Calling all Citizen Scientists, current and future

By Joe Pecorelli, Project Manager in the Marine and Freshwater teams here at ZSL, ahead of his online Citizen Science Event on Tuesday 9 February.

As I write this in January 2021, I am so grateful that so far in this pandemic my family, friends and work colleagues all seem to have escaped relatively unscathed. I know how lucky I am and feel desperately sorry for the huge numbers of people having a terrible time right now. The longer the lockdown down goes on though, the harder it becomes to avoid missing the normal things. One of the things that has become normal in my life is my monthly trip to my local river with my fellow volunteers and my trusty kick net. 

Joe Pecorelli demonstrating the RMI to the new Thames Water CEO – Sarah Bentley © Thames Water
Joe Pecorelli demonstrating the RMI to the new Thames Water CEO – Sarah Bentley © Thames Water

For six years we have been conducting Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (RMI) sampling at the same site on the River Crane in West London (ZSL is a co-founder of the Citizen Crane Project and host of the RMI hub for Greater London). We use a standard method to collect samples and count the number and abundance of key indicator invertebrate groups, which enable us to detect pollution events that might otherwise go unnoticed. In doing so we work in partnership with the Environment Agency to provide evidence of pollution for follow up and enforcement action when necessary. We are also creating an important long-term dataset that shows trends in the ecological health of the river at multiple sites. Our site is in a park so plenty of passers-by stop to talk about the river, this makes sampling an enjoyable and social event too. For some passers-by it might be the first time they realise there is a local environmental group - in this case The Friends of the River Crane Environment - that they can join and help do their bit. And for the occasional over excited dog (is there any other state for a dog?) it is an opportunity to get stuck in, skew the data and drink from the samples - many try but our reflexes are finally honed so not many succeed! 

RMI citizen scientists counting the key species © Sivi Sivanesan
RMI citizen scientists counting the key species © Sivi Sivanesan

I am one of some 2,000 RMI citizen scientists nationally and the RMI project is one of many hundreds of UK citizen science projects. The State of Nature Report   states that over 4.5 million wildlife observations are recorded annually in the UK. We have a rich culture of wildlife observation and recording that goes back many hundreds of years which is something to be celebrated. Despite this evident interest and support for wildlife, the UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

There are clearly big forces at play and many huge challenges that must be overcome to reverse the declines and restore UK wildlife. Now is a good time to reflect on how we can better develop and manage citizen science projects as one of many strategies that are needed to achieve greater impact from the efforts of our amazing army of citizen scientists.

Achieving greater impact through citizen science will be one of many topics discussed in our free online Science and Conservation event on Tuesday 9 February, ‘Citizen Science and conservation: what does it add, who is taking part and who are we failing to reach?’.

So, in lieu of being able to get out there and sample, survey, record and report we sincerely hope you will join us and in the true spirit of citizen science, come ready to get involved in the discussions with questions for our fantastic panel of speakers….no tricky questions for me of course though please!

To submit a question in advance, please email it to with the name of the event in the Subject Title. There will also be opportunities to ask questions during the event. 

Find out more about the event and join us live at 6pm on 9 February

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