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How about a spot of Citizen Science?

In today’s busy world, how much do you notice of Nature around us, whether it be the change in season or appearance (or disappearance, for that matter) of familiar flora and fauna?  Which creatures do you most enjoy seeing if you are out for a walk?  Do you keep a note of what you’ve seen and when?  If so, then why not share it around! Whether in Urban or rural areas, or in little pockets of ‘Public Open Space’ there is always something of Nature to be seen.

Every year, as winter fades away, I look for my ‘First sign of Spring’.  It is always the same, a row of Salix (willow) trees along my regular walk are always the first to bloom into a vision of yellow and just as soon as the sun is out, are covered in the first bees, hungry for food.  In the weeks after this display, I know to start looking in local woodland for lesser celandine and wood anemones, all hinting at the ground warming and of new growth.

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On a bigger scale than keeping a personal diary, there are a number of Nature surveys that everyone can contribute to by sharing what they see – Citizen Science!   The records which are received are collated and compared with previous years’ data and from this, increases or decreases in numbers of familiar insects, birds and animals can be seen as well as how Nature is adapting to climate change.  This information can then be used to identify why some species are struggling and may contribute towards remedial steps being taken by raising awareness of how to try and help, for example, holes in fences for hedgehogs and feeding them in the autumn to help them survive hibernation.

Many of the surveys are also a brilliant way of teaching children to see and learn the natural world around them and to enjoy the creatures that share wherever their ‘outdoor’ space is, either by themselves or as a family or school activity.

A good starting point, in January, could be ‘The RSPB  Big Garden Birdwatch’ This survey, which takes an hour, on a specific weekend, helps to record the numbers of birds which visit our gardens and helps to identify increases and decreases in what we consider to be our ‘regulars’ and considers the reasons in changes.   

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Through The Woodland Trust, there is ‘Natures Calendar’ where there is a continual study of the times of recurring natural phenomena (phenology) in relation to climate.  Their records go back to the 1600’s and are some of the longest held in the UK and contribute to other similar international studies. The information collected by individuals across the country, helps to illustrate not only how quickly the seasons progress by the appearance of specific species, but also indicate, as the climate changes over the years, how nature adapts.  Portents of spring for example are the first sightings of swallows, seven spot ladybirds, new oak leaves, orange tip butterflies and hawthorn.  These are all familiar to us, but from the dates of sightings, they were able to calculate how fast spring travelled up the country!

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The calendar continues throughout the year and there is plenty of information to help identify the flora and fauna recorded.

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So next time you are out for a stroll, look around, enjoy and why not share what you see as well?

Wendy Cooper, working at Landscape Achitects Liz Lake Associates in Stansted.