If isolating from COVID-19 has shrunk your world to the inside of your home, you may have been forced to change your focus. Being surrounded by the same four walls might feel suffocating, but there are positives that you can draw from the change of scale when your world has shrunk. Focusing in on details can give you a change of perspective that allows you to notice and appreciate things that weren’t obvious previously.

Worm-spotting for beginners: a young citizen scientist being shown how to identify earthworms as part of an OPAL survey.

Worm-spotting for beginners: a young citizen scientist being shown how to identify earthworms as part of an OPAL survey. Photo: Rachel Pateman/SEI

Nature can provide an opportunity to focus on the detail in your immediate surroundings, whether you are able to go out for daily exercise, have access to a garden or are restricted to your house or apartment. Connecting with nature has been shown to have positive benefits for people’s well-being. Citizen science – the partnering of scientists and the public to address scientific questions – provides opportunities to facilitate this connection with nature, as well as being an opportunity to connect with people, learn something new and to contribute to scientific understanding.

Initiatives in the UK

In the northern hemisphere, those lucky enough to have gardens are acutely appreciative of the arrival of spring flowers, birds and insects. In the UK, Nature’s Calendar provides an opportunity to track the progression of the seasons in your own garden or even from your window; by taking part in Butterfly Conservation’s Garden Butterfly Survey or the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch, you can help scientists monitor the health of butterfly and bird populations; and you can help track swift populations by submitting your sightings to the RSPB’s Swift Survey.

Around the world

Further afield, the City Nature Challenge is running in cities around the world from 24 to 27 April, allowing you to share photos of the wildlife you have seen, including from your window.

eBird, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US, provides lots of opportunities for bird-related citizen science from your home. The University of Sydney has compiled a list of environmental citizen science projects you can still contribute to at this time.

For those who don’t have access to outdoor space, there are even nature-based citizen science projects you can do from within the walls of your house. The Never Home Alone project is documenting all the species that live alongside us in our homes, anywhere in the world, including beetles, flies and spiders. For those based in the British Isles, the British Arachnological Society wants people to look out for cellar spiders to see how their distribution is changing.

Citizen science online

If you’d prefer to digitally expand your horizons, Zooniverse has numerous online natural history and climate projects to engage in. Some favourites are Penguin Watch, Spotting Spider Monkeys and Wildwatch Kenya which asks you to count, identify, and track the giraffes and other animals seen on cameras in Northern Kenya. ZSL’s Instant Wild project provides live camera feeds from around the world so you can observe and identify seals, deer, birds and more from your phone or computer.

Across Africa, giraffe populations have declined by about 40%. Wildwatch Kenya, are asking people to review photos from 100 motion-activated cameras, in order to identify and count the animals in them Visit the project at zooniverse.org.

COVID-19 citizen science

Focusing on nature may provide you with welcome relief from thinking about coronavirus, but if you do want to think about it, the Citizen Science Association has collated a list of COVID-19 citizen science projects you could contribute to. These include Foldit, an online game where players are designing antiviral proteins that can bind with the coronavirus.

Now, is a great opportunity for us to appreciate and learn more about our surroundings. There is no reason why this new cohort of citizen scientists can’t continue to take an active part in improving our understanding of our environment after the pandemic has cleared.

Video: SEI

Video: SEI