Spring has ended and the summer months are upon us. Life is beginning to flourish again, and I’m not talking about the hordes of people relaxing at the park to soak up vitamin D. Squirrels and bumblebees are coming out of hibernation and common wildflowers such as daisies and buttercups are in full bloom. Soon enough, every household in Ireland will be struggling to keep ants out of honey and houseflies from circling the ceilings.
If you’re part of the two thirds of people in this country that live in an urban area, you may struggle with conceptualizing just how much wildlife is around you. So much of our lives is now on-the-go that we forget to take the time to stop and truly look at what is around us. However, as we as a generation strive to become more eco-conscious (with the pressing matter of climate change looming over our present and future), it is vital to connect with nature on a personal level; to become more aware of what we are trying to preserve and what we have left. As they say, you never realize how precious something is until it’s gone.
So, now you may be thinking: “Okay! So… what should, or can I do?”
Lucky for you, I’ve got just the answer. Citizen science! Specifically with the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
What is citizen science?
Citizen science is a way for ordinary citizens, of any age, to contribute to scientific research and datasets. With the National Biodiversity Data Centre, this involves taking clear pictures of the wildlife you come across, marking their locations, and identifying their species. This allows scientists to monitor the populations of species and where they reside, increase Ireland’s available biodiversity data (and therefore awareness), and inform people during policy and decision-making.
So, how do I start recording data?
The first method of two is recording in the moment through the Biodiversity Data Capture App. Simply download it and press CAPTURE NEW when you see something you want to record. It will then ask you to take a clear picture of the specimen, identify the species, location and habitat and provide any additional comments if you deem necessary. Keep in mind that you must stay in the spot where you spotted the specimen as the app takes notes of your coordinates. You can then save and upload your data to the NBDC where it will eventually be verified and added to its records.
The second method is through the NBDC’s official website, here: https://biodiversityireland.ie/. Scroll down on its homepage to where it says Ireland’s Citizen Science Portal – Start Recording, click the type of species you have photographed and fill out the requested information. This method is best when you aren’t currently at the site that you saw your specimen.
It takes a while to get used to, but you’ll eventually get into the groove. Through the website you’ll also be able to access a plethora of information such as online and in-person courses, data on when, where and what has been recorded through the portal, and a variety of targeted recording schemes you can get involved in.
How do I identify species?
Fret not! Even if right now you can’t tell a caterpillar from an earthworm, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to learn. From personal experience I have found that it’s easiest to focus at first on learning easily recognizable groups in abundance. Great examples include ladybugs, butterflies, and bumblebees.
You can buy identification books or little pocket guides online and in bookstores (just make sure that they’re specific to Ireland!). I’m a great fan of Zoë Devlin’s The Wildflowers of Ireland – A field guide. It’s beginner-friendly in the way that wildflowers are sorted by colour and petal count and contains real-life photographs of each specimen.
You can view her website here: http://www.wildflowersofireland.net/
If you’re really in a pickle, you can also turn to identification groups online or email the NBDC itself!
Participating in citizen science is a fantastic way to add a bit of interactivity to your walks. You learn so many new skills and develop a deeper appreciation for your local area. Not to toot my own horn, but I can now identify a fair amount more insects and flowers in comparison to what I could a year ago.
I wish you all the best of luck with your data-recording ventures!