BioBlitz! Getting Stuck into Citizen Science

I’ve written before about citizen science and how valuable it is. A large part of its value is the way It enables researchers to access so much more data than they might otherwise have time or funding to collect. There are also huge benefits for the volunteers taking part. Learning more about, and engaging with, the natural world, contributing to important conservation projects and simply getting out and about are just some of the reasons to get involved. Taking part in a BioBlitz is a fantastic way to get started. As luck would have it, EuroBioBlitz is taking place this year on the 29th and 30th of September. The aim of this two-day event is simply to get as many people as possible out recording the wildlife around them. Find out more below.

What Is a BioBlitz?

A BioBlitz is another name for a biological survey or census held over a specific period of time within a designated area. The aim is to record all of the organisms, whether plants, fungi, vertebrates or invertebrates, present. One of the distinguishing features of these events is that they involve members of the public as volunteers. Sometimes experts are on hand to help with identifying finds. Another BioBlitz characteristic is that they usually take place in human-dominated landscapes. Urban gardens or parks and industrial areas are great BioBlitz locations, for example.

Park BioBlitz
Public parks are great places to hold a BioBlitz

Bioblitzes always take place over a limited time period, hence the ‘blitz’ part of the name. Some may be just a few hours, but the usual period is a full day. This ‘race’ aspect is a great way to ramp up the excitement, especially when children are taking part. The size of the area searched varies too and can include anything from a residential garden to a whole park. Although most BioBlitzes aim to record as many different organisms as possible, some events just focus on one group of species, such as invertebrates or fungi. The first BioBlitz was held in 1996 in Washington DC. Incredibly, volunteers found over 900 species in a city park surrounded by industrial and residential buildings.

Blue tit BioBlitz
Some BioBlitz events just concentrate on one group of species, such as birds

Why BioBlitz?

As touched on earlier, Bioblitzes, and citizen science projects generally, are an increasingly valuable way for researchers to gather data. Wildlife surveys often take substantial amounts of time and funding that many researchers simply don’t have access to. Engaging volunteers to help means they can get lots of information despite this. As such, citizen science contributes greatly to scientific knowledge. And because many BioBlitzes take place in urban spaces, they show us, and researchers and conservationists, how much wildlife there is on our doorsteps. Nature doesn’t just exist in the countryside or in reserves, after all. This in turn can help conservationists direct their efforts effectively, both on a local and national level. Sometimes they can even reveal that incredibly unusual species have been making their homes alongside us, unseen, for years.

Swollen-thighed beetle bioblitz
BioBlitzes are great for getting you to notice even the smallest creatures

By getting members of the public to explore their own neighbourhoods, BioBlitzes are also incredible tools for connecting people to nature. This has a number of benefits. The more we see and understand wildlife, the more likely we are to care. It also makes us more likely to notice more of the wildlife around us and keep recording it. Taking part in a BioBlitz is a wonderful way to get to grips with identifying the species around us. In addition, it is hugely rewarding knowing that you are contributing to research and conservation work. And simply getting out into nature has been proven to have enormous benefits for both physical and mental health. Finally, citizen science projects, including BioBlitzes, help to break down barriers between members of the public and the scientific community. This helps us all work together towards greater knowledge.

Garden snail
Garden BioBlitzes often record lots of snail species

Taking Part in EuroBioBlitz

EuroBioBlitz has been running since 2021. Organised by the Natural History Consortium, via its National BioBlitz Network, the event runs over two days in late September. It aims to get as many people as possible across Europe recording wildlife. The event also hopes to inspire people to carry on recording afterwards. To make it as easy as possible for more people to get involved, the setup is slightly less rigid in BioBlitz terms. To make your records count, as long as you are in Europe, all you have to do over the two days is photograph any wildlife you see and upload it to the iNaturalist app or website. This means you can choose to record just in one set area (such as your garden) as a BioBlitz would, or record anything you see anywhere over the two days.

BioBlitz equipment
Hands lenses, collecting pots and field guides are useful BioBlitz tools

The beauty of iNaturalist is that researchers get access to vast amounts of data to help their work. When you upload your photo, the app will make identification suggestions to help. Once inputted, other users can see your observations. They can then verify your identification or even help if you are unsure what you saw. As long as an observation has been recorded with the observer’s name, the location and the time of recording and has a minimum of two agreeing identifications, it is considered ‘Research Grade’. It is then deemed accurate enough for scientific use. This vetting ensures that researchers using volunteer sightings are getting genuine information and not misidentifications, one of the pitfalls of citizen science.

Fly agaric BioBlitz
Happily, EuroBioBlitz coincides with peak fungi season

Get Stuck In!

Whether you organise your own BioBlitz, attend someone else’s or simply go for a walk recording what you see, EuroBioBlitz is a fantastic way to get involved in citizen science. Your observations can make a real difference to conservation. We need every weapon in our armoury to combat the biodiversity crisis and citizen science is a truly effective one. You can also help by shouting about the event on social media using the hashtag #EuroBioBlitz2023. Once the event is over, maybe you will be inspired to carry on recording your sightings, too. This might be on iNaturalist or any similar wildlife recording apps.

Country path
You might choose to record wildlife on a nature walk rather than at a BioBlitz

The most important thing is to get out and look. You might be surprised by how much you see. As David Attenborough famously said, ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about: and no one will care about what they have never experienced.’ By opening our eyes to how much biodiversity there is all around us, BioBlitzes can help us see, understand and, ultimately, care.

Further Reading

The Natural History Consortium has a wealth of resources for anyone wanting to get involved in BioBlitzes. As well as information on running your own event, there are links to useful identification guides and details of the type of information needed to make your observations really count. There are free logos and other resources, too, to help advertise any events you set up. They also provide information on setting up guided walks for those who would rather record wildlife that way rather than at a BioBlitz. All this and more can be found here.

If you would like to see what events are happening near you, follow the links to the Consortium’s social media channels here to keep up to date with the latest news.

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