Your countryside needs you: call for citizen scientists

Members of the public are being urged to become "citizen scientists" by recording their sightings of local wildlife in order to combat the global extinction of species.

Professional conservationists want the public to become the eyes and ears of a global initiative designed to encourage informed amateurs to monitor wildlife in order for scientists to assess whether any particular species is in decline relative to previous years.

The aim is for ordinary people to enter their sightings on a worldwide professional database that scientists can then use to assess the "baseline" population of a species. Researchers have been worried for many years that they have little idea of the natural or normal population density of many species.

A study into the historical records of game birds such as pheasants, partridges and quails – one of the best-documented avian groups – has found that even this extensive database of historical records, kept by museums and game bird societies, does not give a truly accurate representation of the birds' numbers.

The database consisted of some 170,000 records collected over the past 200 years on 127 different species of galliformes, a group that includes game birds, almost a third of which are threatened. The researchers obtained data from museums, the scientific literature, bird-ringing records, bird atlases and the blogs of birdwatchers.

"We wanted to see whether it's possible to reconstruct the biodiversity picture for this groups of birds. We found different data sources gave different pictures of biodiversity but none of them gave the complete picture," said Elizabeth Boakes of Imperial College London, the lead author of the study, which was published in the online journal PLoS Biology.

Over the past 30 years, wildlife monitoring in general has concentrated on rare or endangered species living in areas of rich biodiversity. However, there is a growing need to keep accurate records of more common species inhabiting less diverse parts of the world, Dr Boakes said.

"The lack of recent data on common species and areas of low biodiversity is extremely concerning. We need people's help to record the birds they see, however commonplace, or bird-watching websites. We think this kind of citizen science will be key to future conservation research," Dr Boakes said.

"People may not think that they are helping much by recording the date they saw a pigeon in central London, say, but actually it could make a big difference as we do not know what threats species might encounter in the future," she said, citing the loss of sparrows in recent years from British cities.

"We also urge websites to standardise data entries, for example by asking that sightings are directly plotted on to an online map. In this way we can all help to create an accessible, comprehensive and permanent record of biodiversity," she added.

Conservationists have realised that many of the records for species that had been considered the natural baseline populations, are in fact still unnatural due to the influence of human activity. This makes it difficult to formulate conservation policies aimed at restoring habitats to their "pristine" state.

"For example, we might attempt to restore a Caribbean reef to its state when studies of reef ecology began, say 50 years ago, but this will be far removed from its pristine condition of a few hundred years earlier," Dr Boakes said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links