The Nature Survey: Allowing the public to help boost conservation efforts

Ladybirds are the subject of an all-Ireland nature survey
Ladybirds are the subject of an all-Ireland survey

ONE of the easiest, but most effective ways to do your bit for the local environment is to just notice what’s going on around you – and then submit your discoveries to a nature survey!

There is a plethora of nature surveys taking place throughout the island of Ireland all year round that need the public’s input. For anyone interested in helping out, it is simply a case of finding a survey that matches up to the species you are likely to come across in your area, and then keeping your eyes peeled.

History of the nature survey

The practise of conducting large-scale nature surveys dates back almost 100 years to British entomologist Nathanial Charles Rothschild, whose pioneering work in conservation remains inspirational.

Entomologist Rothschild
Conservation pioneer

In 1912, Rothschild (left) founded the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves – which would eventually evolve into The Wildlife Trusts – and in the ensuing years, used the public’s input to draw up a list of over 280 sites across Ireland and Britain that were “worthy of preservation”.

A century later, nature and humans are still benefiting from the work done by all those involved in that early conservation movement.

Despite all the advances in modern technology, today’s conservationists continue to rely on the public’s help to provide them with a picture of how native species are faring. 

Spring and summer surveys

Wildlife bodies are particularly busy at this time of the year, organising surveys for a wide variety of flora and fauna, and they are looking for people to be alert and to report any sightings.

It is very easy to find out which surveys you are likely to be able to contribute information for based on where you call home.

If you’re living in Ireland then one of your first pitstops should be the National Biodiversity Data Centre which is responsible for gathering and analysing information on the state’s biodiversity.

“Biodiversity data are a key requirement for understanding our natural surroundings, for tracking change in our environment and for gaining a greater insight to how we benefit from, and impact upon, the ecosystem goods and services provided by biological diversity; a national asset which contributes at least €2.6 billion to the Irish economy each year,” the centre says.

Species Surveys

Records are currently being compiled by the centre on invasive species and pollinators like bees and hoverflies, including rare species like the Great yellow bumblebee and the Shrill carder bee.

The Notice Nature public awareness campaign on biodiversity also provides access to a number of surveys targeting species like the hen harrier and even road-kill incidents, while the Irish Wildlife Trust is collecting information on sightings of ladybirds (All-Ireland), reptiles and otters.

Separately, Birdwatch Ireland is looking for the public’s help to gather data on urban and countryside birds, as well as issuing an appeal for volunteers to help in a survey devoted entirely to the swift, identifying breeding sites and helping boost knowledge of the amber-listed swift “so that more nests can be provided and protected”.

Swift survey
Swifts are declining at a rapid rate in Europe

In Northern Ireland, RSPB NI is issuing a similar siren call for help to survey swifts in south Belfast as they begin to arrive from late April onwards.

Training, in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, will be held from 5pm to 7pm on Thursday 28 April in the Lanyon Building. Surveys will run from the end of May to the end of July. To attend the training, please contact Philip.Carson@rspb.org.uk or call 028 9049 1547 during office hours.

Also, keep in mind that low-flying screaming swifts can indicate that a breeding colony is close by, so if you spot this behaviour make sure to add your records to the Swift Inventory at rspb.org.uk/applications/swiftsurvey.

Meanwhile, if you’re living in the North and are interested in finding out about what other surveys are taking place it’s worth checking out the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR).

CEDaR will be working with Butterfly Conservation NI to gather information on the region’s butterflies during the summer as well as other ongoing research on grasshoppers, the cuckoo, squirrels and pine marten.

CEDaR record centre manager, Damian McFerran, says that gathering information on species and habitats helps with “a wide range of projects including land management, conservation, research, planning applications and environmental impact assessments”.

Information shared nationally and globally can indicate if certain species are struggling and declining, and helps statutory bodies compile species lists and inform policy.

“Due to the scale and complexity of nature, and finite resources, we are relying more and more on the public’s involvement to records what biodiversity is around us (Citizen Science). Very often interested members of the public have fine-tuned their skills and expertise in identifying species and can make a valuable contribution to existing data for particular species groups or local areas,” says Damian.

So, no matter where you live, your contribution could provide invaluable information for conservationists and decision-makers. It’s just a case of finding the survey that suits your location and your interests and then get spotting!

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