Citizen Science Projects – How you can get involved!

The popularity of citizen science projects is growing and it is now easier than ever for you to take part and contribute to science. No experience necessary! Many of these projects take the form of a survey and are very simple to complete and do not require a huge amount of time.

But why should we survey? Wildlife surveys (with your help) are fundamental for the conservation of biodiversity as they enable us to:

• Assess population trends & conservation status – set conservation priorities
• Plan conservation actions and assess efficiency of management e.g. in protected areas
• Assess populations for economic purposes (e.g game birds)
• Inform policy on wildlife and habitat management
• Indices of ‘ecosystem health’ – e.g. Bird populations = Sustainable Development Indicator for the UK
• Test ecological theory – improve knowledge underpinning conservation work.

I have listed (in no particular order) 10 citizen science projects that you can get involved with in a matter of minutes. They are all really easy to sign up to and experience is not something to worry about as there is plenty of guidance to help you along the way! I hope you feel inspired to sign up to one of these projects or one of your own, if so please do let me know!

1. Snapshot Serengeti 
This is one of my personal favourites due to my love of camera traps. However, often there is just too much data to go through, particularly if you’ve got hundreds scattered around Serengeti National Park! This site allows users to view images and identify species from a list provided and is really easy and fun to use! Don’t know what the species is? Don’t worry, you’re not expected to know everything, plus there are very handy tools available to help you narrow a species down. It’s great to know that you’re helping researchers to answer intriguing questions such as how carnivores coexist.

2. Wildflower Count 
Our common wildflowers are indicators of how healthy our countryside is so what better excuse than to recruit all you lovely folk to carry out your own wildflower count! This can completed close to home and you are even provided with a handy ID guide with 99 of the UK’s wildflowers along with a survey sheet and guidance notes. All the data collected goes in to the National Biodiversity Network database, which is freely available for all to access so get counting!

3. Whale.fm 
Cetaceans communicate in a complex manner due to their sophisticated sensory organs. This project aims to improve our understanding of whale and dolphin communication which still remains poorly understood. This project is easy to use and there is a handy tutorial to get you started. You are shown a spectrogram of a certain call and after listening you can attempt to match it to other calls from the projects database. By taking part you are helping to answer questions such as ‘How large is the call repertoire of pilot whales?’

4. Mammals on Roads 
Around one million mammals are killed on UK roads each year. As morbid as this sounds, roadkill provides us with important clues about the state of wild animal populations. Data collected from thousands of volunteers over many years has contributed to important documents that drive conservation efforts in the UK such as the State of Nature Report released this year. This survey runs between 1st July-30th September 2013 and you can take part by downloading the app which logs your route, allowing you to record animals you spot along the way or by downloading the survey pack.

5. National Owl Pellet Survey 
Owl pellets are not only obvious signs of presence but as they contain the bones of numerous small mammals, they can therefore be used to obtain information on the local distributions of small mammals. Analysing these pellets over a period of time can reveal trends and variations in numbers, which is particularly important in documenting any declines. All you need to do is submit any pellets you find for analysis to your nearest volunteer!

6. Footprint Tunnel Survey 
These cheap non-invasive tunnels are a great way of finding out what furry critters are in your garden. Tunnels are set with ink pads, which mammals walk over to reach bait you’ve left inside, leaving footprints on special paper as they do so. Again, there’s a handy ID guide to help you identify species and you can easily submit your records to the mammal society, which goes towards the National Mammal Atlas project. I have recently purchased one of these tunnels so will dedicate a post to any finds!

7. The Big Butterfly Count 
As we remain hopeful for the warm weather to return across the UK you can sign up to the world’s largest survey of butterflies. Once you’ve signed up all you need to do is pick a place, see how many butterflies and moths you can spot in 15 minutes and submit your results online. It could not be any simpler! Don’t forget to download your handy ID chart! You can even submit on the move with the big butterfly app so get counting!

8. National Bat Monitoring Programme 
The National Bat Monitoring Programme has a number of different of surveys which are designed to allow anybody to take part, catering to different levels of experience and knowledge. For example, beginners can take part in the sunrise/ sunrise survey (you can do both if you wish – more data!) that takes place annually throughout June, July and August. You can simply relax in your garden and count how many bats you see (try identify them if you can) and what direction they are flying from.

9. Big Garden Bird Watch 
The next watch will be on the weekend of 25-25th January 2014. All you need to do is record the highest number of each bird species you see at the same time. Don’t count the total over the hour as you may get the same birds visiting more than once. Also, be careful to only count those birds that land within your garden – not flying over. With data from so many gardens, a snapshot of bird numbers across the UK can be created to highlight any population changes.

10. BioBlitz 
These are fantastic events whereby expert naturalists and members of the public work together to do a fast and intensive survey of all forms of life in a natural space. Everything you find is recorded and submitted into national databases that monitor our wildlife. Head over to the website to find the nearest event to you or you could even set up your own BioBlitz in your back garden!

So these are just a few examples of how you can get involved! Not only are these projects a good excuse to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer whilst contributing to science, but they are also a great way of developing your own knowledge and experience. So get signing up and have fun this summer!


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