Supporting Citizen Scientists

December 8, 2020

A partnership between WildCRU and the charity Butterfly Conservation, funded by Oxford University’s Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund, is helping to find out more about the impact of digital communications on citizen science research. Citizen science has tremendous potential for engaging the public in research and for generating valuable data. One scheme, the National Moth Recording Scheme, run by Butterfly Conservation, is one of the largest environmental citizen science schemes in the UK, generating datasets that are used by scientists to underpin national assessments of biodiversity change and environmental research. A network of over 100 volunteer coordinators (County Moth Recorders) play a vital role, by receiving, verifying and computerising moth records contributed by the public.

Working with Butterfly Conservation, we conducted an online survey of County Moth Recorders to seek their opinions and experiences of their work. In particular, we asked about the opportunities and challenges that the digital environment presents for them. The survey results suggest that a big increase in numbers of moth records being submitted by members of the public, together with new data handling technologies, and more social media interactions have greatly increased the work of County Moth Recorders. Information from the survey will be used to tailor and target support for the volunteers, to help meet these challenges.

WildCRU’s Dr Ruth Feber, who led the work, said “Biological recording provides vital evidence to help tackle pressing environmental issues such as habitat loss and climate change. The work of expert volunteers such as County Moth Recorders is crucial to the success of recording schemes. We hope this project will be useful to Butterfly Conservation and their volunteers, and lead to wider benefits for public engagement in wildlife conservation and environmental change.”

Dr Nigel Bourn, Butterfly Conservation’s Chief Scientist said “Understanding our expert volunteers, their issues, motivations and their needs is vital for Butterfly Conservation, as they are an integral part of our work to document the changing nature of our Lepidoptera. By working with WildCRU on this survey we will be able to refine our engagement and support to our volunteers, to ensure that we continue to build on the successes of our citizen science projects.”

  • Elephant Hawk Moth. Copyright Guy Riddoch
  • Ghost Moth. Copyright Ruth Feber