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Q&A: Smriti Safaya introduces the inaugural York City Nature Challenge

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Q&A: Smriti Safaya introduces the inaugural York City Nature Challenge

Working with others in the University of York, Smriti Safaya has spent the past 8 months galvanizing students, staff and members of the public to help launch the inaugural York City Nature Challenge (York CNC) in April 2024. 

Smriti Safaya, Victoria Beale / Published on 22 March 2024

Started in 2016 as a competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the United States, the City Nature Challenge has grown into an international event that motivates people to find and document wildlife in their own cities. In 2023, over just 4 days, 1.8 million wildlife records were submitted from 450 city-regions. Smriti explains how this year, for the first time, York residents can take part.

What is the City Nature Challenge?

The City Nature Challenge is a global initiative to motivate people to make observations of as much biodiversity as they can see in their city and surrounding area over a period of 4 days. This year it is from 26-29th April 2024 and York is participating for the first time!

What led you to set up York CNC?

I love seeing wildlife wherever I go, whether around the city of York or during my explorations to nearby nature reserves. When I moved here I was surprised to learn that York had not participated in the global initiative before. I used to live in Hong Kong and I organised many nature-based events there for adults and young people, helping the city make it into the top 5 cities in the world for the number of species during the City Nature Challenge in the last few years! 

My background is in geology and teaching, particularly experiential education, and I’ve discovered that people of all ages enjoy learning about and contributing to a cause bigger than themselves. Having moved to York to do citizen science research as part of the Stockholm Environment Institute, I wanted to continue engaging people in fun and easy-to-join citizen science about biodiversity. Thus, the York City Nature Challenge was born! 

Smriti takes a photo of a sea slug on the Hong Kong coast

“I love seeing wildlife wherever I go”. Smriti takes a photo of a sea slug on the Hong Kong coast.

Photo: John Terenzini

Do you do other citizen science research as well?

Yes. Alongside this project, I’m also doing research with secondary schools in the UK and Hong Kong. I’m focusing on understanding the impact of environmental citizen science experiences on how students feel, think and act towards nature, and exploring which psychological factors most influence pro-environmental behavior.

Who can take part in York CNC?

Everyone! You can take part on your own, with family or friends, or as part of one of the many organised events. Observations can be made during the course of your normal daily activities, during a walk around town, or even further afield in a local nature reserve. You don’t even have to leave home to participate – you can make observations from your window or in your own garden.  You submit your observations via the iNaturalist platform, either using the free app or the website.

Do I need to be a wildlife expert?

No! You can upload a photo or sound file and the biodiversity experts will identify what you’ve seen, as accurately as they can. They will often respond to your observations within a few hours or days, sometimes with a message about what features of the species helped them identify it. It really is a fantastic example of a community effort to gather information, share expertise and help others learn!

A greylag goose

Two example photos taken by Smriti for iNaturalist.

Photo: Smriti Safaya

A purple crocus flower

Photographing and sharing images of plants is just as important as recording wildlife.

Photo: Smriti Safaya

Why should I get involved?

Getting involved has benefits for biodiversity and for you. All observations submitted to iNaturalist are freely accessible to all and can be used to help us better understand the overall state of biodiversity and conserve it better. Observations that can be identified to a high level of accuracy receive ‘Research Grade’ status and are added to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to be used by scientists for research and policy development. 

Taking part in the York City Nature Challenge means that you are taking a moment to pause and look at the incredible variety of wildlife all around you. Research shows that spending time in nature is good for people’s well-being and encourages people to take more positive action for the environment. As the inspirational Dr. Jane Goodall said, “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help.”

Does it cost anything?

No! You can take photos and submit them using iNaturalist’s free app for smartphones (Android/iOS) or you can upload photos you take with your camera to the iNaturalist website. You can use iNaturalist for free any time but if you submit records between 26-29th April 2024 you’ll be helping York get to the top of the UK leaderboard, competing against 22 other UK cities!

Are there events I can join in with?

Yes! Many organisations have partnered with us to run free public events so people can get together with others, and experts, to make their observations and learn more about York’s wildlife. These are listed on our Events page but more keep being added, so do check back as we get closer to the event!

I would like to run an event as part of York CNC – how do I go about it?

If you are able to host members of the public at a location within the greater York boundary (see map on our homepage) between 26-29th April, we would be delighted to work with you. Please get in touch via our contact form before the 18th of April to ensure we can advertise your event on the website.

The City Nature Challenge is an annual global event and the organisers would love York to continue to take part in future years. Succession planning has already begun! If you are interested in leading York’s involvement next year, please get in touch.

Contact York CNC


Smriti Safaya

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI York

Topics and subtopics
Land : Ecosystems, Cities
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