In recent years, a growing number of projects and organisations have been engaging members of the public in research as ‘citizen scientists’. This often takes the form of activities such as, conducting experiments, completing surveys, or in the case of the Blooms for Bees app, submitting photographs of bumblebees and the flowers they are feeding on.
‘Citizen science’ as a concept seems to really polarise opinion within the world of wildlife recording. On the one hand, you have those who declare that it is a government-generated plot designed to save money and do (poor and ineffectual) science on the cheap – generating masses of inaccurate data that then corrupts national datasets. On the other hand, and I like to think I sit in this camp, you have people who believe we have a responsibility to involve diverse audiences in wildlife recording/research alongside professionals because it can produce great data if designed and managed well, as well as helping to popularise science and generating support/action for important conservation issues.
I was happy to join the Blooms for Bees team back in June, because I could see it was a great project that had expert verification and feedback built into the design. We take your photos and check them for accuracy. If the insect has been misidentified, there is no embarrassment, no criticism or belittling, we simply turn them into accurate records.
Over 90% of all photos submitted have produced accurate records, even if many of them were provisionally misidentified. That is such an impressive statistic and is only possible because citizen scientists (you) took the trouble to photograph bees and submit the records. True teamwork and sound science. I’m labelled a bee ‘expert’, but ask me to identify beetles or spiders and I’m a novice. Identification can be hard, even when you are an experienced naturalist.
The other great thing about citizen science is that it can now be designed around the potential of modern technology such as mobile phones, apps and the general power of the internet. For groups like bumblebees, photography is a powerful tool and some smart phones take unbelievably high resolution images (often a lot higher than the average camera). That means that participants do not need to be experienced photographers, they just need to compose, point and press. What might look like a tiny bee image in a big photo can be downloaded from our website and then magnified using the zoom tool on every computer. It is amazing how clear that tiny bee image often is. With good broadband, you can then submit that high resolution image to the project in just a few seconds, and we can give you feedback equally easily.
I find it all very inspiring and wonder what a Victorian naturalist, or even a naturalist in pre-internet or pre-digital camera days would make of it. But the simple fact is, science should be popular and people of all sorts should be able to contribute. Blooms for Bees is a shining example of citizen science. Thanks again for your input.