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Citizen science projects: get involved

Rebecca Elliott / 03 July 2019 ( 09 April 2021 )

From counting butterflies and reporting invasive species to measuring light pollution and helping to tackle disease, there are lots of ways for citizen scientists to volunteer their time.

Couple counting birds
Science enthusiasts can lend their time to helping good causes, such as by recording the numbers of native and invasive species

Go rockpooling

The Wildlife Trusts run a citizen science survey to better understand the effects of pollution, climate breakdown and the impact of invasive species on our shorelines. Past research has been vital in establishing Marine Conservation Zones across the country, and in 2019 the project has been relaunched Shoresearch with even more robust methods and standardised survey techniques.

There are four types of survey needed - one for hard substrates (rocks, pebbles and shingle), one for sediment shores (sand, mud and silt), one where certain species need to be counted at a very specific time to asses distribution across the country, and finally a walking survey to chart species found in rocky intertidal zones. Find out more about Shoresearch here.

Interactive learning

NovaLabs offers a variety of online citizen-science projects for anyone to take part in, including quizzes about evolution through to sharing new research ideas with other participants. See the NovaLabs website for more.

Count wildlife

Every winter the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch gets thousands of people counting across the country, and there are other options too. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) runs Garden BirdWatch, a citizen science project that allows people to keep track of the birds they see in their garden throughout the year. The People's Trust for Endangered Species has Living With Mammals, an annual mammal count. The Butterfly Conservation Trust runs an annual butterfly count and a moth count every summer. Find out more about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, BTO Garden BirdWatchPTES mammal surveys, Great British Bee CountThe Big Butterfly Count and Mothnight.

Whale watching on a Mediterranean cruise

Passengers whale watching on a Mediterranean cruise.

Whale watch on holiday

Since 2006 Saga cruises have often included members of ORCA, a research group monitoring whales and dolphins at sea. So far tens of thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted on Saga cruises, with a record 5,866 marine mammals spotted in 2015 alone, providing very useful data for ORCA's research. On Saga cruises with ORCA all passengers are provided with complimentary binoculars in their cabins so they can take part, and the ORCA experts will share their knowledge at talks and deck watches. Find out more about the Saga cruises with ORCA on board.

Help measure light pollution

12 times a year Globe at Night invite citizen scientists to observe a particular constellation to see how many of the stars they can see. Share your findings and look back through their records to see how light pollution has been changing. Find out more on Globe at Night.

Catalogue plant collections

The UK has the largest and oldest collection of herbarium specimens in the world in its universities and museums. These plants provide an important record of plant biodiversity but most of them are undocumented, so the Botanical Society of the British Isles has organised a volunteer programme for people interested in helping document these collections. Find out more on the Herbaria@home website

Use your phone to beat Parkinson's

100 for Parkinson's is a global study that uses an app to track the lives of people with and without Parkinson's. Volunteers without Parkinson's are needed to provide a dataset to compare the results of those with the disease. Find out more on the 100 for Parkinson's website

Report invasive species

Invasive species, both plants and animals, can be damaging for the fragile biodiversity of the country, so keep your eyes peeled for certain key species. People in coastal areas can watch out for the sweetly named but invasive mitten crab. See the Non-Native Species Secretariat for their list of current threats, which currently includes the Asian hornet, carpet sea squirt, quagga mussel, killer shrimps and water primrose. Mobile phone apps are available to make identification and reporting easier, including That's Invasive, Aqua Invaders, Plant Tracker and Sealife Tracker. All are available on Apple and Android.

Record the changing climate

The Woodland Trust have set up Nature's Calendar for citizen scientists to report the climate in their area. Record your sightings to help build up a picture of what is happening across the country, from ripening berries and flowers in bloom to butterflies on the wing to birds building nests. See the Nature's Calendar site for more.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.