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The Power of Citizen Science

Citizen science is a fun and easy way to get involved in environmental research. Studies typically require a lot of data collection, often over large geographical areas. This is where you can be an invaluable contributor by observing wildlife and collecting samples under the direction of academics or organisations. You don’t need qualifications or experience, just a hard-working attitude and an enthusiasm for nature. Do it alone or with friends and family, and make it suit your schedule by opting for one off or long-term projects.


Biological recording

Plants and animals are all around us, whether we are out and about or simply looking out of the window at home! You can submit each sighting to an online database and this data can then be used to monitor the distribution and abundance of species. Between 2004 – 2014, over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles used biological records submitted by volunteers ! All you need to do is make a note of what you saw, along with when and where and submit it to iRecord, where it is then verified by an expert. Other interesting observations can also be recorded, such as roosting bats or mating pairs. If you need some help identifying a specie iSpot can help you out.

iRecord is the most efficient method if you’re keen to record as many species as you can. If you would rather focus on a specific species, you can go directly to a related conservation organisation. There are countless surveys that you can contribute to and a quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

Here’s a few options to get you started:

· The Big Hedgehog Map aims to understand where hedgehogs are present to aid in their protection.

· The British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) have multiple projects including Garden Birdwatch and The Nest Record Scheme. Data from participants has previously been used in articles for Nature and Bird Study! More projects can be found here.

· Work with the Bat Conservation Trust and record bats, roosts and woodlands.

· If you’re a passionate botanist, add tree records to the Treezilla map or take part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme.

· Insects are valuable biological indicators. Record your butterfly and moth sightings with Butterfly Conservation or as many invertebrates as you wish with the OPAL Bugs Count Survey.

Coming across dead animals is distressing, but they also make up useful data for scientists. Ill or dead garden animals, particularly birds, amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs, can be reported to the Garden Wildlife Health project, The Badger Trust, the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme and the Bat Conservation Trust also encourage you to get in touch. If you live near a beach, you can help the The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme by reporting any stranded cetaceans, turtles, seals or sharks seen on the beach or in the surf.

Recording sightings of non-native species helps researchers to investigate the distribution and ecology of invasive species. Identification sheets and information on how to record can be found here.

Collecting samples

If you’re ready to get really stuck in, collecting air, water and soil samples is a more hands on way to get involved!

Bird ringing

Bird ringing requires basic bird identification skills and dedication as it can take up to a year of regular ringing to get your permit. Bird ringing allows conservationists to assess the movement, migration and survival of populations. It’s a big commitment but definitely worth considering if you are a keen birder or interested in working with or studying birds. More information can be found here.

Working from home

If you’d rather stay cosy indoors, you can still get involved in conservation citizen science projects. Transcribing museum records is an immense challenge, and your help would be greatly appreciated! Check out Notes From Nature for more information. Another option is to assist with efforts to understand bird colour evolution by tagging colours on specimen photographs here.

One off opportunities

If you can’t commit to surveying regularly, there are plenty of annual events that you can get involved in:

· Are you willing to observe the insects, birds and mammals in your garden? Springwatch and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are currently collecting data to help understand how our gardens support local wildlife.

· The Wildlife Trusts has collaborated with The Daily Mail for an annual wildlife census. The survey opens on July 1st, and all you need to do is tick off animals that you’ve seen in your garden between the 1st and 30th June. For more information, click here.

· Help the RSPB to investigate our wonderful garden birds by participating in the Great British Bird Watch which occurs every January.

· The Big Butterfly Count takes place from 19th July – 11th August. Download the free butterfly chart from their website and submit your records online.

I hope this has been a useful resource and given you some ideas of how to get involved. Citizen science is not only helpful for conservation research, it can become a pleasurable hobby and also give you new skills to add to your CV. We would love to hear from you in the comments if you wish to share your experiences or recommend any other projects!

Words by Danielle Shaw.

Danielle has an MRes in Conservation and Resource Management and runs the blog Natures Good News.

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