The Nature Room

How you can help the planet through citizen science projects

June 01, 2020 Ashley Coates Season 1 Episode 4
The Nature Room
How you can help the planet through citizen science projects
Chapters
The Nature Room
How you can help the planet through citizen science projects
Jun 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Ashley Coates

If you are interested in taking a hands-on approach to protecting nature, there are loads of fascinating citizen science projects you can take part in - some don't even require you to leave your desk, others involve looking at lovely pictures of penguins...or listening to bird song. There is something for everyone so check them out!

Show Notes Transcript

If you are interested in taking a hands-on approach to protecting nature, there are loads of fascinating citizen science projects you can take part in - some don't even require you to leave your desk, others involve looking at lovely pictures of penguins...or listening to bird song. There is something for everyone so check them out!

Speaker 1:

A few years ago, I took part in one of the stranger activities that I have voluntarily submitted myself to. I went down to the temps for sure , near Hammersmith and spent the best part of an hour on , um , I think it was Saturday morning, digging up other peoples used wet wipes. Uh , this was part of 10 to 20 ones, big wet wipe count to 2018. What it is is this charity gets a large group of volunteers together to go down to the foreshore and we're each given a single square meter quadrant and you measure how many wet wipes you can pick up in that area. And I think we're all in some groups of four, I was amazed to find looking back just now that we pulled up 250 wet wipes just in that single square meter on the tennis riverbank. And most people would not be aware that there at all. Uh, if you walk past it in total, just in that morning, 10 21 found 5,000 wet wipes in an area, half the size of a tennis court, which is remarkable. Um, it's a quirk of the fact that London for all its many innovations and as much as the Thames has got a lot cleaner in recent years, the sewer still overflow. If there's a particularly large amount of rain. And even though you're not meant to put wet wipes down the toilet , people still do, and they ended up washed up on the riverbank. I think more distressingly than this brick reflectivity of actually pulling them up and being so close to this stuff was actually, if you stood on the other side of the riverbank , you could see , um, just how these wet wipes basically created their own landscape. So there were so many of them. There's now hundreds of thousands of these wet wipes that their compactors and compacted and created these sort of mounds, which you'd assume were a natural part of the river, but they're not there. They're always all made of wet white . Um, obviously the big wet wipe count did not take place this year for obvious reasons. Um, I can only assume it's going to happen in future years and although I've made it sound kind of disgusting, I really recommend doing it cause the data's very important. Um , I've put together this episode just to flag a few citizen science projects, which I've been aware of in the last few years, they're mostly ones that you can still do. So you can go and do them by yourself and not get in anyone's way or break any rules depending on where you live. Of course. Um , there's some that you can do at your desk that some that's probably good, just go out and do a walk or that kind of thing. It's just logging insects and taking photographs. Um, I hope you find this useful and I hope you choose to do a few of these

Speaker 2:

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Speaker 1:

Perhaps you're the kind of person who likes to get up at four in the morning, or maybe you like Birdsong. Ideally if you're both, the Dawn chorus website might be the citizen science project that you have been waiting for. It was created by a professor, Michael Gorman of the bio Topia museum in Munich, Germany. And it's a very simple principle. He realized that locked down meant that cities are quite a lot quieter and it would be the ideal time for people to record Birdsong where they live. And so the website is asking you to put a device outside, typically your phone and record the Birdsong that occurs right where you live and stick it on the website where it will be used for, for research. Uh , in the last month, they've managed to get 3000 bird songs uploaded onto this website, which is really incredible. And the guardian this weekend is profiling. One of them, it was recorded in Carshalton, which is here in the UK. And it's really interesting because you get to identify which birds are appearing when, so it begins with blackbirds and Robbins at about four 20. It then progresses to pigeons. And then of course the rather annoying and loud ring, neck parakeets start , um , making all sorts of noises , um, they yet to progress down to the Southwest of England. So we've been spared that particular invasive species so far. Um, so there's a lot that you can learn and there's a lot that the wider scientific community can learn by doing this. So absolutely , um, do some recording and upload it to that website. Now, one of the absolute standout citizen science projects of recent years has to be the iron naturalist app. It's a great little tool. You can download it onto your phone. You can also use it on your desktop. Quite simply, you take a picture of something that you've observed outside and insect or a bird or plant fungus, whatever it happens to be you then put it onto this website, put the date and the location of where you have seen this. And then other people on that website will help you identify it. If you don't know what it is, you can also put up your suggestion of what you think it might be. It is if you're like me and you like spreadsheets and categorizing things , um, almost as much as you link insects, then it is it's like catnip. It could be quite kind of addictive. I logged in earlier to see that the site was promoting someone who had observed a thresher shark, which is a spectacular looking kind of shark. I'm jumping out of the water , uh , which made my observations about red tail bumblebees look slightly less exciting. Um, but I also that near where I live, someone had observed a fungus called the trooping crumble cap, which grows on trees. And , uh , it looks kind of interesting. So again, that's the original reason for having the app was to that's now something that I can go look at. Other people who are using the app can go and see it actually started as a master's project, which just goes to show if perhaps if you were on a master's right now , um, you could well be on the verge of creating something this useful. Um, it's unlikely, but I don't know , give it a go at the other thing I would say about it is unlike some other projects, you don't need to kind of appear for it for an hour. It's not sort of set timeframe or set location or anything like that. It's not that taxing. You can, it's kind of a compliment to your daily walk or however, often you get out, you can kind of pick it up and drop it as, and when you like so very satisfying thing to have, and , um, I would urge you to download it if you don't already have it

Speaker 3:

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Speaker 1:

So today, as I am recording this, I am in the Southwest of England and the temperature is sort of in the mid twenties and the pollen count is now VH for very high. Um , this means that I'm stuck in doors . And if like me, you suffer from the high pollen count and going around counting insects is off the agenda. Good news. You can in fact, do a lot of these projects from your desk. Uh , conveniently there was a website called Zooniverse fantastic name and a myriad of projects on there where you can help research teams, count animals and observe their photographs , uh , look at documents and help them along with their , with their work. One of the most eye catching projects on there is penguin watch. It's as wonderful as it sounds. You get to log in and basically just look at pictures of penguins for as long as you like . There's about 15,000 people who've logged in there and done that and made 750,000 classifications in the process. The idea is to try and get a better picture of why penguin populations are in decline typically in , in remote regions. So you log in given a selection of pictures to look at. And typically, depending on the project, you tag things like this is an adult penguin, this is a chick, this is an egg. So it's not too taxing. And the people who run this project who are based at the university of Oxford, they reckon that anyone above the age of five , uh , can make a contribution. So it might be worth something that school children can look into and do. And it's a very wholesome activity. The people running it to think it's now about 97% complete. And the success of penguin watch has spawned a sister project called seal watch, see , watch again is a similar concept. It's, it's hard to analyze the lives of animals that live in , in regions that are difficult to get to and difficult for researchers to spend significant amounts of time in. So what you're doing on that website is it is a similar thing or tanking time-lapse and drone photographs. Um , that site has just over 2000 volunteers, but it's only 2% complete. So , um, definitely worth getting, getting on there and , and sorting that out. If seals and penguins are not your thing and that's entirely possible, then there's also parts of the website where you can look at things, lengthy, Western burrowing, owl, or beluga whales and Churchill river at there's also a fascinating project run by the natural history museum in London called project plumage. And they're inviting people to look at the enormous collection they have of taxidermied birds. The aim of the project is to get a better understanding of the extent of bird coloration across all 10,000 living bird species. Now bearing in mind that there's been this relatively recent discovery, that birds can also see an ultraviolet light, as well as visible light, you'd be doing , uh , the museum , uh, and our general understanding of biodiversity, a huge favor by helping with that, it would also be silly of me to not mention one . I'm talking about the naturalists museum, not to bring up the big seaweed search. This is a project the museum does in collaboration with the Marine conservation society here in the UK. It's much as it sounds, you go down to your beach and again, you can incorporate this into a beach walk or other activity. You might be planning anyway, take their survey with you. And they're going to UK seaweed species, and you just need to survey a stretch of beach that , that you can allocate yourself. Um, look at the species that you see occurring down the foreshore and send that information back to the museum. Uh, the aim of this particular project is to get a grip of , uh , the extent of ocean certification of which , um , seaweed health is a marker. Uh , you're also looking out for invasive species. So a lot of this is you're looking for native species, but also , um, species that are moving here as a consequence of climate change. And I I've actually done this one. I went down to the seven estery , which is what counts as coast in this part of the world and had a little look and found a , just a huge amount of channeled rap . So perhaps not the most exciting find, but the good news was that on my particular trip, I wasn't seeing much of the years climate change markets, which the museum , uh , and the Marine conservation society are concerned about us finding

Speaker 2:

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Speaker 1:

I'm going to quickly bounce over to another great British institution. And that is the Royal Botanic gardens of Kew unsurprisingly. They have a whole range of fantastic citizen science projects. Um, you can read the 19th century letters of sir Joseph Dalton hooker and help the museum transcribe those. You can go into the, her barium collection that Andy from Gary and collections , um, I've actually done that myself. Um, it's a very satisfying thing to do you get to just spend , uh , however, as long as you like looking at these are old volumes cataloging, the , um, the expeditions that various cure researchers have done , um, in the past. Um, and while we're on the subject of cue , that gardens are actually opening , um, in the coming week. So if you can , um, I think there's some sort of , um, in-out system, but , um , worth checking that out. So in summary, that is a huge amount of you can go and do you don't even have to leave the comfort of your own home and you can be contributing to incredibly valuable scientific projects run by the best institutions in the world , um, from your garden, from your desk on your walk, at the beach , uh , there's endless possibilities. And I th I would urge you to give one of them a try.