| Gardens: wildlife surveys|
|Just sitting and staring at the garden may give the impression of doing nothing, but a number of conservation organisations would love us to do more of it. Increasingly, bodies such as the People's Trust for Endangered Species and Butterfly Conservation are inviting the public to gather information to help scientists gain a better picture of the state of Britain's wildlife. And with the Easter holidays fast approaching, it's a chance to get the whole family out into the garden.|
Many surveys involve no more than logging the sighting of a bird or bee, but the simplest information is still useful, and the odd inaccuracy generally isn't anything to worry about as researchers make adjustments to take these into account. The British Trust for Ornithology, for example, calibrates the public's findings with those of their fieldworkers, while one of the staff of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust spends much of her time double-checking bee identifications and giving feedback on photos submitted by survey participants. Here are some of the best surveys to get cracking with this spring.
The soil and earthworm survey is one of several run by Open Air Laboratories and aimed particularly at children. The simplest project involves reporting aeroplane vapour trails, but this one is a good introduction to scientific experiments and will increase researchers' understanding of how different conditions affect Britain's 26 earthworm species.
What's involved Download the fieldwork book, dig a small hole, test soil properties and record numbers of earthworms and mini-beasts. You'll need basic equipment from the kitchen and garden shed, with a magnifier and pH strips (available from chemists).
Time Up to an hour.
Butterflies for the New Millennium was established in 1995 by Butterfly Conservation, amid growing alarm over changing populations. Since then it has tracked butterfly colonies around the UK, gathering information, not only on declining numbers but also on the encouraging spread of species north and to city spaces. Although Easter is early this year, a number of native butterflies, such as the orange tip and brimstone, should be in evidence.
What's involved Record your location by map reference, check off the butterflies seen on the downloaded recording form, and send to the local co-ordinator. Have a good fieldbook to hand or use the website's nifty search facility to identify butterflies.
Time Allow at least 30 minutes to watch for butterflies.
The Nest Record Scheme, run for more than 60 years by the British Trust for Ornithology, receives more than 35,000 records a year and has built a huge reservoir of information on the fortunes of Britain's birds. Many contributions come from experienced nest-finders who search the surrounding countryside, but just as welcome are individual records from gardens with a single nest or bird box.
What's involved Several visits to an active nest, planned to coincide, if possible, with stages in the eggs' and hatchlings' development. Nesting birds won't be scared away if you follow the survey's guidelines. Fill in a record card, either on the downloadable software or using the supplied paper records, detailing numbers of eggs and chicks.
Time A few minutes per nest visit.
The stag beetle survey logs sightings of this unmistakable protected insect. The People's Trust for Endangered Species is also working to create a network of beetle-friendly log piles around the country to act as "stepping stones" where females can lay their eggs, helping them colonise new areas and find a mate. With adult beetles poised to emerge at any time from May to August, now is an ideal time to set up a friendly habitat for the next generation and register the details with the trust.
What's involved Create a partially buried log pile according to online instructions.
Time About 15 minutes, once you've gathered your logs.
The air survey is another run by Open Air Laboratories, using lichens to gain a picture of air pollution around Britain. Different kinds of lichen thrive where the pollutants nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide are plentiful. The second part of the survey looks at tar spot fungus on sycamore trees, which is also affected by sulphur dioxide.
What's involved Record details of your trees and the occurrence and location of the nine lichens identified in the field guide. The sycamore survey can be conducted in a different place at a different time. As with all Opal surveys, project packs can be requested by mail, as well as downloaded from the website.
Time Up to an hour.
The urban tree survey is particularly interested in gathering information on which species are growing in our town and city gardens. Run by the Natural History Museum, the survey will provide information for future research into changing distribution of species and biodiversity.
What's involved Identify the tree with the help of the downloadable guide, note its position, measure its girth and estimate its height. If identification is difficult, the online forum will help.
Time A few minutes for each tree.
BeeWatch, a project being run by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, maps bumblebee distribution around the country. Thanks to the 14,000 records already collected, rare bumblebees have been found in unsuspected areas, helping the trust win landowners' support to enhance local habitats.
What's involved Photograph a bumblebee, identify it using the trust's online chart, and upload on to its website.
Time Up to you.