For many of us it can often be difficult to find the time to help the planet and get involved in conservation. As an A-level student, with a part-time job, I find it tricky to schedule helping the environment into my everyday life, so I was really pleased to discover that I could be part of large-scale environmental research projects without having to give up too much of my limited spare time.
Citizen science projects involve the general public taking part in data collection to produce useful information, on a huge scale, for larger organisations to analyse and use to help preserve and protect wildlife and the natural environment. Personally, I enjoy taking part in citizen science as it is particularly relevant to the A-levels I take (biology, geography and psychology). It enables me to do my bit for the environment, whilst also allowing me to expand my scientific knowledge that links in with my subjects. Another appealing aspect of citizen science is that anyone can get involved, from a child to an octogenarian, regardless of expertise. A great way to get started is by taking part in the RSPBs Big Garden Birdwatch in January.
“Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?” – Sir David Attenborough
Having lost around 38 million of one of Attenborough’s favourite animals from UK skies in the last 50 years, it seems more important than ever to look after British birdlife. The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s biggest wildlife survey and it’s really easy to take part in; Simply count the birds you see in your garden, from your balcony or in your local park for one hour between 28 and 30 January 2022. The data you produce from the survey helps conservationists increase their understanding of climate change and how it affects populations, habitat locations, migration patterns, bird diseases and species diversity in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
When taking part in the survey last year, I had the privilege of recording a pair of goldfinches that loved eating seeds from our patch of wild flowers. There are many ways you can make your outside space more attractive to birds, irrespective of its size. Top of your to-do list should be increasing your provision of habitat and nesting sites. Installing nest boxes in sheltered areas, away from potential predators, is the best way to do this. These could include open-fronted nest boxes which are ideal for robins or wrens, which should be placed low to the ground, hidden by shrubs and other plants or nest box ‘terraces’ that are designed for sparrows who prefer to breed in colonies. Growing bird-friendly plants not only benefits wildlife but also reduces greenhouse gases in the environment. Berry-rich trees and shrubs like rowan, hawthorn, guelder rose and holly are all great natural food sources and also provide shelter. Finally, setting up fresh water and feeders will attract birds but be cautious of the impact of over-feeding dominant species.
Being a citizen scientist can be extremely rewarding and it’s so easy to take part. Make sure to use your new-found bird spotting skills to look out for other citizen science projects that I will be writing about during the year. In the meantime, happy bird watching!