I have always been fond of helping out with conservation projects and doing my bit for science, but the idea of participating in real scientific research can be a daunting thought! Luckily, you don’t need a PhD to get involved in research! Citizen science involves the work of volunteers collecting data such as water quality or monitoring of species abundance; leaving the data analysis and scientific writing to the ‘real’ scientists, (phew!) This form of data collection has been used for over a century and is particularly useful in conservation biology, environmental protection, and natural resource management.

Why is it Useful?

Projects such as the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count in the US, (which was one of the first projects of its kind) have utilised Citizen Scientists for over 115 years now. This approach broadens the scope of research as projects can run across exceptional spatial and temporal scales, expanding the horizons of what scientists can achieve.

This method of ecological data collection is useful as a lot of scientific projects are underfunded; they cannot afford to hire professional scientists when thousands of data sources are required. Scientists can speed up field detection by increasing the number of people making observations as well as picking up rare phenomena. Thereby allowing scientists to confront enormous issues such as climate change as the threat of falling biodiversity across the globe means we must have access to rapidly changing patterns of species distribution, dispersal, habitat information and population size.

This method of data collection is becoming increasingly popular with the rising accessibility of large-scale databases through the internet and Geographic Information System (GIS) enabled web applications, enabling them to complement hypothesis-driven research. With the rise in smartphone usage there has also been huge growth in app-based monitoring systems like ‘BirdWatch’. Keep an eye out for our next post, where we will discuss this technology in more detail.

How is it utilised?

Citizen Scientists can be used in monitoring projects to discover patterns across space/time and answer specific questions, such as: How many individuals of this species are there? Are there differences in species number at different times of year? The data obtained can then be utilised by government agencies, policy makers, professional scientists, and other decision makers, ultimately driving and informing management and policy decisions as well as improving public knowledge and inspiring action. Examples of how this all comes together will, again, be explored in our next post.

How to ensure you are an effective citizen scientist

Sounds good, right? There are, however, some issues with this citizen contribution toward scientific method. The biggest limitation being the requirement for specialised knowledge, training, and equipment. Projects must be correctly planned, designed, carried out and evaluated, whilst data integrity must be maintained through methods such as standardised sampling procedures and effort controls. To ensure that you are making the best contribution to projects that interest you, it is advisable to deepen your knowledge around the relevant topics and project procedures/design. By building on your understanding of important subjects such as biodiversity, conservation, ecology and natural history through our course at you can ensure you are an effective and highly useful citizen scientist.

To read more and take a look at some of the projects you can get involved in, be sure to check out our next post!



Bonney, R., et al., 2009. Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy. BioScience, 59(11), pp. 977-984.

Dickinson, J. L., et al., 2012. The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology & Environment, 10(6), pp. 291-297.

Dickinson, J. L., et al., 2010. Citizen Science as an Ecological Research Tool: Challenges and Benefits. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution & Systematics, 41, pp. 149-172.

Mckinley, D. C., et al., 2017. Citizen science can improve conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental education. Biological Conservation, 208, pp. 1-16.

Woodland Trust, 2020. Nature's Calendar; Species We Record. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 08 09 2020].

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  • BEES

This year’s Moth Night is highlighting four types of Underwing moths.

Known for displaying exceptional colours, these large moths move their beautiful, cryptic wings to expose flashes of vivid reds and pink when disturbed. This makes them convenient to spot, fascinating to research, and fantastic to photograph!

Hotter summer temperatures have impacted many organisms but the Underwing moths are thriving in Britain and Ireland ( Previously restricted to southern and central England these species are being spotted further and further north. Extremely rare species such as the Dark Crimson, Light Crimson, and Rosy Underwings have been routinely spotted in southern England and the Channel Islands, and now some species are being spotted in Wales and Scotland!

Much of the available information on moth distribution changes is currently anecdotal (although from good sources) due to a lack of data. Moth Night aims to gather more data to provide a larger comprehensive data-driven picture of moth distribution. The data feeds into ongoing efforts to create more accurate records across the UK and Ireland.

Your help is needed though. We need more information to understand how the range of different moth species is being altered by changes in climate. By banding together, we can carry out the widespread monitoring and spotting that is so important to understand changes but is very difficult for individual scientists to carry out alone. The importance of citizen research in conservation projects is starting to be recognised and valued in making vital contributions to the scientific community. It also allows everyone to help conservation efforts, even when we are unable to devote ourselves to it full time. If you care about local biodiversity, want to learn how to carry out scientific research, like a little adventure, or just want to have a bit of fun, join in with Moth Night!


Learn more about the organisations that contribute to moth monitoring and recording:

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  • BEES

Six-Spot Burnet

Here at Biodiversity and Environmental Education Society, we love taking every opportunity to help our valuable wildlife. This long weekend join us and thousands of your fellow moth-recording enthusiasts in Moth Night!

Moths are vital contributors to healthy ecosystems. Give our moths the love they deserve and join in this annual celebration organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Your help is vital to improve our knowledge of British and Irish moths.

It's easy to take part! Simply learn how to attract moths to your garden or park and start recording what you see! This will be a fun and easy activity that everyone can join in.

If contributing to biodiversity research wasn’t enough to convince you, there are also some fabulous prizes on offer! Jump on Moth Night to find out more.

Happy Recording!


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