Citizen Science in South Down
Citizen science is not elitist – it's for everyone - it democratises and demystifies environmental concerns for the wider community.
Lecale Conservation has been considering using citizen science as a way of engaging more citizens in the protection of the marine environment. This will start with a taster session aimed at engaging citizens in testing the water quality of fresh water in local rivers and streams. Citizens will test at regular intervals, and the data will be fed back to Lecale Conservation.
Ulster Wildlife, with whom Lecale Conservation works closely, uses citizen science in a number of its projects. The thinking is that if people can contribute in practical ways, they are more likely to feel more engaged with the concept of marine conservation. The approach appeals to people as many love being at the seashore and engaging in activities such as rock-pooling, and are in fact looking at marine wildlife when they are doing so. If such people can be encouraged to share what they observe with the broader science community, it means that a wider cross section of people are becoming engaged in work connected to species protection who might otherwise not have been involved.
There are a number of benefits to this approach.
- It can help to reach new people, engaging them in the environment generally and in environmental protection work specifically. By giving people a sense of place and belonging in a community they gain the desire to participate and to become a citizen of that community.
- Government Departments and policy making bodies gain valuable information from citizens. For example, in the case of fresh water sampling, Government currently relies on voluntary groups like fishing clubs to undertake sampling, because the government departments simply do not have the capacity to do as comprehensive a job. It can also help to bridge the gap between policy and action.
- The involvement of ordinary citizens in monitoring the environment could lead to greater transparency in decision making. The awareness that ordinary people are engaged in an issue may also serve to move that issue ‘higher up the agenda’.
- There is a personal development component for the individuals who engage in these projects. Many young people enjoy learning about the natural sciences at school, but, apart from those who develop a career in science, they tend to drift away from it. Citizen science offers a channel for people to reengage with these subjects and develop new skills and knowledge.
- Citizen science offers a wider base of data gathering, which produces richer and more meaningful data and better scientific results. There is also greater understanding of what scientists do resulting in people feeling more connected to the natural world.
For further detail see the Citizen Science entry in the Tools Directory.