A small rodent sitting on a branch of berries

Sloe berries are a sign of the arrival of autumn. Photo: Phil Winter.

You may have heard the term ‘citizen science’ over the past couple of years. Basically this is where volunteers and scientists work together to answer scientific questions. Over the past decade or so, the number of citizen science projects has boomed, partly as a result of the increasing availability of new technologies, but it’s nothing new.

In fact, as many Springwatch fans will be aware, so-called ‘amateur naturalists’ in the UK have been collecting data about the world about them for centuries, much of which gets used in scientific research. Records collected by naturalists about what species have been seen where, when and by whom, are really useful for looking at species distributions across the UK, how these are changing over time, migration patterns etc. Much of our knowledge about how species and habitats are responding to climate change, for example, involves using these records.

Records about natural events are also used in other parts of the world, for example, in Japan, court records have been kept dating back to the 11th century about the flowering times of cherry trees. These records were kept because festivals were, and in some places still are, held to celebrate the cherry flowering. This has allowed scientists to look back over time to see if there has been any shift in the date at which cherry trees flower. They have found that from the 1830s onwards, flowering time of cherries has become progressively earlier, which they have shown is related to warming temperatures.

Source: BBC Springwatch, UK