Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ladybirds spotted on Springwatch Unsprung

Two of our CEH colleagues were live on the Red Button and web this week, appearing with Nick Baker on the Unsprung element of the popular BBC Springwatch series. On Wednesday, Dr Steve Thackeray spoke about nature's calendar and climate change, which he investigates as part of the shifting seasons phenology project he leads. Earlier in the week, Dr Helen Roy chatted about biological recording, citizen science and, of course, ladybirds! Read more about Helen's day on the Springwatch set in her blog post below.

BBC Springwatch provided an exquisite insight into the life history of the 2-spot ladybird, Adalia bipunctata, on Monday night (25 May). The short film was inspiringly beautiful. The detailed perspectives on the secret lives of these familiar beetles were accurately and quite brilliantly portrayed.

The life history of the 2-spot ladybird featured on Springwatch 2014.
Photo: Richard Comont

I had the privilege of providing some information on the ecology of ladybirds to the BBC Springwatch production team during the making of this film. The excitement and enthusiasm expressed by Vicky Webb (Producer) and Rob Morgan (Researcher) throughout the filming was fantastic. I remember Vicky calling after the hatching eggs had been filmed. She conveyed such delight at what is undoubtedly one of the (many) most aesthetic moments of the ladybird life cycle. Rob had spotted some exciting signs of parasitism and we enjoyed discussing the likely parasitic suspects. I was extremely excited just anticipating the broadcast of this film, which I knew would be in the first episode of Springwatch 2014. So imagine my excitement when I was invited to contribute to Springwatch Unsprung - and it was an amazing experience!

The buzz about the Springwatch Production “Village” of portacabins, trucks and marquees is incredible. The passion for natural history and science communication is so apparent. All day people are running around with cameras and sound equipment to convey the brilliance and diversity of all aspects of wildlife from the RSPB Minsmere Reserve. Conversations on booming bitterns, the delightful miniature suffocated clover, stalking stoats, glimpses of hawkmoths and, of course, the magical ladybirds provide an inspiring atmosphere.

The bittern hide - looking for some of the stars of Springwatch 2014 at RSPB Minsmere

During the day I was invited to contribute to Springwatch Extra with Euan McIlwraith and we enjoyed a magical afternoon talking about ladybirds, their predators and the ways in which ladybirds interact with many other species. The Minsmere woodland provided the perfect stage. I joined Brett Westwood for a short walk in which he revealed the delights of some tiny and obscure (and, in some cases, rare) plants exploiting the sandy soils on the reserve. It was great to find an 11-spot ladybird, Coccinella undecimpunctata, in amongst these hidden treasures (I have to confess it was Marcus Brent-Smith of webcam fame who actually, and quite literally, unearthed the ladybird).

In the evening I joined the Springwatch Unsprung team. Springwatch Unsprung gives the BBC audience an opportunity to contribute questions and comments on wildlife. It is broadcast immediately after Springwatch and is a fantastically lively show. For me Springwatch Unsprung provided the perfect opportunity to celebrate the legacy of ladybird recording in Britain in conversation with Nick Baker. The quiz, a regular feature on Springwatch Unsprung, was on ladybirds for the night and enabled some hints on identification to be conveyed. It was fantastic to be a small part of Springwatch and I am looking forward to another contribution from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology when Stephen Thackeray is released on Unsprung on Wednesday night.

I would like to thank Sheryl Bawden, Vicky Webb, Rob Morgan, Brett Westwood, Euan McIlwraith, Marcus Brent-Smith, Anna Place, Nick Baker, Anne Gallagher and many others (catering, security, make-up, film crew...) for such a fantastic opportunity and for ensuring I was so welcome.

Helen Roy

The Springwatch Unsprung episodes are available to view on iPlayer for 3 weeks:

Ladybirds (episode 1)

Phenology (episode 3)

Related links

Details of how to download the iRecord Ladybirds app for Android and iOS

UK Ladybird Survey


When and how to use citizen science for environmental projects

Helen's staff page at CEH

Steve Thackeray's staff page at CEH

Shifting seasons and ecosystem consequences project

BBC Springwatch

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The citizen science toolbox – a practical guide how and when to use citizen science

In this guest blog CEH’s Dr Michael Pocock explains why he has helped develop a new guide to Choosing and Using Citizen Science.

Citizen science is accelerating in its popularity as an approach to undertake scientific research and monitoring and for people to engage with science. This popularity can mean that some people see citizen science as the answer to any and every question or goal. However, citizen science is not a single approach – it is a diversity of approaches. To put it another way, citizen science is not a multitool – it is a whole tool box of individual techniques and approaches.

The new guide to choosing and using citizen science
Citizen science is a tool box of approaches, and it is important for people to explore the range of approaches, in other words to work out which citizen science ‘tool’ they could use for the task in hand – or indeed whether citizen science is unsuitable. But how do people work through the maze of all the possible approaches, from long-term to short-term projects, working with schools, the media, naturalists or local communities, using smartphone apps or forms sent by post? Hopefully our Guide, published today, will help.

It was not only us who realised that there was this need to help people explore the utility of citizen science. There has been huge enthusiasm in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) about citizen science and so they commissioned us at CEH to produce a Guide to 'Choosing and Using Citizen Science', which is published today. Initially this was going to be a report for their own staff, but in talking to people about the project, we all quickly realised that many people outside of SEPA and CEH would really appreciate a user-friendly guide to the subject following from the enthusiasm for our Guide to Citizen Science  which presented best practice to running citizen science projects.

The central part of the guide is a handy flowchart helping people to explore citizen science options. This is backed up by thoughts on what needs to be considered before beginning a citizen science project. However, I think that the process of thinking carefully is far more important than the final answer from the flowchart – and I hope that those who use the guide will develop better thought-out citizen science projects. These will undoubtedly be more successful projects.

The guide to Choosing and Using Citizen Science is backed up by a comprehensive report. Within the report we also produced some case studies for SEPA as to how citizen science could be applied to address the problem of locating river barriers (old weirs, and so on, which restrict the migration of salmon) and monitoring water quality at a local site (The Seven Lochs Wetland Park in Glasgow). It was challenging to consider the different citizen science approaches that could be used to address these questions – and the final decision as to whether and how to use citizen science will come down to people actually developing these projects!

Citizen science in action during a wildlife survey

So, if you are wondering if citizen science is for you, then we hope that this guide will help. But, if you have decided to start a citizen science project, what then? I’d recommend referring to our best practice Guide to Citizen Science which we published in 2012 and has received a superb response from people across the world. Volunteer involvement in science has been going on for such a long time (the Biological Records Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary this year!), so citizen science has a long, successful history and surely will have an even richer, more diverse future.


Dr Michael Pocock is an ecologist based in the Biological Records Centre at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. He leads several citizen science projects with the aim of collectively undertaking hypothesis-led research and is the co-leader of the long running Conker Tree Science project in which people are invited to help discover more about an invasive insect that is damaging horse-chestnut trees.

Michael is currently working on the Big Bumblebee Discovery, the first project in an exciting new programme, the Great EDF Energy experiment, a collaboration between the British Science Association and EDF Energy.

Additional information

CEH news story about the new guide and background research

Download the new guide

The Biological Records Centre - 50 years old in 2014