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Citizen Science: How to make a difference

 Rising bills and busy lifestyles make it feel impossible to even think about doing something to contribute to wildlife and biodiversity conservation. According to research carried out by the ONS in 2021, over 70% of British adults see the rising cost of living to be their primary concern, with the Climate Crisis coming second. As commonplace and understandable as it is for people to be concentrated on providing for their families, scientists have warned us that we can’t carry on as we are; no matter how busy or strapped for cash we are, we’ve all got to do our bit and help the environment around us.

Luckily, there is something incredibly valuable that we can all do to contribute to the conservation of nature around us, and it doesn’t cost a thing! Protecting important habitats and learning how best to protect different species depends on the abundance and behavioural data that scientists and conservationists have access to, and anyone can contribute to this!

Citizen science is all about the general public participating in collecting and submitting data for scientific endeavours that scientists can use to develop knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. Citizen science projects reach further and have a greater impact than ever before, thanks to the internet and the development of social media and smartphones. There are thousands of citizen science projects sharing data across the world, all to make sure the lessons we learn about conserving wildlife are accessible to everyone. 

One example of citizen science helping conservation projects to succeed is the tracking of sea turtle species throughout Latin America and the Caribbean through the likes of Widecast, and the Cooperative Marine Turtle Tagging Programme. Thanks to these projects, nesting female turtles are being tagged in their thousands across the continent, logged online, and when these individuals are spotted again, they are registered for all involved to see. This citizen science project is helping conservationists to get a better picture of the abundance of different species, their movements, and their tendencies across an entire continent. There have even been reports in recent years of some endangered sea turtle species recovering!

If you have a garden or an area with a bird feeder, you can tally the species of bird and insect that you see. If you have young children, why not go on a weekly scavenger hunt to log critters in your area? If you’re on a run, keep a note of what you spot! If you happen to live somewhere particularly rural and undisturbed, you might even sight something rare or endangered, mammals included! By logging what you spot in your area online, you’ll be contributing to biodiversity data used by the people trying to protect Key Biodiversity Areas, connect precious habitats, and devise ways to prevent species in our country from becoming endangered or going extinct.

Right now just in the UK, there is a push for coastal residents to log seaweed varieties for scientists to see what is happening with rising sea temperatures, the RSPB is encouraging everyone to become a birdwatcher so we get a better idea of the changes in migration patterns, and there are numerous projects for the logging of bee, butterfly and wildflower species in people’s gardens - all crucial for our ability to support the pollination of crops in the near future. There are even some citizen science projects set up for those lucky residents living on coasts visited by whales, and surprisingly for those living near to a network of hotspot road verges home to the rare Hazel Dormouse!

It’s free and simple to contribute to citizen science projects near you that are contributing to wildlife conservation. So long as you have a smartphone or access to a computer, you can find local projects, register an account, identify your local species, and log what you see! If you do one new thing this Spring, find a citizen science project for conservation near you!

If you’re not sure what to look for, we can suggest looking for information with your local Wildlife Trust, the Natural Biodiversity Network, the Biological Records Centre, the RSPB, or even just downloading iRecord and iNaturalistUK on your smartphone to get started.

Article written by Native to Earth Founder, Jordanne Wood

Facts and statistics were correct on the publication date.

Sources available upon request.