Turning your wildlife sightings into valuable data for science!

In these strange times many of us who are lucky to have gardens and green spaces have probably spent more time in them than usual over the past few months since the Covid19 outbreak in March, and by doing so you may have noticed the varied wildlife on your doorstep a little more – from the butterflies visiting the flowers to the bats foraging above you at dusk. Jennifer Owen, author of Wildlife of a Garden, conducted a 30 year study of her own garden and recorded over 2,700 species – so you’d be surprised what you might find when you start looking.

The Big Butterfly Count is on until the 9th August 2020.

Observing the life in your garden is rewarding as it is but making a record and submitting this to the relevant recording scheme is a really simple way you can turn your evenings in the garden sipping elderflower champagne into valuable science. Scientists can use these records in research to understand the changing world around us. Questions such as ‘how species are affected by climate change’ or ‘which species are in decline or at risk’ can be investigated more successfully when we all chip in to the data collection – the bigger the data, the more accurate the research can be. Citizen science projects such as the Big Butterfly Count to the Longhorn Beetle Recording Scheme, give scientists access to a much larger (and therefore more reliable) dataset than they would be able to gather solely on their own and their research has given us important insight into the way populations are changing, which in turn enables us to direct conservation and policy changes to where it is needed.

If you are a bit more versed in species identification and want to make your own list rather than or as well as a particular recording project, you can get help with identification in various Facebook groups such as ‘Wildflowers and Plants of Norfolk and Suffolk’ (cheeky plug for my group!) or the many specific invertebrate groups. Once you have a positive identification, you can submit your records to your local county recorder or recording scheme. To find a list of different recording projects head over to the National Biodiversity Network here.

British Mammals are incredibly under recorded. The European hedgehog is in decline and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is running a recording scheme to get a better picture which can be found here.

You can also find information on local recording events to meet up with other enthusiast (when allowed) to improve your identification skills. Additionally, records can also be submitted to using iNaturalist which I believe has a great online community to help with identification, or iRecord, which is my personal preferred method. The handy app is really easy to use, and you can upload photos along with the record, which gets verified by an expert at the other end.

Penological data on emerging spring species such as the hairy footed flower bee, or the blooming of primroses, can give scientists an insight into how species are responding to climate change.

Either way, dipping your toes into the world of recording can be incredibly exciting. Not only will you find out what’s living on your doorstep, you are making a valuable contribution to the world of ecological and conservation science – and who knows, you may even find a new species!


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