Did you know that you can enjoy wildlife AND help conservation science at the same time? Citizen science projects, where people around the country (or the world) make and record observations, which are then used by scientists for research, are a great way of helping gather important data.
For example, if scientists want to know how widespread across the country a particular type of plant is, or how early in the year bluebells start to bloom, you need a lot of observations to get a good spread of data. There might only be a few scientists working on this, and even with modern technology it would be hard for them to gather enough themselves. But there are thousands of people who can record that data, often just from walking in their local area or observing wildlife in their gardens.
Most citizen science projects have brilliant websites to go with them that explain what you need to do clearly and simply, and make it easy to upload your observations directly. They’ll even keep you up to date with how the research is progressing, and you can look at the data other people have uploaded too.
We want you to find out how many worms are at the bottom of your garden…and at the top…and in the middle! Worms are a great way of finding out how healthy the soil is. Soil is essential for plant health, not to mention all the millions of animals and insects that call it home, and it’s also a carbon store, trapping atmospheric carbon.
Worms are important for keeping soil healthy, but we don’t know what impact some of the gardening we do might have on them. Does moving the top soil or adding fertiliser help, harm or make no difference? These are some of the questions scientists are hoping to answer, and you can help.
All you need to do is dig two small holes and count the worms, with the whole process taking around an hour. The full list of instructions are listed on the Earthworm Watch website, and that’s also where you can upload your results.
April and May are the best time to do this, as that’s when the worms are most active. So what are you waiting for? Get surveying in your garden, school grounds or allotments.
If you’re off to the seaside this spring or summer, and like to explore the rock pools, then the Big Seaweed Search is right up your street.
The project is all about plotting where different species of seaweed can be found around the UK’s coastline. Different types of seaweed like different conditions and different temperatures: by plotting how different seaweed species are distributed, and how this changes over time, scientists hope to be able to see how things like climate change effect where these species can be found. It’s also useful for tracking alien or invasive species that aren’t native to our shores.
Seaweed is an important food source for many marine animals, so it’s important to get a good idea of whats going on with it, as it will in turn affect other organisms further up the food chain.
The beautiful bluebell is one of the iconic spring flowers: it’s beautiful to see the woodland floor painted blue by the vast swathes that emerge at this time of year.
However, the British Bluebell is under threat from an invading species, called the Spanish Bluebell. The Spanish Bluebell can also crossbreed with British Bluebells forming hybrids.
All you need to take part in this survey is some comfy shoes or wellies, and a smart mobile phone. Download a specific app onto your phone and you’ll be able to upload your information whenever you spot bluebells – it’s very simple to use.
Another flower-based citizen science project, but this time with two parts. You can either head out, spot and photograph orchids in the wild on walks, or help identify images of orchids within the collections of the Natural History Museum, London, all from the comfort of your own home.
The project is all about finding out what kind of impact climate change is having on the native orchids that live in the UK. You can upload images and the website will take you through identifying them in simple steps.
Every year, the seasons follow a similar pattern – in spring, the days get longer, the weather gets milder, the trees begin to grow leaves again, spring flowers bloom and birds and animals wake from hibernation or fly back to our shores.
But, it seems, things aren’t quite working out the way they used to. The weather has become unseasonal and unpredictable, caused by a changing climate, which can disrupt the normal patters. Working out how these have been disrupted, and what effects this might have on other species, is important.
The Nature’s Calendar project will tell you what things you need to look out for – things like the first time you see certain flowers, the first time you spot baby birds, or the first time you spot buds on a tree, as well as observing many different species of plant, animals and birds. You can record all your information on the website, and that will also show you the results they have so far. Useful, fascinating and a great class project.