Citizen science projects are becoming ever more popular, with new applications developed all the time. Conservation charities are not being left behind in this field, with more and more opportunities for enthusiastic and often expert volunteers to get involved – skip to the end for details of some fantastic projects.
In many ways, citizen science is not a new phenomenon. The earliest naturalists, who collected specimens on perilous voyages across the globe, were citizen scientists – privileged and well-connected it’s true, but nonetheless amateurs who built-up natural sciences into a key branch of academic study. Volunteers and amateur enthusiasts have continued to collect biological records in the UK to this day: hundreds of years’ worth of data now forms the basis of biological record centres, which make possible long term monitoring of biodiversity and habitat change assessment.
The recent proliferation of citizen science projects has been driven by mobile technology in the form of smartphones, with freely available apps enabling data collection. These developments have meant that every nature lover is now a walking source of high quality biological records data complete with a GPS, HD camera, microphone and many other features perfect for recording data.
The value of citizen science to the research community is being increasingly recognised, with the amount time volunteered estimated to be worth millions of pounds. The greatest area of participation is in bird monitoring – monitoring the state of bird populations in the UK would cost ten times more if not for the contribution of volunteers. In many cases the data collected becomes part of publicly accessible databases where it can be utilised time and again.
Projects such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch get plenty of media coverage, but there are a plethora of others out there – all the UK’s major conservation organisations and wildlife charities have opportunities to get involved, so see below for some great ways to contribute this summer.
Big Seaweed Search
What is it? A project run by the Natural History Museum and the Marine Conservation Society to monitor the effect of sea temperature rise, ocean acidification, and the spread of non-native species. It involves searching for 14 seaweed species, the distribution and abundance of which may be affected by these changes.
When and where? All year round and anywhere on the UK seashore.
What do I do? Survey a 5m wide strip of ground running from the top of the shore to the beach recording the target seaweeds along the way. Time taken: less than one hour.
Ancient Tree Recorder
What is it? The Woodland Trust maintains the Ancient Tree Inventory, which aims to map and protect ancient trees in the UK. Trees can live for thousands of years and are an ecological metropolis, providing homes for a huge number of species, yet they have little or no protection. This project aims to raise the profile of these trees by (quite literally) putting them on the map.
When and where? Across the UK, all year round.
What do I do? Look out for old trees. They’ll have a fat trunk and other signs of a long a full life, such as decay and broken branches. Record the grid reference of the tree using the online map. Identify the species and measure its girth with a tape measure. Your tree will then be verified by the Woodland Trust.
Apps? The Woodland Trust has a handy app for identifying British trees, but you’ll need to submit your ancient tree record via their website.
Great Eggcase Hunt
What is it? Run by the Sharks Trust to monitor the distribution and abundance of sharks, skates & rays in the UK via their eggcases. Tough and leathery eggcases are laid on the seabed but often wash up on the seashore where they form a great source of data.
When and where? Year round on UK beaches.
What do I do? Record a chance discovery or survey a whole beach – it’s up to you! Identify and record your discoveries at www.sharktrust.org/en/record_your_eggcase
Apps? Yes. Apps for Apple and Android – search for ‘ST Eggcase’.
Big Butterfly Count
What is it? A survey of butterflies and day-flying moths, which has grown to become the biggest in the world. Butterflies and moths react very quickly to environmental change making them an excellent early warning sign of possible effects on other wildlife.
When and where? 20th July – 12th August. Records are welcome from anywhere – gardens, parks, fields and forests.
What do I do? Spend 15 minutes in sunny weather counting butterflies and moths. Submit multiple records from different places or the same place on different dates.
Apps? Yes – ‘big butterfly count’ for Android and Apple.
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