The British Ecological Society (BES) & Société Française d’Ecologie meeting organised their annual meetings to be a joint meeting, held in Lille 9-12 December. Over the past 5 years, my journey in citizen science gave me an opportunity to reconnect to ecology, a topic in which I was interested in during my high-school years. I was also working side by side with ecologists while learning ArcInfo in the early 1990s, since the GIS laboratory at the time started in the ecology department. Because there is so much citizen science activity in the area of ecological monitoring, it is not surprising to see that the BES already include a special interest group on citizen science.
Although I’m now a member of the BES, my notes from the meeting are of visitor to the annual festival of the discipline of ecology – and include much learning of what is of interest to this discipline. In many of the talks, I have been attempting to understand the specific disciplinary terminology and what topics people see as important. Some of the workshops and sessions that I found interesting include
The workshop on “Doing and funding effective public engagement” which was organised by Helen Featherstone, and Will Gosling.
Helen Featherstone from the University of Bath (public engagement unit) and she’s been working with the BES over 18 months to assist them in public engagement. Will Gosling – University of Amsterdam and involve in the BES, interested in science communication and outreach.
The workshop started by exploring ‘What is meant by public engagement?‘. doing a lecture at the university is seen by the audience is argued by some people as not enough engagement – need to be two ways interaction with people outside research. Who is coming to the lecture? There is the issue of Q&A at the end of the lecture that makes it more interactive. Another example is being interviewed on the local radio station, this is more outreach but less interactive, though that is depending on the form, for example phone-in. Going to a music festival to do demonstration of scientific issues – it’s considered more engaging, because it’s for audience that don’t go out of their way to do it. Engagement with art was suggested to be ‘completely waste of time’ although it is dependent on how it is shared and what is the aim. The generic questions of Public Engagement are “How direct? How many people are involved? How much science? Is there an opportunity for a dialogue (e.g. in Science Cafe the emphasis on the Q@&A)?.
The UK definition – “Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.”. The workshop then explored why the public and researchers should be interested
For the public, the following points were suggested: curiosity, want to understand the natural world. If the public is asked to do things without understanding them, they will reject them, so understanding and explaining is an important part of acting. Interest in sharing lived experiences. The public want to know what their money was spent on. There is an issue of inclusiveness, and ensuring that everyone is involved. Also it was highlighted that because science is used in decision making, there is a need to provide the public with the ability to understand why thing are done to them. Generally, moving to researching with people and not ‘for’ or ‘about’.
For researchers: those who want to have impact on society, public engagement is a route for that. The public is funder and need to maintain interest in the topic. Ensuring that there is uptake of the results. The citizenship aspect of researchers engaging with society came up. Also the need for general advocacy for the investment in research. Harnessing interest and curiosity, getting information that is not possible to get otherwise (people’s backyards). Accountability to the public and how you spend their money. The issue between making paper open access and making it accessible came up. Improving communication skills as scientists. It takes you to different places and it can be fun and interesting. Reminding people why they do it in the first place.
The target audience for the activity in 2013 was adults music festival goers and professional researchers were involved and the activity was designed at this levels. The video was aimed at researchers, to encourage them to get involved in public engagement as part of BES activities, and therefore the view counts can be low – the issue is not just any number of views, but to consider who it is intended for. Through the festival, the BES had interactions with 5500 people, and some engaged quite seriously about the specific research. Some people in the event were very pleased that there was an opportunity to meet scientists in music festival. People were capable to bring in their own nature or ecology story. BES now committed to a person with a role of public engagement.
In public engagement there are questions about long term impact and how to evaluate it. Also the context of engagement came up – is it for something that is done as a family or as adults. There are differences between adults coming as themselves but when adults are with children, they become facilitators of the learning experience of the children.
The next session that I attended was ‘Long Term Monitoring of Agro-ecosystems’.
Vincent Bretagnolle – in the past 15 years, there is a stabilisation in the yield of wheat and other agricultural products and there are many other issues, so in agro-ecosystems, there is need to reduce anthropogenic pressure. Intensive agriculture in not environmental sustainable on ecosystems services and biodiversity. Need to reconcile biodiversity management, ecosystem services, and food production. Research need to be territorial in scale (landscape 450 sq km as an example). Social-ecological systems approach allows the analysis of processes at this scale. Implementing agri-environmental schemes as a way to increase support to flagship species. At the societal level, they promote several programme of citizen science to encourage people to think about complexity and uncertainty on the conditions around them. He sees it as part of social-ecological system approach. They carry out citizen science not for the purpose of collecting data, but to disseminate thinking about the environment and ecosystem services, aiming at groups of 20-40 people.
James Pearce-Higgins covered the BTOs breeding bird surveys (BBS) over 20 years – this is collaborative project with RSPB & BTO and suppoert from JNCC. The BBS replaces in 1994 the Common Birds Census which was more complex. The BBS monitor 100 bird species – 2854 volunteers in 3761 survey squares – 2013 . Stratified sampling programme to select the location of the squares. They ask people to walk two transects of 1km and each transect is divided to 5 sections and the data collected online. This allow them to convert counts to density. There is an issue of detectability which they have modelled, so for example the size is influencing the probability of detection. They check efficacy, quality and how to use the data. They provide lots of searchable information online. They analyse annual trends but there is a need to look at long, overall trend – there are very few species with very big increase, and species that are declining significantly. There is big decline in species that mgirate to africa and those that are in humid zones have special decline. There is also effect of habitats – decline in woodlands, farmland. There are strong spatial patterns – increase in species in richness as temprature increase. Generalist species are doing well, while specialists species are doing badly. There are impacts of land-use and climate change. Citizens science is the only way to get large scale monitoring of this sort of coverage which bring evidence on farmland and woodland decline, but there is need to focus on agricultural management. Volunteers reasons for participation closed the talk. A press release on BTO (my image is not clear, so I picked up citations from the press release of BTO):
I believe the data makes a very valuable contribution to the wider picture of the state of our wild bird populations, and there is no small satisfaction making the effort for this. Nick Tardivel
The achievement of reaching remote squares, after a seemingly vertical climb, with the reward of panoramic views of the Cheviots, singing Skylarks, ‘pipping’ pipits, calling Curlews, and Snipe drumming is all the incentive needed to keep going, year after year, to this beautiful part of Northumberland. Muriel Cadwallender
It’s great fun, it is always good to be out birding and recording birds; you never know what you will find – on one occasion I found the island’s first Lesser Whitethroat just after I finished the count. David Jardine
I appreciate the value of persisting with an average square of farmland, to enable the gathering of data to show just how badly our farmland birds are doing. Louise Bacon
The opportunity to take part in a bird survey in beautiful surroundings, being ‘up with the lark’ as the day wakens is great reward. So much so that I have taken on four more squares since! Andrew King
I am pleased to be a small part of an important conservation tool which makes doing the survey worthwhile. Heather Coats
2014 marks my 20th year of surveys. It is now part of my early summer; I love the excuse (and of course the prompt) to be up early and taking in the route and, like old friends, the birds I can expect to find along the way. Paul Copestake
Each visit I add a few more pieces to the ever changing pattern of bird trends both here on my patch and also in the wider countryside. Vic Fairbrother
Marc Botham covered UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme – been going on since 1976, and standardised as ‘Pollard walks‘ – 26 weekly walks annually, citizen science based. Piloted in 1973-1976 and then started at full scale from 1976. The walks are from April to September. They also carry out series of other methods that are done year after year regularly – including larval web counts and egg counts. They have over 1000 sides, of which most are from the standard way. They are gradually covering the whole area of the UK although more in the south. That allow them to analyse long term trends and there are trends that are changing with different ecological cycles – crashes and peaks which are common in butterflies. The long term trend allow to notice major decline in ‘common’ widespread species, some of them by almost 80%. The use indicators that contribute to national policy. Butterfly are doing more badly than birds and bats on the long term scale. Agri-environmental schemes where there is site-specific advice have been shown effective and monitoring can demonstrate the improvement. They are now created a wider countryside butterfly survey and ask people to take randomised 1-km square that are selected for volunteers. 2 visits a year, and that add 1000 sides for the volunteers. There are, of course, similarities between this method and BTO BBS as it is based on it.
Ondine Filippi-Codaccioni presented in the poster session an interesting piece of analysis that compared the quality, in terms of providing information that represent species distribution, between very structured citizen science and opportunistic citizen science. The abstract of the poster (edited a bit) is ‘In most cases, citizen science is associated with with loosley defined and heterogeneous data collection protocols. Opportunistic data in our case are data collected by a large number of different observers whose spatial and temporal distribution is greatly heterogeneous, the effort is usually unknown, zeros are generally unreported, and finally positive count may be reported differently or even censured according to species. To analyse such data we propose a multivariate hierarchical model with latent spatial – spatiotemporal – fields for relative abundances of each considered species. Its specificity is to account for different types of observation and for observer characteristics in distribution or behaviour. First results show that it seems possible to correct several main biases, to model count positive-only data and to infer fairly well relative density maps in a multi-species context, using a Bayesian framework and INLA R-package tools. We analysed a case study data set of several thousand observations from the French Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO, Birdlife France) to show the feasibility of such approaches and we checked the inference quality and limits on smaller simulated examples.’ In short, the study shows that by having some well calibrated and trusted observations, the opportunistic data significantly improve the model and the ability to predict were species are.
In terms of terminology, it is interesting to note that in several presentation the source of data was recognised as ‘citizen science data’ as well as recognition of their work.