GBGW 2023: Why Measuring Matters and How You Can Help

GBGW 2023: Why Measuring Matters and How You Can Help
Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

We now know that wildlife and biodiversity in the UK is in a great deal of trouble – Clare Slater wrote about this in a recent editorial for CA-WN Exchange, and the BBC Wild Isles series spelled out the scale of the problem in beautifully filmed colour.

A point made in Clare’s editorial was that biodiversity decline is being measured against a 1970 baseline. To someone like me who grew up in the 70s, it seems like a time when there was an abundance of wildlife, but at that point nature in the UK was already battered by centuries of human activity. Someone born 2 decades after me might feel the same about the 1990s. This phenomenon of shifting baseline syndrome can be dangerous as left to ourselves we fail to perceive longer term trends. Consequently accurate data records are extremely important.

Let us imagine that when children now at primary school reach their middle age they will say “there are so many more birds, bees and butterflies today than when I was a child”. How can we, as individuals, help to make this happen?

One way is to let our lawns grow, make hedgehog highways, avoid pesticides and herbicides and grow pollinator-friendly flowers, and so transform our big and small outdoor spaces into a patchwork of habitat.

Another way is to contribute to the vitally important process of collecting and analysing data, as a ‘citizen scientist’. Citizen science can be simply defined as ‘any activity that involves the public in scientific research’, and it contributes to action on the climate and ecological emergency by engaging and empowering individuals to collect and analyse data related to climate change and biodiversity decline. This can include monitoring local weather patterns and tracking changes in plant and animal populations.

For the individual, citizen science can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility to counter the helplessness many feel when faced with the rapidly materialising realities of climate change.

You may well already have joined the ranks of citizen scientists, if you are one of the 500,000+ people who took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this year, or if you have counted butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count run by the Butterfly Conservation Trust. These are both annual events but there are opportunities to contribute on a more regular basis too. This might be as part of a larger ongoing project such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beewalk, or more casual reporting of your everyday sightings.

All counties have a Biodiversity Records Centre with a website where you can upload details of your own observations and see what other people have reported. The easiest way to do this if you have a smartphone is to download the iRecord app and log your sightings on the go. These are then passed on to the relevant local expert (county recorders) for verification. As an amateur it is quite nice to get an email confirming your identification was correct! Sometimes you might have been wrong, but no problem – amend your record and learn from it.

Most citizen science projects will provide support and reference material to new participants, and there are also plenty of books and online guides. I regularly use a couple of identification apps too – Chirpomatic for birdsong (Merlin is another one), and Obsidentify for visual identification of just about anything, though I mostly use it for invertebrates and plants. These apps aren’t completely accurate all the time but help to narrow down your options. And I know Facebook isn’t for everyone but there are some great specialist groups on there. There are links to a few of these along with other useful resources at the bottom of this article.

Have a look through the available options and sign yourself up – I’ve had a go at a few things now and I’ve always had a very warm reception, so there really is nothing to fear.

· Good list of Citizen Science opportunities here - Citizen Science, Fieldwork and Sightings (

· Northamptonshire Biodiversity Records Centre

· The British Trust for Ornithology for mainly bird-related projects

· Zooniverse, for a global and very diverse selection of projects that you can work on from your desk

Facebook groups

· British Birdwatching for Beginners
· UK Bees, Wasps and Ants
· Butterflies and Moths UK

If you want to go further, the Wildlife Trust BCN offers excellent identification workshops. They also have a range of volunteering roles.

I’m sure there are lots of resources and opportunities I have missed out – please add a comment to share others that you know about.