Citizen science

Reliable, large-scale species monitoring programmes are necessary to combat biodiversity loss. Many conservation organizations rely heavily on volunteers for collecting such field data, and these organizations are often expected to achieve tasks for which funding is insufficient. It is therefore crucial to deploy amateur volunteers effectively while simultaneously ensuring data veracity. We have drawn on a decade’s experience of hosting more than ninety Earthwatch volunteer teams, comprising over 800 self-paying and sponsored participants. We have discussed (i) why different sectors of society show varying inclination to volunteering, (ii) what benefits corporate sponsors might expect from sending their employees on environmental volunteering programmes, and (iii) the pros and cons for the scientists of involving volunteers in their research. We have demonstrated the potential advantages and disadvantages of using volunteers in field research.

Christina D. Buesching
Eleanor M. Slade
Chris Newman
Terhi Riutta
Philip Riordan
David W. Macdonald


Macdonald, D.W., Newman, C., Buesching, C.D. & Tattersall, F.T. (2002) Volunteer mammal monitors: measuring the professionalism of amateurs. In: Ensus 2002: Marine Science and Technology for Environmental Sustainability. School of Marine Science and Technology, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. ISBN: 0 7017 0148 X.

Newman, C., Buesching, C.D. & Macdonald, D.W. (2003) Validating mammal monitoring methods and assessing the performance of volunteers in wildlife conservation – “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies. Biological Conservation, 113: 189-197.

Buesching, C.D. & Newman, C. (2005) Volunteers in ecological research: Amateur Ecological Monitors: the benefits and challenges of using volunteers. Bulletin of the British Ecological Society 36: 20-22.

Root, T.L., Liverman, D. & Newman, C. (2006) Managing biodiversity in the light of climate change: current biological effects and future impacts. In Key Topics in Conservation Biology. Ed. D.W. Macdonald. Pp85-104. Blackwells, UK.

Buesching, C.D., Clarke J.R., Ellwood, S.E., King, C., Newman, C. & Macdonald, D.W.(2010). The Mammals of Wytham Woods.  Pp173-196. In: Wytham Woods: Oxford’s Ecological Laboratory. Oxford University Press, Oxford (eds) Savill, P.S., Perrins, C.M., Kirby, K.J. & Fisher, N. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 263p.

Silvertown, J., Buesching, C. D., Jacobson, S. K., & Rebelo, T. (2013). Citizen science and nature conservation. Key topics in conservation biology, 2, 127-142.

Buesching, C. D., Newman, C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2014). How dear are deer volunteers: the efficiency of monitoring deer using teams of volunteers to conduct pellet group counts. Oryx, 1-9.

Macdonald, D.W., Raebel, E.M.,  Newman, C.&  Feber, R (2015) War or Peace: farming and wildlife. Wildlife Conservation on Farmland Volume 2: Conflict in the Countryside.

Chandler, M., See, L., Buesching, C.D., Cousins, J.A., Gilles, C., Kays, R.W., Newman, C., Pereira, H.M. & Tiago, P. (2017). Chapter 9: Involving Citizen Scientists in Biodiversity Observation. In: The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks. M. Walters & R.J. Scholes, Eds. Springer.