Good nature: citizen science trips and holidays in the UK

The Big Forest Find, England

Forestry England’s Big Forest Find is the country’s largest survey of forest wildlife. Volunteers can download the free iNaturalist app, then use it to take and upload photographs of animals and plants in their local forest, identifying the species they find. This can be anything from lichen and other fungi to birds, butterflies and mammals. These observations are verified by experts and added to national records on biodiversity. Accurate records help ecologists, scientists and rangers provide homes for wildlife and care for the forests. There are also expert-led activities, such as one in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, on 5 October. The Big Forest Find is part of Forestry England’s centenary celebrations – the Forestry Commission was founded in 1919 to restore the nation’s woods and forests after the first world war, and is now focusing on preparing for the climate crisis.

Dormouse survey, Somerset

The National Trust’s working holidays involve various outdoor activities, including plant and animal surveys. Volunteers might be identifying plants on the Woolbeding estate in West Sussex, monitoring bats and birds at Arlington Court in Devon or surveying wildflowers and butterflies on Dorset’s Golden Cap estate. One appealing upcoming holiday is at the Holnicote estate in Somerset from 23-27 September, on 12,000 acres of moorland, woodland and beaches in Exmoor national park. Volunteers will take part in an annual dormouse survey, before the tiny creatures hibernate in October, and help with charcoal-making and coppicing – woodland management. This is vital to sustain the dormice population, because Hazel (or common) dormouse numbers in the UK have declined by a third since 2000. Volunteers will also join a deer stalker to learn about the ecology of Exmoor’s red deer. Accommodation is in a converted barn with two dormitories and there is a pub a short walk away.

Rock Pool Project, Cornwall

Rockpooling meets marine research in this year-old social enterprise project. Its family-friendly day trips around Falmouth and St Mawes offer a chance to discover the south Cornish coast and survey local wildlife along the way, helping to build a map of rock pool diversity across the project’s survey sites. Participants are given waterproof cameras with which to photograph finds over a two-hour guided experience, and at the end staff collect them and tag the images with species’ names before adding the information to the Rock Pool Project database.

Project Puffin, Skomer, Pembrokeshire

Plan ahead for next summer and join the “puffarazzi” with the RSPB. Between early June and late July 2020, visitors to the UK’s puffin colonies will be asked to take photographs of birds with fish in their bills, making a note of the date, time and location and then uploading that information to a dedicated page on the RSPB’s website. The idea is to help conservation scientist Dr Ellie Owen and her team pinpoint why puffin colonies are declining (the current thinking is that it is related to a reduction in food availability caused by climate change). The colonies include Skomer Island, in Pembrokeshire, to which the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales runs day trips between Easter and the end of September.