing targeted sustained observations and their importance for marine management and policy development.