How a bioblitz can help save nature

Amber Jenkins, RSPB Scotland’s Community Green Space Officer in Edinburgh, gives us the run down on the recent Edinburgh bioblitz and why events like this are so important for connecting people to nature.

I think a lot of us are probably guilty of taking wildlife for granted when we are young - I certainly was. Despite growing up in rural Wales I didn't appreciate seeing a buzzard most mornings on my way to school, hearing the distinctive call of cuckoos come spring or even noticing the swallows lining up on the electricity wire above the barn as they gathered in readiness to make that long migratory journey each year. But I think that, on reflection, most people will probably be able to recall similar distant memories.

What strikes me most now is not the abundance of nature that was in my childhood, but the fact that I can no longer see or hear as much wildlife in the present day. I don't go back to Wales as often as I’d like but when I do I’ve noticed the call of cuckoos is missing in the early mornings, and that I now feel lucky to see curlews, which I used to regularly spot. With this in mind I often wonder how it seems to other generations – to current parents and grandparents and whether they notice this absence, too. My grandma talked all the time of the many house sparrows, and all the birds of prey she used to see, of how they'd get fed up of the cuckoos calling when she was a young girl because it was such a common sound.

While we can look back and think of what wildlife we miss it’s really important that we consider the wildlife that current generations don’t get to experience and what they and future generations are going to miss out on if further declines continue. This ongoing change in what constitutes ‘normal’ is called the shifting baseline syndrome; it is a concept formulated by Daniel Pauley in 1995. It is ultimately the continuous lowering of standards of nature and seen as the ‘drift away from true natural conditions, and as a consequence, a change in perception of ecological change varying from generation to generation’. If it sounds startling that’s because it is and we need to act now before the gap gets wider. We need to get the next generation thinking about the nature on their doorstep, the experiences they aren’t having while they stay inside playing with technology, and what they will miss due to the changes in our natural environment from human impact and climate change. 

So what are we doing about this?

On the last Saturday of June the Giving Nature a Home team from Glasgow and Edinburgh ran a Bioblitz in Duddingston, Edinburgh. Now you may be thinking, what on earth is a bioblitz? The idea of a bioblitz is to collect loads of information about the wildlife living in one area over a set period of time. These activities work best if there are lots of people involved, trying to find and log lots of different species - the more wildlife uncovered the better.

Why run a bioblitz?

There are so many reasons and many of them stem from getting people to tune into the shifting baseline theory, and ultimately to help counter ‘nature deficit disorder’ – that manifest absence that disconnects people from their natural surroundings. RSPB Scotland wants to connect people and children back to nature, allowing them to see how easy it is to enjoy, and the benefits that result from doing so. Our main objectives are firstly to engage people with their natural environment to appreciate what they have on their doorstep; secondly, we want to help people realise what has been lost; and thirdly, we want to assist people in learning about how they can get it back and give nature a home in their community.

The bioblitz began at 6am with an early morning bird walk, when most of the city was still asleep. The day was a hive of activity with lots of people turning up for the 10am morning walks and signing up for the other activities taking place during the day. These included mini beast hunts, pond dipping and making homes for nature, worm charming and mini beast bike rides in the afternoon. The day rounded up at 11.30pm with a bat and moth walk.

It was fantastic to see so many people of all ages and backgrounds get involved. My favorite part of the day was a young boy of around eight years old spending the whole day immersed in all of the activities and then encouraging his mum to bring him back for the bat walk later so he could see some moths.

It’s through fun and engaging events such as these that people can be encouraged to re-engage and close the gaps that distance children from nature. Over 350 species were uncovered on the day (with more still coming in from independent reporters), with around 200 adults and children attending walks and getting stuck in. Birds from chaffinches to herons to blackcaps were heard and seen throughout the day; 34 different types of molluscs were found along with all the different types of mini beasts you’d expect to discover - from woodlouse to centipedes and beetles. Twenty-three different organizations took part in the bioblitz, including RSPB Scotland, Holy Rood High School, the Sheep Heid Inn, Duddingston Field Group, Dr. Neils Garden, Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership, Historic Scotland and The Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as independent surveyors. We’ve also partnered with TWIC (The Wildlife Information Centre) who will collate all of the data gathered and disseminate it to other organisations to use for such things as habitat and land management. 

We will, of course, be running more of the same, so do look out for other public engagement and citizen science events similar to this run RSPB Scotland’s Giving Nature a Home team in Edinburgh and Glasgow, providing people with the opportunity to engage with nature on their doorstep.

Wouldn’t it be great if just one of the children or young people that came along to such an event was inspired to do something of their own will to help give nature a home, and prevent the further decline of our wonderful wildlife species?