Recognising, learning, connecting: how I became a recorder for the Trust
Greg Tingey , 15/01/2018
The story of how a retired scientist learnt some more science in a new subject by getting involved with Nature’s Calendar and citizen science.
I first heard of Nature’s Calendar one spring on Radio 4’s morning “Today” programme, and the idea of citizen science fascinated me. I followed the introduction and became one of the many regular recorders. I have an MSc in Engineering and worked for 18 years in an industrial science lab by the time I started recording, so ecology was quite a change for me! However the idea of a citizen science project, appealed to me. A quick google of the term states that citizen science is ‘scientific research conducted in whole or in part by amateur scientists.’ This coupled with Nature’s Calendars aim to determine the local effects of climate change; I felt I could not resist!
I keep an allotment, which means that even in a London suburb, I see quite a bit of wildlife, especially birds, butterflies and other insects, plus the semi-resident foxes. This made it very easy to keep track of changes in the surrounding environment, as well as noting the changes in trees over the seasons.
It didn’t stop there, because as the first year progressed, I realised that there was much more to it than simply looking out for events to be recorded. This became even more apparent as my first autumn as a recorder went past. Allotment-keeping, if you are observant, brings to mind how so many plants are interconnected, for example the number of culinary/medicinal herbs in the Labitae (“Mints”) or the large number of onions species one eats. As well as the way the bees and other pollinators go mad for particular species. This then feeds back into ones general observations, including those which you are officially recording – or it does for me, at least. Also, the difference between each year’s weather, accumulated over time, gives me an extra insight into the value of mine and everyone else’s records towards an understanding of climate. I am fortunate that I can usually note the change in the same tree of each noted species each year, as some are extremely variable. Some silver birches near my house vary by as much as 3 weeks in their “events”. Surely dictated by the weather.
There is no doubt that the weather and the climate in London has changed significantly since I was at school (I’m now almost 72) and so has the wildlife visible on and above the streets. I have noticed:
- a rise in urban foxes,
- a decline in frogs and hedgehogs.
- a decline and partial revival of the house-sparrow
- an increase of pied wagtails, and the slow inward movement of woodpeckers.
- long-tailed tits I now see often, which were an extreme rarity 50 years ago.
- there has been an apparent decline in chaffinch, greenfinch & goldfinch.
One thing, which has attracted public attention of late, is the apparent decline in insects, which is not noticeable on my plots, possibly because it represents a fairly secure diverse sanctuary for them. This year just past, is the first time for many years that I have actually seen all the insects recorded by Nature’s Calendar! Though one insect that seems to have become locally rarer is my favourite bumblebee B. lapidarius, the Red-Tailed bumble, and I have no idea why.
I hope that this very short entry gives some idea of the continuing interest that can be gained by going out, even less than a mile from one’s front-door in an urban environment, and how it can impress upon one how everything is intimately interconnected in a web of life, death and consumption. This is why therefore Nature’s Calendar is so important in trying to investigate how these connections will be effected by a changing climate.