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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works